Monday, December 24, 2007

Is Allah A Name Or A Word? These Dumb UMNO Effers Article 2

By Farish A. Noor

At the time of writing this, I am in Cairo in the company of my Egyptian friends who are Muslims, Catholics and Copts. Eid has passed and I attended several dinners and celebrations where Muslims and Copts celebrated together, visiting each others' homes and ate til we could not eat any further.

What is worse, Christmas is upon us and so once again Muslims, Catholics and Copts will be heading for the communal table for the communal feast and there will be much licking of chops, munching of bread, gobbling of sweet deserts and drinking for everyone. It is all simply too pleasant to believe, yet it is real and this is what life is like for many in Cairo, the 'Mother of civilisation' and home to more than twenty million Egyptians from all walks of life.

What is most striking to the outside observer like me - though rather banal for the Egyptians themselves - is the fact that in all these celebrations ranging from Eid for the Muslims to Christmas for the Catholics and Copts the word 'Allah' is used to denote that supreme and singular divinity, God.

Catholics and Copts alike exclaim 'Masha-allah', 'Wallahi', 'ya-Rabbi', 'Wallah-u allam', and of course 'Allahuakbar' day in, day out, everywhere they go. The coptic taxi driver blares out 'By Allah, cant you see where you are parking??" as he dodges the obstable ahead. The Catholic shopkeeper bemoans "Ya Allah, ya Allah! You can only offer me two pounds for the scarf? Wallahi, my mother would die if she heard that! Ya-Rabbi, ya-Rabbi!"

Yet in Malaysia at the moment yet another non-issue has been brewed to a scandal for no reason: The Malaysian Catholic Herald, a publication by and for Catholics in the country, has been told that it can no longer publish its Malaysian language edition if it continues to use the word "Allah" to mean God. Worse still, the country's Deputy Internal Security Minister Johari Baharum recently stated that "Only Muslims can use the word Allah" ostensibly on the grounds that "Allah" is a Muslim word. The mind boggles at the confounding logic of such a non-argument, which speaks volumes about the individual's own ignorance of Muslim culture, history and the fundamental tenets of Islam itself.

For a start, the word 'Allah' predates the revelation to the Prophet Muhammad and goes way back to the pre-Islamic era. Christians had been using the word long before there were any Muslims, in fact. Furthermore the word is Arabic, and is thus common to all the peoples, cultures and societies where Arabic - in all its dialects - is spoken, and is understood by millions of Arabic speakers to mean God, and little else.

One could also add that as "Allah" is an Arabic word it therefore has more to do with the development and evolution of Arabic language and culture, and less to do with Islam. It is hard to understand how any religion can have a language to call its own, for languages emerge from a societal context and not a belief system. If one were to abide by the skewered logic of the Minister concerned, then presumably the language of Christianity (if it had one) would be Aramaic, or perhaps Latin.

The Minister's remark not only demonstrated his shallow understanding of Muslim culture and the clear distinction between Arab culture and Muslim theology, but it also demonstrated his own lack of understanding of the history of the Malays, who, like many non-Arabs, only converted to Islam much later from the 13th century onwards. Among the earliest pieces of evidence to indicate Islam's arrival to the Malay archipelago are the stone inscriptions found in Malay states like Pahang where the idea of God is described in the sanskrit words 'Dewata Mulia Raya'. As no Malay spoke or even understood Arabic then, it was natural for the earliest Malay-Muslims to continue using the Sanskrit-inspired language they spoke then. Surely this does not make them lesser Muslims as a result?

The ruckus that has resulted thanks to the threat not to allow the publication of the Malaysian language edition of the Christian Herald therefore forces observers to ask the simple question: Why has this issue erupted all of a sudden, when the word Allah was used for so long with narry a protest in sight? At a time when the Malaysian government is already getting flak as a result of the protests by Malaysian Hindus who insist that they remain at the bottom of the economic ladder despite fifty years of independence, now it would appear as if the Malaysian government cannot get enough bad publicity.

The administration of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi came to power on the promise that it would promote its own brand of moderate Islam that was pluralist and respectful of other cultures and religions. But time and again the Malaysian public - first Hindus and now Christians - have felt necessary to protest over what they regard as unfair, biased treatment and the furthering of an exclusive brand of Islam that is communitarian and divisive. The latest fiasco over the non-issue that is the name of God would suggest that Prime Minister's Badawi's grand vision of a moderate Islam has hit the rocks, and is now floundering. Just how the ministers and elite of this government is to regain their course is open to question, but what is clear is that some Ministers should get their basic knowledge of their own religion in order first.

Dr. Farish A. Noor is a Malaysian political scientist and historian based at the Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin; and one of the founders of the research site.

Is Allah A Name Or A Word? These Dumb UMNO Effers

Asia Sentinel

On the eve of the Christmas holidays, Malaysia’s authorities mistakenly decide Allah’s name isn’t God’s

The Malaysian authorities’ refusal to renew the publication of the weekly Catholic newspaper The Herald unless it stops using the word Allah as the word for God in the Malay language is a demonstration of racism and linguistic ignorance, not religious purity.

According to Deputy Internal Security Minister Johari Baharum, “Only Muslims can use ‘Allah’. It’s a Muslim word, you see. It’s from (the Arabic language). We cannot let other religions use it because it will confuse people,” he was reported as saying. “We cannot allow this use of ‘Allah’ in non-Muslim publications, nobody except Muslims. The word ‘Allah’ is published by the Catholics. It’s not right.”

But what Johari revealed was his ignorance of his own professed religion, of the Arabic language in which the Koran is written, and of the history and culture of Muslims throughout most of the world. God and Allah mean the same in different languages.

Muslims, like Christians do not worship a person called Allah. They worship a single supreme being which the Arabic language denotes as Allah. The very word Allah derives from the singular nature of the monotheistic deity. In the Arab world Allah has always been used by Christians (a significant minority) and Jews (a smaller but important minority until the creation of Israel) to denote the one God which the religions share. Ditto in Farsi.

In Indonesia 100 million Muslims have no problem with their Christian brothers using Allah to denote the supreme being in Bahasa Indonesia, the Indonesian version of the Malay language. So why should a United Malays National Organisation politician unless for some reason to ramp up Malay prejudice against non-Muslims and reinforce the notion that all Malays are and always will be Muslims?

Likewise among the (Roman) Catholics, the word in Latin (lingua franca of the Roman church) for God is Deus and is used without discrimination between Christians Muslims and Jews.

The Johari version of the world displays the same kind of ignorance as found among Christian fundamentalists in the United States and elsewhere who insist on saying that Muslims worship Allah rather than the God (an English word) that the two religions share. An English Koran uses the words “In the name of God the compassionate and merciful,” not “In the name of Allah the compassionate and merciful.”

If Malaysian Malays are confused about the distinction between Islam and Christianity because they use the same word to describe the one God, clearly there is a lot wrong with the educational system. But if a minister is so ignorant, how can the rakyat – Malaysia’s citizenry - be expected to know better?

For Muslims, Jesus was a prophet of Islam. For Johari on the eve of the birthday of Jesus to make this astonishing decision is an insult to his own religion as well as to the Christian one from which Islam sprang.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Abdullah Badawi's Fight Against Corruption

By Kim Quek

The country’s top law enforcement official conveniently clears up three scandals almost simultaneously

On July 27, Malaysia’s attorney general, Tan Sri Abdul Gani, simultaneously absolved both the Inspector General of Police and the former Director General of the Anti-Corruption Agency of corruption charges. Two weeks earlier, he did the same for the Deputy Minister of Internal Security, the cabinet member in charge of the police force.

And so by one stroke of the pen, the AG has miraculously rescued Prime Minister Ahmad Abdullah Badawi’s leadership from the crisis of confidence precipitated by the almost simultaneous eruption of corruption scandals (earlier this year) besieging these three top law enforcers.

Not only that, the AG also has, through absolution of these officials, turned the tables on the webmasters and bloggers who have brought to light in cyberspace these high-level scandals and allowed the leadership of the embattled United Malays National Organisation to launch a counter-offensive against the Internet trouble makers.

Having sat on these corruption reports for months for no creditable reason, the AG’s sudden burst of energy to almost simultaneously pronounce these tainted parties innocent has been met with widespread skepticism. And indeed the AG’s announcement to the press begs many more questions than it answers.

Dealing with these three cases separately:

The Inspector General of Police
Abdul Gani said that based on the Anti-Corruption Agency’s investigations, allegations of corruption against IGP Musa Hassan are groundless, as examinations of Musa’s bank account statements and properties have revealed nothing suspicious.

On the specific allegation that Musa and his officers received 2 million ringgit to free three detainees of a betting syndicate, the AG said the three were wrongfully detained on 30 March 2007 based on a fake statement bearing the forged signatures of six individuals, five of whom were in the Kluang police lockup and a sixth who was in court at the time the statement was made.

The three detainees were released on April 6 on the order of Criminal Investigation Department’s deputy director of intelligence/operations, Khalid Abu Bakar, who was instructed by Musa to probe the case. Khalid also suggested that disciplinary action be taken against police officers involved in this victimization.

My questions:
If the police officers perpetrating this victimization are guilty, why were they not charged in court?
If the three detainees are innocent, why didn’t they complain about their wrongful detention for seven days and seek compensation?
If it was a simple case of victimization, why did the Deputy Minister of Security Minister Johari Baharom, who is in charge of the police force, insist that ACA must probe the corruption allegations? Johari was reported as late as July 11 to have said that he was not satisfied with the explanations given by the police. He also said he did not get the documents he asked for following the corruption allegations in the web.
Why didn’t the AG also touch on other equally if not more important aspects of allegations in the web against Musa, such as his intimate relations with underworld kingpins whose names were clearly spelled out?
The AG said that Musa’s bank statements and properties reveal nothing suspicious. Is that the modus operandi of ACA investigations – checking the suspect’s bank statements and properties? Do criminals normally allow their illegal income be reflected in bank statements and properties?
If Musa is innocent, shouldn’t he have defended the honour of himself, the police force and the country by demanding justice from his accusers who, after all, have made specific accusations?

Director General of the Anti-Corruption Agency
On 26th February 2007, the web daily Malaysiakini revealed that then newly retired head of the Anti-Corruption Agency in Sabah, Ramli Manan, had lodged a corruption report in July 2006 against the then Director General of the ACA, Zulkipli Mat Nor, whose extended contract was due to expire at end March 2007.

Ramli claimed in the report that the ACA knew as long ago as 1997 that Zulkipli had corruptly amassed wealth and had been investigated by the police for sexual assault against a woman when he was police chief in Johor. Among Zulkipli’s alleged assets were houses and petrol stations in the name of Zulkipli’s sons and sister. Ramli’s report, copies of which were made available to the Prime Minister, the AG, the auditor general and civil service director-general, was ignored.

Following the Malaysiakini revelations, a task force led by the police was immediately formed to investigate Ramli’s allegations. Musa said in April that the police had already completed investigations and the report submitted to the AG.

After keeping quiet for more than three months, the AG suddenly announced on July 27 that Zulkipli had been cleared of Ramli’s allegations, as they were found to be only assumptions that Mohamad could not substantiate with documentary evidence. Neither could Mohamad reveal the third parties from whom Mohamad obtained his information. The AG however said that interviews with 43 witnesses including Ramli had been conducted.

My questions are:

Is it common practice to expect whistle-blowers to produce hard evidence for the prosecution?
Is it not the job of the law enforcement agency to search for the evidence since it is equipped with the legal power and resources necessary to pursue criminals?
The AG said investigations into sexual misconduct by Zulkipli conducted in 1997 were referred to the public prosecutor, and were declared dropped due to lack of evidence. This assertion is contradicted by a press report on March 1 which quoted IGP Musa as saying that the police did in fact carry out such an investigation in 1997, but after submitting the report to the AG for a decision as whether to file charges, the AG simply never responded. Musa added that the police had just submitted another report to the AG on the previous day, and was awaiting the AG’s instruction. This Musa statement clearly implied there is sufficient evidence to warrant the consideration of charges, in contrast to the AG’s claim of NFA due to lack of evidence. Will the AG please explain the contradiction?
If Ramli’s allegations were found to be completely baseless in April (or March), why didn’t the AG announce the finding there and then, thus sparing the Abdullah administration of prolonged acute embarrassment occasioned by the simultaneous assault on its reputation?
Wouldn’t a prompt announcement then be the natural choice of action by a clean AG in a clean government?
If Zulkipli is truly innocent and the investigations above board, why didn’t the government promptly charge Ramli for making such serious but baseless accusations so as to salvage the image of the government?
Similarly, shouldn’t Zulkipli have personally taken legal and disciplinary action against Ramli as self-protection for himself as well as for the entire organization?
Mind you, Ramli’s accusations were leveled in July 2006 when he was still a subordinate of Zulkipli, and such accusations were circulated to all relevant parties including the prime minister. Is the government prepared to make full disclosure of the investigations to dispel the cloud of suspicion arising from such dubious conduct over this scandal?

Deputy Minister of Internal Security
The “freedom for sale” allegation against Deputy Internal Security Minister Johari Baharom became public knowledge on 3 March 2007 when the Star newspaper picked up information from an anonymous website called, which specifically accused Johari of improperly releasing three gangster bosses operating vice syndicates in different parts of the country, for which Johari allegedly received bribes of not less than 5.5 million ringgit.

These three underworld bosses, who were named on the web site, were arrested at various times between October and December 2006 and released in mid-January 2007. The first came from Sitiawan, Perak and is the younger brother of a deputy minister who was named on the website. The second came from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, for whose release a bribe was allegedly paid. The third came from Cemor, Perak, was detained in October 2006, then placed in restricted residence in Tampin, Negeri Sembilan, and finally set free in mid-January, for “not less than 2.5 million ringgit”.

When the news broke on March 3, the Anti-Corruption Agency was already reported to have started an investigation, with the police seeking to ascertain whether these three detainees had been illegally released. Musa even recommended then that the detainees be re-arrested.

On March 8, the Star reported that two of the three detainees had already been re-arrested including the younger brother of the deputy minister. The police then said that “with these arrests, we should be able to carry out a comprehensive probe.”

On April 21, ACA acting director general Ahmad Said Hamdan was quoted in Malaysiakini as saying that investigations were completed shortly after Johari was questioned on Mar 19. He said that the investigation papers were in the hands of the AG.

Nothing was heard from the AG until July 11, when he announced that Johari had been cleared of the corruption allegations, as “the ACA was unable to find any statement to link Johari to the alleged offence.” The AG explained that “the said criminals had denied giving Johari money as a bribe,” that “related statements of accounts were scrutinized” and that “several criminals who are important witnesses could not be traced after their release.”

And why did it take the AG so long to come to this conclusion? He answers: “the ACA investigation took some time as statements of accounts had to be analyzed and statements had to be taken from relevant witnesses, and tracing witnesses also took some time.”

What a pack of lies when the ACA acting DG had confirmed that investigations were completed shortly after March 19!

As for the criminals’ denials and the lack of evidence in the relevant accounts, what do you expect – criminals admitting giving bribes and accounts showing millions of bribes? As seasoned crime busters and law enforcers, such admissions of ineptitude and criminal cover up are shameful. The AG must have taken the public for fools if he expects such lies would be well taken.

If IGP Musa could force individuals of high integrity and social standing into criminalizing an innocent deputy prime minister in open courts, I don’t see why he can’t get proper testimony from real criminals in his custody?

Then what about the detention, release and re-arrest (and most likely re-release) of these criminal bosses? Who is at fault – Johari or the police? Was it wrongful detention or wrongful release? Since these are big-time criminals – a fact which the police have not denied – why release them in the first place? Isn’t the Emergency Ordinance created specifically to detain without trial this type of criminal? Why keep the small fry and spare the bosses?

The Attorney General
Keen observers of politics must have noticed the powerful position of the attorney general when it comes to criminal prosecution, for he has the discretion to prosecute or not to prosecute any criminal case (save Shariah cases and courts-martial). The AG’s already powerful position was further enhanced in the Mahathir era when the ACA was also required to channel their cases to the AG for prosecution (in addition to the police cases) – a move obviously designed to make AG the ultimate filter to prevent unintended big fishes from being netted in the courts. This move undoubtedly facilitated the rapid expansion of cronyism and corruption among the UMNO elites, and looks set to further serve similar pursuits of the Abdullah leadership, its continued effectiveness being so dramatically demonstrated in the current move to cover up the dirty tracks of the ruling elite.
Another useful observation is that when it comes to criminal investigations of VIPs that might embarrass the ruling power, the law enforcement agency tasked with the investigations, whether police or ACA, choose to keep silent and push the dirty investigation papers to the AG where they may sleep for an indeterminate period only to be re-activated when the occasion so suits the political masters. Thus, when it comes to high-level criminal investigations, the AG has become the escape route for law enforcement, which in turn have always served as safe harbour for the corrupt elite where their dirty linen is habitually bleached.
Perhaps the saddest part of the current AG scam is the response of Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi who expressed satisfaction at the AG’s announcement and requested that the issues of corruption by Musa and Zulkipli be dropped henceforth since there was no evidence. However, when reporters raised questions about the content of the investigation reports, he snapped back: “Don’t ask me on the contents of the investigations. These are not my jobs.”
If that isn’t the prime minister’s job, then what is? Don’t forget that as internal security minister, you are also the cabinet leader to whom all these scandalized officials report directly. Don’t you realize that there has been a crisis of confidence arising from these corruption scandals, and the current sham announcement has not only failed to restore confidence but has instead caused further disillusionment with your leadership?

As prime minister, it is you – not the IGP or the ACA head – who is directly answerable to the people. So, is it too much to ask you about the substance of the investigations to allay discontent among the people? As prime minister, you have answered critical questions with “I don’t know” too many times. Don’t let the answer “This is not my job” be another trademark of your premiership.

Malaysia's Fraying Racial Compact

By Philip Bowring

The informal racial compact that has worked so well for Malaysia since the bloody riots of 1969 is unraveling under domestic and international pressure.

Two anti-government demonstrations in Kuala Lampur last month - one on Nov. 10 demanding election reform and another on Nov. 26 that drew 10,000 ethnic Indians protesting discrimination - erupted in violence and ended in arrests as protesters clashed with the police. The demonstrations, the biggest in a decade, were illegal because the authorities had not granted permission for them to take place.

The essence of the compact is that the mainstream political representatives of the non-Malay minorities - mostly Chinese and Indians - accept not merely the political supremacy and special position of the Malays, who make up three-fifths of the country's 27 million people, but also massive affirmative action programs to raise the Malays' economic and social status.

In broad terms this policy has been successful. Racial peace, if not harmony, has been maintained and the relative economic position of the Malays has risen dramatically. Formal equality targets may not have been met. But unless there is drastic scaling back of affirmative action, an intensification of racial animosities is likely, along with Malay assumptions of entitlement to a perpetual subsidy.

The Indian demonstration was significant for two reasons. First, it drew attention to the fact that Indians, not Malays, are now the most economically disadvantaged group. While Malaysia has a significant Indian professional elite, the mostly Tamil descendents of indentured workers brought in by the British as plantation laborers remain at the bottom of the ladder.

Second, the protest saw an attempt to internationalize the race issue with appeals to India and Britain - a move that angered many Malaysians.

In India, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu state demanded that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh help the cause of Malaysian Indians. The Hindu Rights Action Force, which organized the demonstration, is also bringing a legal case against Britain, asserting that it failed to protect Indian rights at the time of independence.

Meanwhile Beijing, which has often avoided identifying with its ethnic brethren overseas, may be starting to change its stance as Chinese pride rises and its leadership comes under domestic pressure to play uncle to Chinese everywhere.

On Malaysia's domestic front things are changing too. Gradually, perhaps irreversibly, class is beginning to assume a role in political discourse long dominated entirely by race. Years of strong economic growth and the urbanization of a once largely rural Malay population mean that low-income people of all races are seeing some common interests. Low-income Malays may become more aggrieved than non-Malays if they see the benefits of affirmative action mainly going to the conspicuously consuming elite.

Even at the mundane level of trade, the issues of preferences is an obstacle to a free trade agreement with the United States and could run into difficulties within the Asean free trade area.

In practice, Malaysia has taken a very pragmatic approach to foreign investment, granting waivers in special zones and for export projects. But for non-Malay local businesses, that has merely underlined the extra burdens they face and explains the continued exodus of non-Malay private capital and talent.

Another factor that is putting pressure on informal compact is Islam, which has assumed a larger role in the Malay political consciousness than was the case in 1969. In many respects it has become more conservative. The increased identification of race with religion has added to the racial divides created by preferential policies. In the case of Indians, injury has been added to insult by the destruction of Hindu temples to make way for new development projects.

What is also beginning to trouble an often complacent, Malay-led elite that has been in power for half a century, is the surge of discontent at a time of rapid economic growth driven by the high price of Malaysia's export commodities. This should help the well-meaning but so far ineffectual prime minister, Abdullah Badawi, to a victory in the election, expected in early 2008, large enough to cement his leadership of the governing party. This would provide an opportune time to lead Malaysia away from permanent racial preferences.

Malaysian Media Told To Self-Censor Reports On Ethnic Indian Crackdown

The Associated Press

Malaysia's government has told the mainstream media not to sensationalize a crackdown on ethnic Indians following an unprecedented rally against racial discrimination in Muslim-majority Malaysia, officials said.

Che Din Yusoh, a senior official with the Internal Security Ministry, said newspaper editors had been given "verbal advice" not to highlight sensitive issues related to the Nov. 25 rally by at least 20,000 ethnic Indians that police broke up by force.

"Don't sensationalize what police are doing. Don't give a very negative picture ... We have guidelines on publication, and they have to implement (self) censorship," he told The Associated Press late Wednesday.

Malaysiakini, an independent Internet news portal, reported Wednesday that top editors of all dailies were summoned by the government for a meeting, and were told not to give prominence to Hindu Rights Action Force, or Hindraf, the group that is leading the Indian unrest.

An editor of a Tamil-language daily, catering to Indians, confirmed the meeting took place Tuesday. He told the AP that the government advised all chief editors to be "very careful" about "sharp wordings," especially in headlines. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Che said he could only confirm guidelines were issued but gave no details.

Most Malaysian newspapers and electronic media outlets are controlled by the government or political parties in the ruling coalition. They also operate with a government license, which must be renewed annually. Internet news sites do not have these restrictions.

Traditionally, Malaysia's mainstream media have been pro-government but some newspapers have become bolder in recent years and have openly discussed issues such as race relations that were previously taboo.

Newspapers gave wide coverage to the Hindraf rally and the court hearings of 31 Indians charged with attempted murder for a head injury sustained by a policeman during the demonstration. The Indians were denied bail Thursday.

Che said the media were told not to play up Hindraf's claims — debunked by most Malaysians — that Indians are victims of ethnic cleansing in Malaysia.

"Instead of trying to tarnish the image of the government ... the media should use their common sense and discretion to refute this kind of allegations," he said.

Che said his ministry monitored the media all the time to make sure their coverage did not endanger national security interests or create social unrest.

Last month's protests have shaken the government and raised fears it would destroy the fragile peace between the country's three main communities - Muslim Malays who form 60 percent of the country's 27 million people, the ethnic Chinese who are a quarter of the population and ethnic Indians who are 8 percent.

Malays control the government and the Chinese dominate the business. The Indians complain they are at the bottom of the society with little wealth, education or job opportunities because of government policies that give preferential treatment to Malays.

The Future Looks Bright

Need I say more?