Ramblings on the media, politics and everything else that matters.
Tuesday, August 2, 2016
Who has the right to rule Malaya?
"Who has the right to rule Malaya? by Inche Sulaiman bin Ahmad (SBA Publishing, 1946)".
This is the oldest book in my collection. A very important question indeed especially if you consider the historical context. 1946: It was a year after the end of the Second World War. It was a year after the Japanese lost WW2 and left a huge power vacuum in Malaya for a brief period of time, before the British returned.
The pro-Communist MPAJA (Malayan Peoples' Anti-Japanese Army) took advantage of the situation well and they came out from their jungle bases to occupy many small cities - mostly in the small towns such as Kuala Pilah, Batu Pahat, Temerloh etc - across the Malay peninsular.
So for two bloody weeks, Malaya was ruled by the pro-Communist MPAJA guerrila forces. I cannot imagine the kind of disaster had they been able to rule for two years or even two months!
Their terroristic revenge tactics in persecuting former Japanese sympathisers, who were mostly Malays, soon gave birth to several infamous resistance groups. One of the most famous ones were the Selempang Merah group led by popular Malay Muslim ulama, Kiai Salleh in Batu Pahat. These clashes led to the worst (yes, May 13 1969 was not not the worst) racial clash between the Malays and Chinese in the 20th century. Those from Batu Pahat, Johor or Sungai Manik, Perak can probably attest to this tragedy (Read Cheah Boon Kheng's 'Red Star over Malaya').
So thank you British (only within this specific context) for not abandoning Malaya in 1946 and thank you Lai Tek for being a double agent for the Communist Party & the British. The Communist terrorists would have probably ruled Malaya for many more years had the British decided not to return to Kuala Lumpur after WW2...
[Caption: Economic losers from creative destruction: machine-breaking Luddites (English workers who believed that new industrial machineries threatened their jobs) from early-nineteenth-century Britain. Taken from "Why Nations Fail" by Acemoglu and Robinson.]
Throughout history, from the age of the industrial revolution in the early 19th century until today, there has always been groups or communities that have attempted to resist change, specifically technological change, as represented here by the Luddites.
Today, the 'neo-Luddites' are represented by groups of extreme anti-Uber taxi drivers who have attacked and damaged many Uber cars. The two men pictured here are the modern day anti-Uber taxi drivers. See, this is why I love history. It never fails to repeat itself, again and again and again.
I have nothing against taxi drivers, except for the few uncivilised ones. Technology has change. Society will change. 21st century is not the same as the 20th century. What is common or normal in the last century is not always common or normal in the new century.
"The Geopolitics of Emotion: How Cultures of Fear, Humiliation and Hope are Reshaping the World" (Anchor Books, 2009)
I have read this remarkable work by one of France's leading scholars, Dominique Moïsi, 5 years ago. It remains as one of the best books on contemporary global politics in my collection. But nothing quite struck me of how spot-on his views were, until recently; namely the Syrian refugee crisis, the rise of the far-right anti-immigrant parties across Europe, the global appeal of the IS terrorist group, the rise and the populism of the xenophobic Republican Donald Trump in America and most recently the British fear and anger behind #Brexit.
To Moïsi, the three major global civilisations are represented by three important emotions; West; America and Europe (fear), Islamic (humiliation) and, India, China, East Asia and Africa (hope).
It is grossly insufficient to only be focusing on Trump's racism and his personality alone without understanding the appeal behind Trump-ism and the ideology of fear in America. Likewise in Europe and in the UK, the sense of fear is sweeping across the continent.
The fear that Muslims and Islam are changing the tradition identity and culture of Europe. And the fear that migrants are bringing in foreign ideology and culture. This fear and anger was clearly manifested in the recent #Brexit referendum where 51% of British citizens voted to Leave the EU. Experts have argued that the vote was nothing about the economy but it was all about immigration and the fear of migrants "swarming" into the UK.
Second, it is insufficent to merely deny the religion of the IS without understanding the emotion that drives them to their idea of "jihad". By simply denouncing them as unIslamic, without going to the roots of the problem, does not make the problem go away. E.g. The decline of the Muslim ummah post-Ottoman caliphate, the humiliation of the Arab states in the 20th century at the hands of the Anglo-American neo-colonialism, Zionism, and the continuing instability in Palestine, Iraq, Syria etc which are all part of the contributing factors.
P/s: To all fans of geopolitics and global affairs, this book is highly recommended.
We (America) have become an idiocracy. And it only took two and a half centuries - Joel Stein, TIME.
This is not the first article that I have read about "Idiocracy" and the surrealism of American politics. In fact, I have tweeted something similar 2 years ago (Ha ha). But anyways, if there is one brilliantly stupid Hollywood movie that I'd like to recommend, it's "Idiocracy".
It's just too stupid when I watched it a few years ago but the stupidity is becoming the new reality in American politics. The sci-fi comedy movie was set 500 years in the future but I think nobody expected the fictitious narratives to become reality too soon; 2016!
I think I know what to ask Donald Trump if I ever get the chance to see him;
Self-censorship is a must, say media experts - The Mole
Email interview with The Mole. Story by Amira Nutfah.
KUALA LUMPUR – Feb 20, 2016: Netizens are urged to use the Internet responsibly, now that Facebook, Whatsapp and other social media avenues are playing an increasingly prominent role in communication.
Media experts who talked to The Mole stressed that netizens must practice self-censorship to avoid the unsuspected repercussions that irresponsible posting and sharing would cost to the general populace.
Earlier, Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Seri Salleh Said Keruak in a blog posting advised Internet users to authenticate news shared over social media news feeds.
He wrote that careless postings can create unnecessary confusion, panic, and fear, while in some cases, would lead to online scams.
“In conclusion, don’t blindly click, like and share things that you see on your newsfeed, without fully understanding the details behind the headlines or the truth about the story,” he wrote.
Journalism and media warfare expert Professor Dr Mokhtar Muhammad of Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) explained that people ignored the move to “verify before sharing” as they are fixated to need of fast and speedy information.
Mokhtar said, it has appeared to be a trend where most netizens, afraid of being labelled as “outdated and unknowledgeable” would simply forwarded the messages they get.
He added, some also shared an information or false alert out of fear, particularly when a terrifying incidence occurred around them.
“If we were to be in such pressing situation, most of us would feel the urgency to inform others and have little time to verify the messages,” he added.
The media expert added that self-censorship can be exercised individually by stopping the act of sharing unverified information.
“The big idea is to put ourselves in the shoes of the people that would be affected. If possible, contact the authorities if the messages involved the government and ask them for clarification,” he added.
Advertising and media warfare expert Associate Professor Dr Adnan Hashim of UiTM pointed out that the circulation of fabricated or false information especially targeting national leaders should be stopped.
In addition, Adnan urged netizens to double check any information as to avoid defaming or tarnishing the profile of anyone.
“When we finally found out that a forwarded posting is unauthentic, it would be too late. There are always implications on doing or sharing. Most of the time, the effects can be serious once it involve political leaders or public figures,” he added.
The media expert however stressed that all in all, self-censorship should be backed with good parenting and education, that good values learnt will help safeguard one’s action.
“Young people are spending more time on social media compared to anything else. For the more reason, they have to exercise the values learnt. This is sometimes common sense. If you don’t know the full truth of something, then don’t share it,” he added.
Social media expert Shahnon Mohamed Salleh of the Centre of Media and Information Warfare Studies, UiTM opined that being responsible online requires one to evaluate the “detrimental effects” of an information.
Shahnon said, “freedom of expression” is indeed an indisputable saying, but netizens often neglected that such right entails bigger responsibility.
He added, the underlying factor is that the netizens appear to be easily deceived into believing that the messages or postings are interesting and worth sharing, without knowing the accuracy.
“Past study had shown that for about 70 to 75 per cent of viral contents shared online including through Whatsapp is actually false news, but many believed them.
“This ‘herd mentality’ is nothing new, but with social media, everything is documented, hence it’s easy for all to see,” he added.
Shahnon also suggested the government to come up with a monitoring system engaged with social media to eliminate malicious postings that would endanger public order and security.
He said, the authority must remind the public that legal action is only used as a last resort and serve as a deterrent to the public.
He added, the online community can also help by establishing creative measure, like a “fact checker” page that act as a group to help in securing verification of a posting.
The Arab Awakening: Islam and the New Middle East - A Reflection
Like many political junkies of the world, I was intrigued and fascinated by the events in the Middle East in 2011-12. A series of revolutions (popularly referred to as the ArabSpring) swept across the Arab world from Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen to Bahrain and Syria. Looking back, I was naive for actually believing that real political change was really happening.
So when I first read this book 4 years ago, I couldn't quite understand Dr Ramadan's pessimism or in his own words - "cautious optimism" over the events in the MidEast. I mean, come on, they have never tasted real democracy (Malaysia on the other hand have had 12 General Elections since 1955). Why not give them a chance instead of being overly pessimistic?
But by now, it is evidently clear that Dr Ramadan's pessimism was fully justified. The so-called revolution was only meant to be temporary. While the revolution succeeded in bringing down Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, promises of a democratic elections and a new era of a civillian leadership, the hard harsh reality was that the Egyptian army continues to dominate the judiciary, the security and the economy, thus making it virtually impossible for anyone to rule Egypt without the strong support and resources from the military generals (Think Myanmar).
So despite winning in a democratic election, former president Morsi's fate was sealed from the beginning. He ruled only for about a year before being toppled by the army. In the end, it's all back to square one when General Al-Sisi was made president.
Dr Ramadan's pessimism, or his reluctance to be too optimistic about the future in the MidEast, particularly in Egypt was right after all. This is a mark of a true intellectual - one who is able to really understand the ground, the direction of events and the kind of social change that may or may not happen in future.
US Elections: Of Anti-Establishment Populism and the End of the Political Centre
The US presidential election is no doubt one of the most watched political events on earth and personally I have been an avid observer of American politics especially after the election of Barack Obama in 2008. Unless you have been away for the past year or more, then you would have read that on the Republican side, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are currently leading the nomination charge while in the Democratic party, Hillary Clinton is battling out against Bernie Sanders to be the presidential nominee.
Every presidential campaign is unique in its own sense. However, the 2016 elections is perhaps the most entertaining and most divisive ever in the history of modern American presidential elections. So what is new in 2016? As they say a week in politics is a long time. So imagine four to eight years.
If there is something that is strikingly clear today in contrast to the previous two presidential elections that we should take note is: 1) the losing grip of the moderates which by and large dominates the political establishment in both the Democrats and the Republicans and 2) the rise of anti-establishment populism from both sides of the political divide. Just look at the Iowa caucus results; about half of the Republican and Democratic delegates chose anti-establishment candidates; Ted Cruz and Donald Trump for the Republican and Bernie Sanders for the Democrats. What does this means? The rise of anti-establishment populism.
Rise of Anti-Establishment Populism
L-R: Bernie Sanders (D), Donald Trump (R)
Traditionally, the presidential nominees of both parties have always - or at least most of the time - been seen as party moderates, but not so anymore. Although the presidential nominees have yet to be decided, major polling results since the last several months have shown that Trump has consistently been leading the polls before losing out in Iowa to Ted Cruz - also another anti-establishment candidate. In the Democratic party, Bernie Sanders is fast catching up with Hillary Clinton - the establishment's favourite - in the polls.
How do we explain the rise and rise of Bernie Sanders - the only presidential candidate without a major donor, without a single endorsement from the Democratic establishment and is the candidate with the least mainstream media coverage, yet is seriously challenging Hillary Clinton's lead as the Democratic presidential nominee. These clearly disproves the idea that a Bernie Sanders candidacy is "unelectable" against the Republican candidate.
What about Donald Trump? He is a self-funding multi billionaire who has never held public office and is running a campaign against the myopic idea of "crazy political correctness", against Mexicans and Muslims yet continues to lead the GOP pack in major polls. How do you explain the fact that both the non-establishment candidates; Trump and Cruz managed to garner more votes - 52% in total - in the Iowa caucus than all the GOP establishment candidates' votes combined; Rubio, Jeb, Christie and Kasich? (Jeb and Christie was the latest to drop out from the presidential race)
One, the anger and the disillusionment of the American public towards the system and the political elites which do not seem to represent their views. And this sentiment is often shared by many across the political spectrum. There has been many studies that shows the increasing polarisation in American politics and the declining rate of bipartisan consensus in American politics, as well as the serious lack of trust in both the Senate and the House of Representative.
The only similarity between Sanders and Trump is that they both are running against their own party establishments by challenging what they perceive as the problematic status quo; the political system, wealthy campaign donors and special interest groups. While Trump promises to "Make America Great Again" - whatever that means; Sanders campaigns on a platform of "political revolution". These are the kind of appeal that resonates strongly with a lot of people in America.
Granted, this is not just a unique American phenomenon. The same is happening in Europe which explains the rise of the extremes and the mainstreaming of fringe groups: for example the rise of extreme right wing party, UKIP in the UK. In many parts of Europe, the extreme right wing anti-immigration German-based group PEGIDA is fast gaining popularity. In Greece, the relatively new communist Syriza party has won the recent elections beating other traditional mainstream parties. While in France, the right wing National Front is winning support even among the traditional left-leaning voters.
The End of the Moderates and the Shrinking Middle Ground?
As recent as four to eight years ago, from the Republican side, McCain in 2008 and Romney in 2012, both are regarded by many as moderates or "establishment candidates" by today's pathetic standards. But they have often been accused of being out of touch with the "reality" or not-conservative-enough. As a result, disillusioned party members and voters turned to the more ideological candidate or "true" conservatives (think Ted Cruz) for their idea of a political "salvation".
To a significant proportion of voters, the Moderates or sometimes labelled as "status-quo candidates" or "compromise candidates" are seen as too weak and incapable of making "real" change for America. This thus explains the emotional appeal towards slogans like Trump's "Make America Great Again" and Sanders repeated mantra of "political revolution".
And what is even worse is the fact that many would have to agree with former president George W Bush. The war criminal Bush is today viewed as someone who makes a lot more sense than most of the Republicans combined; with the exception of Marco Rubio and Rand Paul - two of the slightly intelligent ones. When 911 happened, Bush did not blame Islam or Muslims. He did not make hateful anti-Islam statements nor did he call for a ban on Muslims coming to America. In a statement of solidarity with American Muslims post-911 he publicly said that Islam is not the enemy and that it is a religion of peace. Contrast that to the hateful, xenophobic and racist rhetoric by Donald Trump who blamed the Mexicans, Muslims and minority groups for all the problems in America. Imagine a potential American president that is a lot worse than the worst American president.
What happened to the political center, or sometimes referred to as the middle ground? Is 2016 marks the beginning of the end for Centrism? Typically, election campaign is all about gaining the proverbial political center. But perhaps not anymore. As we are witnessing today, the so-called "political center" is beginning to become more irrelevant. How is this happening? This is all due to the fact that the old center has shrinked and shifted drastically to the Left and Right and naturally the outside expands, subsequently forming new fragmented small centers.
What are the possible effects? The shrinking and fragmented political center has led to the polarisation and greater participation from the non-mainstream players - whether for good or bad. The domination and influence of the traditional players (read: elite establishments) have seriously been challenged by new micropowers who are relatively more independent in terms of their political views and resources. Small insignificant fringe groups once unheard of in the national stage have begun to make their presence felt nationally. For example, once dormant White nationalists and American neo-Nazi groups, are now openly supports and campaigns for Trump.
However, in order for us to really understand this from a bigger perspective, we need to also understand the changing dynamics of power in politics. Moises Naim has summed up really well in his book, "The End of Power (2013)";
"Large, well established political parties continue to be the main vehicle for gaining control of government in a democracy. But they are increasingly being undermined and bypassed by new forms of political organization and participation."
The above quote perfectly explain the present trend of anti-establishment populism in American politics and the mass appeal of Trump and Sanders. As America tend to lead and shape global democracies, perhaps it is time for Malaysia to pay more attention in the upcoming election in order to better understand the changing dynamics of politics and democracy in the 21st century.