Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Virtues of Imprisonment

When Anwar Ibrahim was imprisoned for six years between 1998 and 2004, he wrote numerous letters and articles for newspapers and magazines both local and abroad. Impressed by the high quality of these publications, one of my professors quipped that perhaps all of us should spent some time in jail. Why? Because nothing nurtures the mind and soul better than being in solitary confinement, accompanied entirely by one’s thoughts and reflections. After all, many past great scholars and world leaders had spent some time in prison. Amongst religious scholars, Imam Abu Hanifa was imprisoned for four years, Ibn Sina for a few months, and Ibn Taymiyyah for seven years; while amongst world leaders examples include Mahatma Gandhi for six years, Muhammad Natsir for five years, Vaclav Havel also for five years and Nelson Mandela for twenty-seven years. While indeed some of them did not survive the ordeal and died in prison, many survived the experience and upon their release demonstrated greater wisdom, resolve and conviction. After all, as the early Muslim jurist Sufyan Al-Thawri had said, "when a man is used to contemplation, he will learn lessons from everything" (quoted in Malik Badri’s Contemplation).

So, if anyone is really sincere about searching for eternal peace (damai abadi), and the thoughts and wisdoms of Al-Ghazali and Al-Shafie, going for a short sabbatical in our ‘international standard’ prison cell could be one of the options. Sheikh Kickdefella has recently experienced it. He and another 'privileged guest' Teresa Kok have now extended invitations for government leaders to sample a taste of that experience.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Indigenous Peoples: Listen to Our Cries (Malaysiakini, 13.9.2008)

In my last posting, I described an imagined scenario where the orang asli community publicly expresses their long-held grievances against the Malay-majority government. It didn't cross my mind that something real was about to happen. For futher details, go to:

As reported in the news article above, a group call the Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia (Indigenous Peoples Network of Malaysia) is seeking for not only better respect for their rights, they are also demanding the government to apologise for past injustices against them. The last three paragraphs in the article says it all:

According to findings in the memorandum, the Orang Asal consist of more than 80 ethno-linguistic groups, each with its own culture, language and territory, totalling up to four million or 15 per cent of national population.

“In the context of Malaysia, however, no law or policy was found that mentions the right to self-determination for indigenous peoples, let alone, accord us that right,” said Mark (Mark Bujang, Executive Director of Borneo Resources Institute.

According to him, the Orang Asal have suffered from injustices by previous regimes and governments since the formation of the government of Malaysia.

“Therefore, the government must apologise for all these injustices and prejudices that have happened throughout the history,” he stressed.

Question: The statements above, are they seditious or are they (simply) deliberations based on historical facts?

Regardless, I don't think in this case we can brush them off by telling them to go back to where they came from, can't we?

Tuesday, 9 September 2008


Ramadan Kareem!

'Orang Cina cuma tumpang di sini sahaja.' (The Chinese are only squatting here).

This was the statement of 'historical fact' (fakta sejarah) uttered by the Bukit Bendera UMNO Division Chief Ahmad Ismail last month. Since then, we've seen some very 'colourful' reactions and counter-reactions by various parties, some of which to defend while arguably many more to condemn.

Historical fact? True, no one denies that. But isn't it equally a historical fact that the majority of us Malays in Malaysia, if we were to trace our ancestral roots a few hundred years back, our ancestors too started off as squatters (penumpang) in this blessed land? If anyone wants further clarification on this, Kuda Ranggi's excellent piece 'Antara Pendatang dan Punumpang' would be most enlightening.

Undoubtedly there are many Malays who think that there is nothing wrong to say such statements. To them, the Chinese community are simply overeacting to a mere statement of historical fact.

To reach to some level of understanding, we, the Malays perhaps should try applying the golden rule of intercultural dialogue. Let's imagine if we were at the receiving end of such statements.

Imagine at some point in the future, when the orang asli (aborigine) community here in Malaysia has developed substantially socio-economically, they mobilise their resources and establish their own political party (say for example the 'United Aborigines National Organisation' or Pertubuhan Kebangsaan Orang-Orang Asli Bersatu). To reclaim their rights as the true natives of this land, leaders from this party exclaim statements such as these:

"Orang Melayu cuma menumpang di sini, ini adalah fakta sejarah... jangan cabar dan persoalkan hak kami masyarakat orang asli... masyarakat orang asli sudah lama bersabar... kembalikan hak kami... jika orang Melayu tidak berpuas hati, mereka boleh pulang ke tempat asal mereka"
("The Malays are just squatting here, this is a historical fact... don't you dare challenge and question the rights of the orang asli community... the orang asli people have been patient long enough... give back our rights... if the Malays are not satisfied, they can go back to where they came from")

Well, maybe to add more colour to this imagined scenario, imagine these statements were made by an orang asli leader during their annual general assembly, shouting on the stage with a loud threatening voice while holding a machete (parang) on one hand. And the event was telecast live on national television.

The Malays, how would we feel in that situation?