Malaysia Matters [Site Now Removed From Web]

[Sarawak Report has recorded some of the material that was on the Malaysia Matters website, commissioned from Josh Trevino by BN, but which has now been removed from the web – see below]

The strange, stupefying case of Anwar Ibrahim.

2 July 2008 By Joshua Trevino

How strange can Anwar Ibrahim’s political career get? Back when he was a threat to Mahathir Mohamad, the former autocrat used sodomy charges to toss him in jail for six years. The general assumption then was that it was all manufactured — this was Mahathir, after all, and the prospect of a major Malay political leader being so stupid was rather thin. And yet, here we are again, with Ibrahim on the cusp of power, and again the object of sodomy charges. A brief period of self-imposed exile in the Turkish Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, followed by a massive rally today, have so far marked the opposition leader’s erratic response to the charges.

The assumption of too many is that the Malaysian ruling coalition is up to Mahathir’s old tricks — responding to a political threat with a nakedly political allegation. Certainly this is the assumption of the US Department of State and the Wall Street Journal-Asia. The former, via Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey, issued a remarkably clumsy statement that the United States hopes this affair is a “legitimate investigation of charges that might exist under Malaysian law and would not be … a politically motivated investigation or prosecution.” The latter, in a staff editorial, declared, “For the ‘crime’ of winning the public’s confidence, Mr. Anwar is facing accusations that could derail his political career and threaten Malaysia’s democratic institutions.” The State Department’s statement is at least defensible, if ham-handed — and it has provoked a predictable reaction from within Malaysia — but the WSJ-Asia simply assumes too much. For the sake of argument, accept the implicit proposition that the government of Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi harbors the same values and methods as that of Mahathir Mohamad. Accept that Badawi is the Medvedev to Mahathir’s Putin. Does it follow from this that the Malaysian ruling apparatus, and especially its apparatus of repression, is wholly incompetent? Does it follow from this that they would, Zimbabwe-style, simply resort to the same tried and true excuse for political persecution?

I submit that those who believe this are not especially familiar with modern Malaysia — nor are they reading the polls of Malaysians right now, most of which indicate a near-universal disbelief in the veracity of the charges against Ibrahim.

The truth is that this implicit proposition is almost certainly false. The hatred of Mahathir for Badawi is well documented, not least on this site, and as well documented are the reasons for that hatred. Chief among them is Badawi’s gutting of the corrupt judicial structure that Mahathir put into place, accomplished in part by the appointment of fierce Mahathir critic (and pro-reform advocate) Zaid Ibrahim as law minister. (I had an opportunity to meet Minister Ibrahim — no relation to Anwar Ibrahim — a few weeks back, and the photos are here.) Furthermore, many of Badawi’s other reforms have directly benefitted his would-be overthrower Anwar Ibrahim, not least by the liberalization of press laws that aid the latter’s party far more than the ruling coalition. If the new charges against Ibrahim were manufactured by the government — as the old ones certainly seemed to be — it would make no sense, as the mechanisms to exploit those charges have been almost wholly dismantled by that same government.

So where does this leave us? As with Malaysia at large, in a very confused place. It is technically possible, of course, that elements within the government are having a go at framing Ibrahim again — but if they are, it’s a doomed effort, given the facts established by the prime minister himself It is also technically possible that Anwar Ibrahim has a penchant for his fellow man, which lends itself to repeat sodomy prosecutions. To paraphrase a disgraced leader closer to home, these are our known unknowns. As we watch the situation in Malaysia unfold, the best we can do is to eschew the examples of our State Department and WSJ-Asia — and wait and see.

A dead girl and a live boy.

3 July 2008 By Joshua Trevino

If it’s a new day, it means the Anwar Ibrahim fracas just got a bit stranger. Yesterday, I wrote the following:

If the new charges against Ibrahim were manufactured by the government — as the old ones certainly seemed to be — it would make no sense, as the mechanisms to exploit those charges have been almost wholly dismantled by that same government … It is technically possible, of course, that elements within the government are having a go at framing Ibrahim again — but if they are, it’s a doomed effort, given the facts established by the prime minister himself.

So much for technical possibility: today brings news that Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak actually met with Ibrahim’s accuser before the charges were filed. Why would the 23-year old Saiful Bukhari Azlan, purported victim of Ibrahim’s bent for sodomy, have fled to the home of the Deputy Prime Minister? Najib says, “He needed help because he was so traumatised” — and surely there must be someone in UMNO telling him how bad this looks, and how absurd it sounds. There are many persons to whom victims of rape turn for solace and counsel, but national political figures are generally not among them.

One also hopes that this hypothetical Malaysian Cassandra is also telling the Deputy Prime Minister to not breathe a further public word until the utterly bizarre and bloody case of the murdered Mongolian model, in which he is increasingly mentioned, is resolved. That case, in which the young and pretty Shaariibuugiin Altantuyaa was murdered and then blown up with blocks of C4 — or perhaps murdered by being blown up with blocks of C4 — is seemingly unconnected to the Ibrahim affair, except by bonds of politics.

Both Ibrahim (as leader of the opposition) and Najib (as UMNO’s number two man) aspire to the Prime Ministership — and now both have alleged crimes with which to tar one another. The famously corrupt former governor of Louisiana, Edwin Edwards, once bragged that he would only lose an election if he were caught “with either a dead girl or a live boy.” Curiously, that is now what Malaysia’s political crisis comes down to. The question that will resolve the impasse is not so much what is true, but what Malaysia’s electorate believes.

Windfall Profits Tax On Oil

15 July 2008 By Malaysia Matters

…Palm oil, that is. Reddish gold. Sime Tea.

Ok, so the Jed Clampet thing doesn’t work all that well here. Forget about it.

But the importance of palm oil to the Malaysian economy shouldn’t be underestimated.

Malaysia is the world’s largest palm oil exporter. And, apparently, plantation owners have been successful enough at squeezing that stuff out (palm oil), that government officials have figured they ought to be able tosqueeze a bit more themselves (taxes). 

Palm oil farmers with more than 40 hectars of land will get a new monthly bill that…

…will be at three percent of the profit made for every one metric tonne of FFB in plantations in Peninsular Malaysia and at 1.5 percent rate for plantations in Sabah and Sarawak.

Those that don’t comply with this tax will face steep penalties, including jail time.

About half a million people in Malaysia either grow the crop, or are connected to the industry. Malaysia is the word’s leading producer of the stuff which quite possibly may “have now surpassed soybean oil as the most widely produced vegetable oil in the world.”

So what’s the big deal with an additional few percent tax on profit?

True, there are reserves now, but indications point to demand for the product increasing ever more.

Given the already high prices on food, and understanding that manufacturers will, quite naturally, pass an increased expense along to the consumer, one can’t help but wonder what the impact of an additional tax will eventually have on the average person.

Does the regional economy need yet one more added expense, however slight, to ripple through the commodities market?

Democracy in Malaysia? More than just scandal at the top…

17 July 2008 By Malaysia Matters

After posting bond following Wednesday night’s stay in jail and arrest by “20 balaclava-clad police commandos,” the latest headline in opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s ongoing scandal is his refusal to give police a DNA sample. He also has refused to be photographed by the police. ”They have seen all my private parts. Of course I refused to be photographed, it could be on YouTube very soon!”

Anwar has said the allegations made by Mohamad Saiful Bukhari Azlan, a 23-year-old former aide, are a government conspiracy to prevent him from seizing power after March elections where the opposition made major gains.

Anwar’s popularity as an underdog is running high in spite (or because) of being charged with sodomy for a second time. –Malaysia still has anti-sodomy laws on the books dating back to British colonial times that allow for caning and up to 20 years of jail time for acts of sodomy – even if both parties consent.

In the corresponding intrigue surrounding Anwar’s rival, Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak, we await the next revelation to peculate up regarding accusation of his involvement in the death and mutilation of Shaariibuugiin Altantuyaa. (Murder is a capitol offense in Malaysia)

And then of course Mr Balasubramaniam Perumal, the private detective that originally accused Najib, is still missing, along with his family.

There is plenty more dirt to be dug up and flung before the next rainy season hits and it all turns to mud. That much at least is certain.

But while the headlines capture our attention, the real story here is the stratification of Malaysian society that is providing the undercurrents of support both for, and against Anwar.

Battlelines are drawn along ethnic division and for all of Malaysia’s attributes and potential greatness, it seems to lack an effective republican check that would ensure a protection of individuals and minorities – whether those minorities be ethnic, economic, or religious.

And so Malaysia is at a crossroads. Andy Mukherjee on bloomberg.com goes so far as to say that:

Malaysia ought to serve as a statutory warning to fast- growing Asian nations about the pointlessness of chasing the dream of Western-style prosperity while failing to build strong democratic institutions. It’s wishful thinking that the latter would miraculously appear when a threshold level of per-capita income is crossed.

The bottom line?

Without a broad conviction in respect for individual freedom, the institutions to guarantee the same, and effective leadership to accomplish this, Malaysian democracy threatens to continue rubbing itself raw.

Anwar set to return

1 August 2008 By Jerome Armstrong

The AP is reporting that Anwar Ibrahim’s wife is stepping down to make way for his return to Parliament in Malaysia. She resigned from a seat in the Permatang Pauh constituency in the northern part of the country, and a by-election will be held within 60 days of her resignation. His wife, Wan Azizah, had won in a landslide election in the March general election.

When I was over there in June, and met with the PM, he mentioned that he’d heard of cases where Anwar was trying to bribe lawmakers to defect from the ruling party to the opposition party. So it’s not surprising to hear him tell the same thing to the AP yesterday, that he has heard many stories about Anwar allegedly making “monetary offers” for defections. Anwar would need about 30 defections to take power in the 222 member Parliament.

Anwar’s stated multiple times that he will be able to do so by the end of September. The IHT sets the date at September 16th. In the meantime, Anwar has to shake off the charges against him of sodomy, and win the by-elections.  The election shouldn’t be a problem, and we’ll know in a few days about the charges:

Police completed their investigation into the case Thursday, and Anwar’s aides say he could be arrested as early as Monday. Sodomy, even between consenting adults, is punishable by up to 20 years in jail in Muslim-majority Malaysia.

The Deputy PM, Najib Razk, who is slated to become the PM next year, dismissed Anwar’s threat of takeover, saying, “No, the government is not threatened. We have enough majority.” That’s going to be tested soon.

UPDATE: Al Gore put out the following statement (this is in regards to the sodomy charges against Anwar):

Statement of Former Vice President Gore

(Nashville, TN). The real tragedy is that the government of Malaysia engages in character  assassination to silence an effective leader of the political opposition. Twice, now, the government  has used the same tactic in an effort to politically destroy Anwar Ibrahim. In the process, however,  it is damaging its own credibility at home and abroad. The means exist for the government to allow this situation to be quickly resolved,  simultaneously restoring dignity to Anwar Ibrahim and to itself.  I hope greater wisdom will prevail.

“For the second time, Gore is goring us, repeating the 1998 goring…”

12 August 2008 By Malaysia Matters

…said Malaysian foreign minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim in response to criticism made by former US Vice President, Al Gore. 

“We hope he [Gore] will stop goring as it is about time he re-examines the goring process within himself and his country,” Rais said after a flag-hoisting ceremony in Putrajaya in conjunction with Asean’s 41st anniversary.

Rais was reacting to a recent statement whereby Gore accused the Malaysian government of using “character assassination” twice in an effort to politically destroy Anwar Ibrahim. -That is, once this summer, and then again back in 1998.

Almost ten years ago Gore similarly offended Malaysians during Anwar’s first difficulty with sodomy charges. At that time, Gore actually utilized some of the opposition slogans as part of his public criticism of the Malaysian government.

Mr Gore also used the word ‘reformasi’ – the rallying cry of anti-government protestors who support the sacked Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, Anwar Ibrahim.

It was Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s responsibility as the then-Foriegn Minister to chastize Gore for his “irresponsible incitement.”

But fast forward to 2008. Gore is yet again backing Anwar.

What is behind this?

Has Gore been paying attention? Does he understand that Anwar’s coalition partners include the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party – the same guys that have recruited folks to go to Pakistan and fight with the Taliban?

And, of course, the irony here is that, given PAS’s ideal to move the government towards instituting an ever-more universal Sharia law, it is the very sort of statute that Anwar is charged with that PAS would stand behind.

So if Gore is hoping to back the crew that seeks to further westernize Malaysia’s democracy, he’s sitting in the wrong camp.

Blame it on the “Israel Lobby”

19 August 2008 By Kevin Holtsberry

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(Image via Wikipedia)

It seems this particular conspiracy theory never gets old or goes out of style:

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has accused his country’s government of supporting the pro-Israel lobby in the US and Jewish groups inside Israel.

“I have evidence proving that the government is backing the Jewish lobby in the US and some parties inside Israel,” Anwar told IslamOnline.net in an exclusive interview.

But as usual those making the accusations have nothing but their own grand theories to offer as proof or evidence:

Anwar, a former deputy premier contesting legislative by-election as the next step in his plan to become premier, declined to elaborate on the nature of the support or his evidence.

I guess it is easier to blame the “Israel Lobby” than to address the very real problems involved.

It might be easy to laugh off such conspiracies if there wasn’t a long history of tragic results from this type of worldview.

No comments

Anwar’s connections to Terror…Al Gore, did you see this?

20 August 2008 By Malaysia Matters

Anwar’s recent anti-semitic remarks gave us pause and cause to take stock of the man and another look at his record and past associations. It is of paramount importance that both Malaysians and Americans understand the dangerous implications of a Malaysia ruled by Anwar Ibrahim.

As is pointed out by Ganesh Sahathevan of the The Terror Finance Blog, “many Westerners believe Anwar to be a liberal who would prefer the rule of civil law rather than Sharia. This belief is often relied on to argue against any evidence of his involvement in the financing of terrorism , or at the very least, structures that lead to acts of terrorism.”

But the evidence of involvement with those connections can’t, and shouldn’t be ignored – especially by Americans (including Gore) who seem to be drawn in by Anwar’s ‘underdog’ status as opposition leader and choose to ignore facts about his past.

His role in founding the International Institute of Islamic Thought, and the IIIT’s subsequent financing of jihadist and Islamist organisations known to be involved in acts of terrorism should set off alarm bells.

For instance, during Israel’s action in Lebanon, Anwar’s commentary in the press was very pro-Hamas and anti-Israeli. It would seem that associates of his put that sentiment into action. A board member of Anwar’s IIIT, Sheik Yusuf Al-Qardawi, “for whom Anwar has great admiration, ” is the likely founder and leader of the “Union for Good,” an association now banned in Israel because it is a de facto Hamas support network.

And during Anwar’s most recent trouble with authorities, the laundry list of those who have signed a petition citing the Quran calling for the charges against Anwar to be dropped includes many additional Anwar associates who are clear conduits for aid to enemies of the United States.

Islamicists endorse Anwar Ibrahim

27 August 2008 By Kevin Holtsberry

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Image by KamalSell via Flickr

In the wake of his landslide victory Malaysia’s Islamist party has  endorsed Anwar Ibrahim, removing a major obstacle in his push to win power.

But the question remains whether he can hold his coalition together:

Analysts said that PAS, which wants an Islamic state in this Asian country of 27 million people, would remain a difficult partner for Mr Anwar’s “rainbow coalition” which also comprises liberals and an ethnic Chinese party.

A record of corruption

2 September 2008 By Malaysia Matters

What is often overlooked is the fact that, aside from being accused and imprisoned for sodomy back in 1999, the other charges Anwar was incarcerated for were related to malfeasance and corruption. But the fruit of likely corrupt activity that Anwar partook in during his time in the public trust during the 1990’s was not yet evident.

Work done by TerrorFinance.org points to the lucrative May 2006 IPO of Al-Baraka Banking Group, (ABG) – an entity who’s chairman, Salah Kamel was responsible for the purchase of shares of Bank Islam that at the time was a Malaysian government-owned entity and allegedly involved in laundering funds belonging to the Third World Relief Agency.  Anwar has been, and still is a member of the board of directors.

Further, it appears that while Anwar was Minister of Finance in the mid-90’s he sold the government’s remaining shares of Bank Islam to SAAR Foundation, headed by an individual named Jamal Barzinji. At the same time, SAAR foundation was financing Anwar’s International Institute of Islamic Thought. Barzinji was a director at each organization.

For the entire article go to:

http://www.terrorfinance.org/the_terror_finance_blog/2007/02/yassin_alkadia_.html

Anwar’s ties to terror while in the US

4 September 2008 By Malaysia Matters

While a fellow at the American Center for Democracy, Ilan Weinglass detailed for FrontPageMagazine.com Anwar’s ties to terrorism through the International Institute of Islamic Thought:

Anwar Ibrahim is a founder and director of the Muslim Brotherhood affiliated International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), a think tank in Virginia that has alleged links to terrorism. IIIT’s 2003 tax-exempt IRS filing lists a $720 donation to the al-Haramain Islamic Foundation of Ashland, Oregon, which was designated as a terrorist funding organization by the U.S. government in 2004. Among the Treasury Department’s findings were that the Oregon branch of al-Haramain engaged in tax fraud, money laundering, supporting Chechen mujahideen affiliated with al Qaeda, and had “direct links between the U.S. branch and Usama bin Laden.” In fact, many of al – Haramain’s offices around the world were closed for supporting terrorism.

There is more evidence of IIIT’s links to terrorism. A few examples: according to court documents, in the early 1990s IIIT donated at least $50,000 to a think tank run by Sami al-Arian, the World Islamic and Study Enterprise (WISE), that served as a front group for Palestinian Islamic Jihad. IIIT is also named as a defendant in two class-action lawsuits brought by victims of the 9/11 attacks. One alleges that IIIT received the bulk of its operating expenses from the SAAR network, whose component groups are accused in another class-action suit of being “fronts for the sponsor of al Qaeda and international terror.” The same suit lists IIIT as well as every officer of IIIT besides Anwar Ibrahim as a supporter of the SAAR network. This public information was available to SAIS, yet the school extended a fellowship to Ibrahim.

Ibrahim, along with three other IIIT directors, is also a trustee of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY). According to congressional testimony of testimony of Jonathan Winer, former Deputy Secretary of State for International Law Enforcement, in October 2002 WAMY made Hamas leader Khalid Mishal an “honored guest” at a conference held in Riyadh. A Saudi opposition group reports that WAMY disseminates literature encouraging “religious hatred and violence against Jews, Christians, Shi’a and Ashaari Muslims.” Evidently, as a trustee of this group, Anwar Ibrahim is far from advocating moderate Islam.

Ibrahim and his family were also the beneficiaries of an apparent tax fraud perpetrated by IIIT. The same tax filings showing a donation to the al-Haramian foundation show $92,200 in contributions to Ibrahim’s daughter, Nurul Izzah. IIIT violated U.S. law when it wrote “none” under “Donee’s relationship” when listing donations to Ibrahim’s daughter. The group would have lost its tax-exempt status had it been known that it was sending money to the family member of a director. Ibrahim never disavowed this act when given the chance and even stated explicitlythat these contributions were made for the education of his six children.

Moreover, the International Free Anwar Campaign (IFAC), which was established when Ibrahim was in a Malaysian prison, has some apparent links to al Qaeda. Rahim Ghouse, who was an IFAC leader based out of Melbourne, Australia, had business dealings with Yassin al-Qadi, who is on the Treasury Department’s list of Specially Designated Terrorists for funding al Qaeda. While this alone is not conclusive, it should have raised a red flag. Instead, SAIS assigned Ibrahim to “counsel students who wish to learn more about Southeast Asia and the Muslim world.”

Perhaps most importantly, Ibrahim never disavowed IIIT’s support of terrorism. On the contrary: in an October 25, 2003 response to the broadcasting of terror-supporting charges against IIIT on Australian television, he effusively praised the organization and said that charges against it were politically motivated.

World Assembly of Muslim Youth

5 September 2008 By Malaysia Matters

Another organization for which Anwar has provided leadership is The World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY). Background on WAMY courtesy of www.discoverthenetworks.org.

The World Assembly of Muslim Youth is also one of the vehicles through which the Saudi Wahhabi government funds Islamic extremism and international terrorism. WAMY was co-founded by Kamal Helwabi, a former senior member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, and by Osama bin Laden’s nephew, Abdullah bin Laden (who served as WAMY’s President through 2002 and is now its Treasurer). WAMY raises funds for the terrorist group Hamas, and in October 2002 made Hamas leader Khaled Mash’al an “honored guest” at a Muslim youth and globalization conference held in Riyadh. WAMY also helps finance the Kashmir insurgency against India, characterizing it as a “liberation” movement.

A Saudi opposition group reports that WAMY disseminates literature encouraging “religious hatred and violence against Jews, Christians, Shi’a and Ashaari Muslims.” As WAMY puts it, this literature is expressly designed ”to teach our children to love taking revenge on the Jews and the oppressors, and teach them that our youngsters will liberate Palestine and Jerusalem when they go back to Islam and make jihad for the sake of Allah.” Some WAMY publications have included interviews with Saudi clerics such as Ayed al-Qarni, an adviser to Saudi Prince Fahd. In one such interview, al-Qarni stated that he prays for America’s destruction daily, that he encourages students to go to Iraq to fight against U.S. forces, and that those who cannot go should at least contribute money to the cause. Another WAMY publication features a list of “martyrs” who have attacked and murdered Israelis; one of the individuals on this list is a man who drove 14 bus passengers off a cliff as a member of the group “Heroes from Palestine.”

Investigations of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center uncovered, in an apartment of one of the terrorists, an envelope marked “WAMY” along with a training manual on how to set up terrorist cells in other countries and stage attacks.

WAMY came under FBI scrutiny after 9/11, when it was determined that a radiologist, Dr. Al Badr al-Hamzi, whose credit card was found among the possessions of the hijackers, was receiving funding from the organization. The Senate Finance Committee requested that the IRS examine WAMY’s U.S. branch for links to terrorism. WAMY was also named in a trillion-dollar lawsuit by the families of the victims of 9/11.

In May 2004, federal law-enforcement, immigration, and anti-terrorism agents raided WAMY’s Alexandria, Virginia office, seizing all of its computers and hard drives, and arresting a volunteer board member, Ibrahim Abdullah, on immigration charges. WAMY had been operating out of the office of Jamal Barzinji, who was involved with a total of seven organizations that were raided by federal agents in connection with terrorist financing. After the raid on its office, WAMY likened itself to the YMCA, saying that it was interested only in “youth education, youth development, and serving the Muslim community.”

Though WAMY’s activities in the United States were derailed, its operations elsewhere in the world continue unabated — in many instances with the help of other, likeminded organizations. For example, WAMY’s efforts in Somalia are supported by  the “Christian charities” Novib and Oxfam, which are based in the United Kingdom and Holland, respectively.

One of WAMY’s closest affiliates is the European Council for Fatwa and Research, which aims to spread fundamentalist Islam and implement Shari’a (Islamic Law) worldwide. Another organization with intimate ties to WAMY is the Muslim Students’ Association of the U.S. and Canada. And four directors of the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) – including Anwar Ibrahim, a terror-supporting Malaysian Islamist who co-founded IIIT – are trustees of WAMY.

In December 1999, WAMY announced at a press conference in Saudi Arabia that it “was extending both moral and financial support to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) ”to help it construct its $3.5 million headquarters in Washington, D.C.”  WAMY also agreed to “introduce CAIR to Saudi philanthropists and recommend their financial support for the headquarters project.” In 2002, CAIR and WAMY jointly announced, again from Saudi Arabia, their collaboration on a $1 million public-relations campaign.

Islam scholar Stephen Schwartz calls WAMY “the Saudi equivalent of the Hitler Youth: a hate-mongering, ultra-extremist group preaching, among other niceties, that Shia Muslims are not real Muslims, but products of a Jewish conspiracy.” The website Militant Islam Monitor characterizes the organization as “part of the Saudi Wahhabist ‘Jihad through conversion’ drive.”

Malaysia Matters Podcast: With Mary Kissel of the Wall Street Journal-Asia

15 September 2008 By Joshua Trevino

If you’re following Malaysia — and you’re reading Malaysia Matters, after all! — you know that this is the moment of decision for the Barisan National coalition that has held power since Malaysian independence, and for the opposition coalition led by Anwar Ibrahim that promised to seize power tomorrow. In this portentous moment for Malaysia, we are fortunate to be joined for a very special podcast by Mary Kissel, editorial page editor of the Wall Street Journal-Asia. Ms Kissel is based in Hong Kong, and just returned from Kuala Lumpur. She shares her thoughts and impressions of Malaysian events with Malaysia Matters readers here.

BN: Anwar Lies To The People

16 September 2008 By Kevin Holtsberry

The leaders of the Barisan Nasional (BN) component parties are definately calling Anwar Ibrahim’s bluff:

Umno Vice-President Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam said the people should now get back to work rather than be engrossed in listening to Anwar’s theatrics about forming a new government.

He said the time has come for the people to no longer pay attention to what Anwar had to say as it was only a waste of time.

“With the date Sept 16 coming to pass, it is clear that what has been mentioned (about forming new government) is just play-acting,” he said.

Umno supreme council member Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal also dismissed as mere lies the claims by Anwar about having a list of BN crossovers.

“This is the Ramadan month, an auspicious month… let’s not create a situation that can affect the people’s confidence,” said Shafie who is also Unity, Culture, Arts and Heritage Minister.

Umno information chief Tan Sri Muhammad Muhd Taib also said that Anwar’s failure to form the new government today showed that he had no credibility and was only out to create trouble.

“He is desperate to grab power in an unethical way; this goes to show that he is hungry for power,” he said.

So the question remains: is Anwar trying to bluff his way to power?  If he has the votes why not reveal them?

Given his past promises and strong words, his credibility is on the line.  Malayisans, and the world, will be watching to see how he responds.

Malaysia Matters podcast: Opening of the Third International Conference on the Muslim World and the West.

9 June 2008 By Joshua Trevino

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I’m pleased to report that Malaysia Matters has the audio for the entire opening session of the Third International Conference on the Muslim World and the West. Fair warning: this one is quite long, and the file is quite big. Nonetheless, we hope you’ll appreciate having a listen at what goes on when princes, prime ministers, and functionaries get together and share their inmost thoughts.

You may listen to this podcast here, you may subscribe to our podcast RSS feed, or you may subscribe via iTunes.

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Malaysia Matters podcast: Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf.

9 June 2008 By Joshua TrevinopastedGraphic_2.pdf

Yesterday, Jerome Armstrong and I had the privilege of sitting down to interview Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, founder and CEO of the American Society for Muslim Advancement, author of “What’s Right with Islam,” imam of Masjid al-Farah in New York City, and most important — for our purposes — the co-founder and Chairman of the Board of the Cordoba Initiative. The Cordoba Initiative is part of the reason we’re here in Kuala Lumpur: it is co-sponsoring, with the Malaysian Foreign Ministry, the Third International Conference on the Muslim World and the West (about which more anon), and it has as its core mission the “[healing of] the relationship between the Islamic World and America.”

Imam Feisal was extraordinarily generous with his time, and though the exchange was intense at points, we managed to discuss an impressive array of issues, from American elections, to a commonality of values between America and Islam, to Malaysian history, and beyond. With apologies for the rather erratic audio quality, please settle in for a conversation with the Imam.

Glorious Melaka: Part One

24 June 2008 By Joshua Trevino

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To say that Melaka is amazing is to understate its impact. After nearly a week in Kuala Lumpur, with occasional excursions to Putrajaya, we were ready for an escape into an entirely different Malaysia. Not that Malaysia’s capital, or its ersatz capital, were unsatisfactory. Putrajaya is a marvel of a major planned city — a sort of Asian Brasilia, without Brasilia’s awful architecture and shoddy construction. Its glass and stone facades gleam in the tropical brilliance, and its clean, broad boulevards would be the pride of a latter-day Haussmann. Kuala Lumpur, for its part, is obviously older, but not old — its monumental architecture is a sort of mishmash of Brutalism with Islamic motifs, and the lovely Petronas Towers (far more lovely than the lamented World Trade Centers in New York City) are the magnificent exception to the aesthetic rule. Both cities are post-facto creations: meant for the seat of governance of a Malaysia, and before that a Malaya, already in being.

To see the Malaysia that came before, we traveled to Melaka.

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The verdant landscape of southeast Asia in the rainy season rolled past us as we rode, passengers of a driver named Mior, for two hours from Kuala Lumpur to Melaka. Immediately outside the capital, the vegetation had the look of a plantation: thick trees in rows upon the hlls, ready for harvest — or perhaps, as this was Malaysia, tapping. Suburbs planted in the once-empty stretches between KL, Putrajaya, and the improbably namedCyberjaya dotted the roadside. But for the Malaysian flags and the odd architectural touches, they could have been faceless, nameless developments outside Miami. The middle classes, it seems, demand much the same of their living spaces the world over.

The changes as we approached the coast, and Melaka, were subtle. The vegetation changed from ordered to anarchic, till we were driving down a four-lane highway through what looked like deepest jungle. The infrastructure changed, too: the adequate drainage outside the government towns yielded to overflowing culverts, and as the rain hammered the landscape, we joined a line of vehicles careening through deep rushing torrents surging across the asphalt. Civilization began to reassert itself. The odd roadside shop appeared; a gas station; then a mall, seemingly stuck in the middle of nowhere, and advertising Islamic fashions. At once we were in a city — Melaka! — but there were the same concrete facades, and the same featureless shop fronts. From the window I watched in dismay, until –

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– Mior swerved about a bend, and there we were at the foot of the hill that overlooked old Melaka. To our left, the 300-year old Christ Church. Upon the hill, the ruins of a 400-year old Dutch fort. To our right, across the river, the old city with its Chinese spires and temples. Before us, a full-scale replica of a Portuguese ship, just like the ones that cruised in to this harbor nearly 500 years ago. This was Melaka — or, should I say, Malacca— and this was what I came for.

Empire is an impolite word now, suggesting the subjugation of peoples and the crushing of liberties. Cities like Melaka and their historical memories are testament to empire’s beneficence, and indeed its glories. This old Malay sultanate was colonized by Chinese from Zheng He’s great fleet in the 15th century, who probably also brought Islam to the peninsula. Following the Chinese were the Portuguese, who lost the port to the Dutch in the following century — but not before planting there a community of Roman Catholics that survive today. They number in the thousands now, still call themselves Portuguese, look like Malays, and speak Kristang — Christian — a patois with Malay grammar and old Portuguese vocabulary. The Dutch presence was impermanent, and gave way to British rule as other Dutch outposts, among them Cape Town, were also falling under London’s protection from French revolutionary designs.

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The result is Melaka now: a thriving, colorful, vivid city of many faiths. Within one square mile, one finds a Tamil Methodist parish, a Roman Catholic parish, an Anglican parish, multiple mosques, Hindu shrines, and more Buddhist temples than one can count. Quite nearly all races are there, and it’s a rare adult who is not trilingual. This is a fruit of empire — and it is to Malaysia’s credit that, in stark contrast to most other post-colonial states, it has seen fit to leave it undisturbed.

We parted ways with Mior and his cab, and vanished into the warren of streets, alleys, and byways of the old port….

To be continued in part two.

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Back from Malaysia

17 June 2008 By Jerome Armstrong

I’m back from Malaysia. It wasn’t my first time to Kuala Lumpur, but I felt like it was the first time I began to understand the country’s uniqueness in today’s world. A slideshow I blogged contains some photos of the trip, especially to Malacca, which is about 2 hours south of Kuala Lumpur. Walking along one of the streets, we passed a Chinese temple, then a Hindu temple, a Mosque and then a Buddhist temple. Posted on MyDD (you can view the slide show there), through the photos, you really get a sense of the diversity in Malaysia, through this old city.

Also on MyDD, I posted some thoughts on Malaysia politics, the blogging scene in Malaysia, and blogged on the interview we held with Zaid Ibrahim, the prominent reformer that is heading up the judicial reform in Malaysia.

While I was in Malaysia, a story broke about a Judge that told of threats and intimidation attempts, which highlighted the need for reform. Also happening while I was there in Malaysia, was the rise of gasoline prices, with the government allowing the price to rise by 40 per cent, which will add to the instability inside the country.

I was also able to attend parts of the conference on the divide between the Muslim and Western worlds. I found that the Malaysian PM Badawi’s held a very inclusive and pluralistic viewpoint on religion, but there arepoints of tension. The Imam Feisal Rauf, chairman of the Cordoba Initiative, had an article up on the “Clash of Civilizations”. You should check out the comments in that thread too, to see the clash in action. I’ll post more on this when they release the “Kuala Lumpur Accord.”

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Sons of the soil, and of the sea.

9 June 2008 By Joshua Trevino

The striking thing about Malaysia, when you first walk about its streets and byways, is the multiethnic cast of the country. This is something of a trope amongst its observers, so let me elaborate a bit: it’s multi-ethnic and multi-faith, and it generally works, and its workings are a testament to the beneficial failure — yes, failure — of the country’s foundational principles.

There’s no point in recapitulating the whole drama of Malaysian history here, but a synopsis would have to take into account its settlement by Malays, the Islamization of the land by Arab and Sindhi traders, the first Chinese colonies in the 15th century, the Portuguese colonies in the 16th century, the Dutch shortly thereafter, the British in the 18th century, and the flood of Indians and yet more Chinese that the British brought in. Colonization in western Malaysia especially, whether by Malay, Muslim, or European, was never a mere act of administration that left the composition and character of the local population unchanged. Travelers know well that the rule of British colonization in particular was not to settle, but to govern. (That the handful of exceptions are almost all among the major powers of the world is a coincidence that deserves examination another day.)

The Malay lands, having been settled time and again — to the detriment solely of the lonely aboriginal bands who survive in the forested interior even now — were governed, to be sure, but also settled in a fashion. This settlement was not accomplished by Britons themselves, but by people willing to do the work that Britons wanted done. Indians to trade, Chinese to mine, and Malays to farm: all played their part in the grand tapestry that made the former Malaya the jewel of the United Kingdom’s east Asian empire.

Malaysia’s road to independence was, as roads to independence are, rocky and at points bloody. Mostly Chinese Communists ravaged the country for twelve years from 1948, and as the nation moved inexorably toward sovereignty, the question long suppressed by London’s rule had to be answered: who owned Malaysia? Right of first occupancy meant yielding it to the hill tribes — an absurdity and impossibility. Ethnic minority leaders insisted upon a Malaysia for Malaysians, with the state being for all who lived within it, of any origin. Ethnic Malay leaders, and especially the ethnic Malay leaders of the UMNO party — which rules to this day — insisted that Malaysia was for Malays. Singapore, dominated by Chinese, was expelled from the young Malaysia for this reason. Through the 1960s, periodic race riots wracked the young country, and as that decade ended, the bumiputra system of Malay ethnic preference was formulated, and in time became national policy.

Malaysia, in the face of its rich multi-ethnic, multi-faith history, defined itself as a state of one ethnicity, itself defined by one faith — Islam. Then it instituted a system of economic preferences to enforce that vision.

Here is where Malaysia should have failed. Here is where so many of the post-colonial states of the 20th century went terribly amiss. Malaysia was not the sole polity of its kind. We easily forget that in 1950, Alexandria, Egypt, was barely half Muslim, and barely half Arab. We dimly recall that Istanbul, Turkey, was, until 1923, a city of mostly Greeks, Armenians, and other Christians. We barely remember that Kampala, Uganda, used to be a thriving center of Indian culture in verdant east Africa. We do not trouble ourselves at the disappearance of the 500-year old Portuguese communities of Goa and Mozambique. Those nations, in the throes of independence, defined themselves as Malaysia did — not as existing for all their peoples, but as preferential regimes for the majority, however slim that majority was. The minorities were assimilated, or expelled, or slaughtered.

Here, too, is where Malaysia did not fail. Malaysia implemented all the policies and preconditions necessary for failure, and then resolutely failed to fail. Its minorities did not leave, were not expelled — and after the strife of the 1960s, were not attacked. The bumiputra preferences did not impoverish the Chinese or the Indians against whom they discriminated. There were no pogroms, no ethnic cleansing, and no internal jihads. If it is too much to say that Malaysia was wholly just and peaceful by the standards of Middle America, it is not to much to say that it was both these things by the standard of its fellow post-colonial regimes.

The striking thing about Malaysia, when you first walk about its streets and byways, is the multiethnic cast of the country. The second time you walk about, you notice the same thing. The third time too, and every time thereafter. Malaysia’s faces are the faces of empire — not solely British, but empires of trade, faith, and vassalage across the centuries. Unlike so many vestiges of empire in so many places, they are not cruel reminders of subjugation — but tentative, hopeful, vivid visages of hope. Malaysia’s success is rooted in its failure to be what it threatened to be. As I walk about Kuala Lumpur in the thick heat of day, and the slick darkness of night, it seems to me that nobody wants it any other way.

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Prime Ministerial porridge.

9 June 2008 By Joshua Trevino

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It’s not often that one gets to meet a head of state, and it’s even more rare to have a substantive conversation with him. Less common than either is to have the head of state make you breakfast afterward. On Sunday morning, I had the privilege of doing all three with Malaysian Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Abdullah bin Haji Ahmad Badawi.

The purpose of our meeting with the Prime Minister was to spend a few moments alone with him, and ask him whatever it pleased us to ask. I’ll let my colleague Jerome Armstrong speak for his end of things, which he has already done quite well. For my part, I was interested in the PM’s thoughts on the concept of Islam Hadhari, which we’ve written on here previously. (Unfortunately, no recording was allowed, and verbatim transcripts are beyond my ken — but I can give approximate quotes. The photos here are original.)

As we’re here in Kuala Lumpur to attend the Third International Conference on the Muslim World and the West, inquiring about Islam Hadhari seemed particularly apropos: as a model for the Islamic approach to state and society, it has much to recommend it when set against its competitors within the Muslim world. By way of prefacing my question, I mentioned Badawi’s 2005 remarks in New Zealand, and he affirmed that this was an accurate expression of his aspirations for Islam Hadhari. He then went on to say — and was insistent upon my understanding — that Islam Hadhari is not a theological affair, but purely civil and societal. I wondered whether this was for my benefit, or whatever Malaysian audience his comments might reach. (Indeed, Malaysia Matters does, judging from site traffic, have a meaningful Malaysian readership.) It is, according to him, a necessary precondition for the maintenance of Malaysia as a state that is simultaneously Islamic and pluralistic: no mean feat, as history and current events show.

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On the whole, as one might expect, Islam Hadhari as presented by the Prime Minister in our conversation — and as evidenced in his governance — appears quite benign and even constructive. Certainly, in my own travels in the Muslim world, ranging from Turkey to Jordan to east Africa, Malaysia strikes me as the most appealing from a Western perspective. With a nearly free press, an active democratic life, and a striking plurality of ethnicities and faiths (upon which we’ll be writing more shortly), it has none of the depressing and artificial ethnic uniformity of the Turkish and Arab lands, and vastly better governance than any of the African states. Though there is a long tradition of pundits and public figures getting quite wrong impressions from personal meetings with genial foreign leaders, I will go out on a limb here and state that Abdullah Badawi struck me as not merely saying the right things, but as sincerely believing and acting upon them. Though there is plenty to criticize about him and his country — see my colleague Jonathan Wynne-Jones’s report in the Daily Telegraph for one rather notable example, or this — but the gap between both and their peers is nonetheless so large that it seems, to the un-objective observer, somewhat ungracious to dwell upon it.

And then he made me breakfast.

More striking than anything the Prime Minister said in our brief exchange was his behavior afterward. The Prime Ministerial residence outside of Kuala Lumpur is quite a bit more modest than one would expect — more in the style of a well-heeled gated villa in Miami-Dade than the southeast Asian palace of my own imagination — and it is well-appointed and cozy inside, with a decor of leatherbound books, Malaysian hardwoods, and various animals that the Prime Minister, a sporting man, has killed over the years. (He is rather proud of the latter: upon taking our leave, he made sure to grab my arm, point toward a magnificent pheasant in a glass case, and say, “I shot that!”) Adjacent to his office is a sort of library and reception room, to which we media types retired upon the conclusion of our PM time. We expected to eat breakfast with Badawi’s communications man, and then retreat to the warren of concrete and causeways that is Kuala Lumpur.

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Off to the side of the room was a large table upon which were arrayed many bowls of Malay spices, and, to my confusion, a large tureen of ordinary porridge. What to do? “Let me show you,” said someone behind me, and I turned to see the Prime Minister reaching for the empty bowl in my hands. “You will not regret this,” he said, “This is my breakfast — a Malay breakfast.” He scooped a large serving of porridge into my bowl, and then proceeded to add heaping servings of the adjacent spices. “Roasted garlic,” he said, and then named the rest in Malay: a potpourri of green herbs, burgundy nuts, brilliant red chilis, and more. He stopped at the chilis, and shot me a look — “Do you want these?” Yes, I said. “You should not take on too much,” he announced, and gave me the tiniest serving. Finally, he squeezed a lime over it all, handed me the bowl, and told me to mix it up.

I did, trying not to look dubious. I took a bite of the multihued, Malay-spiced porridge. It was the most delicious breakfast dish I have ever tasted. “Malay breakfast!” exclaimed the smiling Prime Minister. The rush to replicate the concoction began, and my own breakfast was delayed as I assisted several media members in creating their own Prime Ministerial porridge.

What’s the purpose in relating anecdotes like these? Some do it because it illustrates to others their casual closeness to the holders of power, but I like to think that Calvin would remind me that I get served breakfast by a head of state through grace rather than merit. In that light, it’s useful as a humanizing corrective to the usual media scrum that surrounds public figures. Whatever one thinks of Dato’ Seri Abdullah bin Haji Ahmad Badawi, know that as a man he is kind and approachable — and he makes a fantastic porridge.

 

 

 

 

The strange, stupefying case of Anwar Ibrahim.

 

2 July 2008 By Joshua Trevino

How strange can Anwar Ibrahim’s political career get? Back when he was a threat to Mahathir Mohamad, the former autocrat used sodomy charges to toss him in jail for six years. The general assumption then was that it was all manufactured — this was Mahathir, after all, and the prospect of a major Malay political leader being so stupid was rather thin. And yet, here we are again, with Ibrahim on the cusp of power, and again the object of sodomy charges. A brief period of self-imposed exile in the Turkish Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, followed by a massive rally today, have so far marked the opposition leader’s erratic response to the charges.

 

The assumption of too many is that the Malaysian ruling coalition is up to Mahathir’s old tricks — responding to a political threat with a nakedly political allegation. Certainly this is the assumption of the US Department of State and the Wall Street Journal-Asia. The former, via Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey, issued a remarkably clumsy statement that the United States hopes this affair is a “legitimate investigation of charges that might exist under Malaysian law and would not be … a politically motivated investigation or prosecution.” The latter, in a staff editorial, declared, “For the ‘crime’ of winning the public’s confidence, Mr. Anwar is facing accusations that could derail his political career and threaten Malaysia’s democratic institutions.” The State Department’s statement is at least defensible, if ham-handed — and it has provoked a predictable reaction from within Malaysia — but the WSJ-Asia simply assumes too much. For the sake of argument, accept the implicit proposition that the government of Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi harbors the same values and methods as that of Mahathir Mohamad. Accept that Badawi is the Medvedev to Mahathir’s Putin. Does it follow from this that the Malaysian ruling apparatus, and especially its apparatus of repression, is wholly incompetent? Does it follow from this that they would, Zimbabwe-style, simply resort to the same tried and true excuse for political persecution?

 

I submit that those who believe this are not especially familiar with modern Malaysia — nor are they reading the polls of Malaysians right now, most of which indicate a near-universal disbelief in the veracity of the charges against Ibrahim.

 

The truth is that this implicit proposition is almost certainly false. The hatred of Mahathir for Badawi is well documented, not least on this site, and as well documented are the reasons for that hatred. Chief among them is Badawi’s gutting of the corrupt judicial structure that Mahathir put into place, accomplished in part by the appointment of fierce Mahathir critic (and pro-reform advocate) Zaid Ibrahim as law minister. (I had an opportunity to meet Minister Ibrahim — no relation to Anwar Ibrahim — a few weeks back, and the photos are here.) Furthermore, many of Badawi’s other reforms have directly benefitted his would-be overthrower Anwar Ibrahim, not least by the liberalization of press laws that aid the latter’s party far more than the ruling coalition. If the new charges against Ibrahim were manufactured by the government — as the old ones certainly seemed to be — it would make no sense, as the mechanisms to exploit those charges have been almost wholly dismantled by that same government.

 

So where does this leave us? As with Malaysia at large, in a very confused place. It is technically possible, of course, that elements within the government are having a go at framing Ibrahim again — but if they are, it’s a doomed effort, given the facts established by the prime minister himself It is also technically possible that Anwar Ibrahim has a penchant for his fellow man, which lends itself to repeat sodomy prosecutions. To paraphrase a disgraced leader closer to home, these are our known unknowns. As we watch the situation in Malaysia unfold, the best we can do is to eschew the examples of our State Department and WSJ-Asia — and wait and see.

 

A dead girl and a live boy.

 

3 July 2008 By Joshua Trevino

If it’s a new day, it means the Anwar Ibrahim fracas just got a bit stranger. Yesterday, I wrote the following:

 

If the new charges against Ibrahim were manufactured by the government — as the old ones certainly seemed to be — it would make no sense, as the mechanisms to exploit those charges have been almost wholly dismantled by that same government … It is technically possible, of course, that elements within the government are having a go at framing Ibrahim again — but if they are, it’s a doomed effort, given the facts established by the prime minister himself.

 

So much for technical possibility: today brings news that Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak actually met with Ibrahim’s accuser before the charges were filed. Why would the 23-year old Saiful Bukhari Azlan, purported victim of Ibrahim’s bent for sodomy, have fled to the home of the Deputy Prime Minister? Najib says, “He needed help because he was so traumatised” — and surely there must be someone in UMNO telling him how bad this looks, and how absurd it sounds. There are many persons to whom victims of rape turn for solace and counsel, but national political figures are generally not among them.

 

One also hopes that this hypothetical Malaysian Cassandra is also telling the Deputy Prime Minister to not breathe a further public word until the utterly bizarre and bloody case of the murdered Mongolian model, in which he is increasingly mentioned, is resolved. That case, in which the young and pretty Shaariibuugiin Altantuyaa was murdered and then blown up with blocks of C4 — or perhaps murdered by being blown up with blocks of C4 — is seemingly unconnected to the Ibrahim affair, except by bonds of politics.

 

Both Ibrahim (as leader of the opposition) and Najib (as UMNO’s number two man) aspire to the Prime Ministership — and now both have alleged crimes with which to tar one another. The famously corrupt former governor of Louisiana, Edwin Edwards, once bragged that he would only lose an election if he were caught “with either a dead girl or a live boy.” Curiously, that is now what Malaysia’s political crisis comes down to. The question that will resolve the impasse is not so much what is true, but what Malaysia’s electorate believes.

 

Windfall Profits Tax On Oil

 

15 July 2008 By Malaysia Matters

 

 

…Palm oil, that is. Reddish gold. Sime Tea.

 

Ok, so the Jed Clampet thing doesn’t work all that well here. Forget about it.

 

But the importance of palm oil to the Malaysian economy shouldn’t be underestimated.

 

Malaysia is the world’s largest palm oil exporter. And, apparently, plantation owners have been successful enough at squeezing that stuff out (palm oil), that government officials have figured they ought to be able to squeeze a bit more themselves (taxes).

 

 

 

 

 

Palm oil farmers with more than 40 hectars of land will get a new monthly bill that…

 

…will be at three percent of the profit made for every one metric tonne of FFB in plantations in Peninsular Malaysia and at 1.5 percent rate for plantations in Sabah and Sarawak.

 

Those that don’t comply with this tax will face steep penalties, including jail time.

 

About half a million people in Malaysia either grow the crop, or are connected to the industry. Malaysia is the word’s leading producer of the stuff which quite possibly may “have now surpassed soybean oil as the most widely produced vegetable oil in the world.”

 

So what’s the big deal with an additional few percent tax on profit?

 

True, there are reserves now, but indications point to demand for the product increasing ever more.

 

Given the already high prices on food, and understanding that manufacturers will, quite naturally, pass an increased expense along to the consumer, one can’t help but wonder what the impact of an additional tax will eventually have on the average person.

 

Does the regional economy need yet one more added expense, however slight, to ripple through the commodities market?

 

 

Democracy in Malaysia? More than just scandal at the top…

 

17 July 2008 By Malaysia Matters

 

 

After posting bond following Wednesday night’s stay in jail and arrest by “20 balaclava-clad police commandos,” the latest headline in opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s ongoing scandal is his refusal to give police a DNA sample. He also has refused to be photographed by the police. ”They have seen all my private parts. Of course I refused to be photographed, it could be on YouTube very soon!”

 

Anwar has said the allegations made by Mohamad Saiful Bukhari Azlan, a 23-year-old former aide, are a government conspiracy to prevent him from seizing power after March elections where the opposition made major gains.

 

Anwar’s popularity as an underdog is running high in spite (or because) of being charged with sodomy for a second time. -Malaysia still has anti-sodomy laws on the books dating back to British colonial times that allow for caning and up to 20 years of jail time for acts of sodomy – even if both parties consent.

 

In the corresponding intrigue surrounding Anwar’s rival, Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak, we await the next revelation to peculate up regarding accusation of his involvement in the death and mutilation of Shaariibuugiin Altantuyaa. (Murder is a capitol offense in Malaysia)

 

And then of course Mr Balasubramaniam Perumal, the private detective that originally accused Najib, is still missing, along with his family.

 

There is plenty more dirt to be dug up and flung before the next rainy season hits and it all turns to mud. That much at least is certain.

 

But while the headlines capture our attention, the real story here is the stratification of Malaysian society that is providing the undercurrents of support both for, and against Anwar.

 

Battlelines are drawn along ethnic division and for all of Malaysia’s attributes and potential greatness, it seems to lack an effective republican check that would ensure a protection of individuals and minorities – whether those minorities be ethnic, economic, or religious.

 

And so Malaysia is at a crossroads. Andy Mukherjee on bloomberg.com goes so far as to say that:

 

Malaysia ought to serve as a statutory warning to fast- growing Asian nations about the pointlessness of chasing the dream of Western-style prosperity while failing to build strong democratic institutions. It’s wishful thinking that the latter would miraculously appear when a threshold level of per-capita income is crossed.

 

The bottom line?

 

Without a broad conviction in respect for individual freedom, the institutions to guarantee the same, and effective leadership to accomplish this, Malaysian democracy threatens to continue rubbing itself raw.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anwar set to return

 

1 August 2008 By Jerome Armstrong

The AP is reporting that Anwar Ibrahim’s wife is stepping down to make way for his return to Parliament in Malaysia. She resigned from a seat in the Permatang Pauh constituency in the northern part of the country, and a by-election will be held within 60 days of her resignation. His wife, Wan Azizah, had won in a landslide election in the March general election.

 

When I was over there in June, and met with the PM, he mentioned that he’d heard of cases where Anwar was trying to bribe lawmakers to defect from the ruling party to the opposition party. So it’s not surprising to hear him tell the same thing to the AP yesterday, that he has heard many stories about Anwar allegedly making “monetary offers” for defections. Anwar would need about 30 defections to take power in the 222 member Parliament.

 

Anwar’s stated multiple times that he will be able to do so by the end of September. The IHT sets the date at September 16th. In the meantime, Anwar has to shake off the charges against him of sodomy, and win the by-elections. The election shouldn’t be a problem, and we’ll know in a few days about the charges:

 

Police completed their investigation into the case Thursday, and Anwar’s aides say he could be arrested as early as Monday. Sodomy, even between consenting adults, is punishable by up to 20 years in jail in Muslim-majority Malaysia.

 

The Deputy PM, Najib Razk, who is slated to become the PM next year, dismissed Anwar’s threat of takeover, saying, “No, the government is not threatened. We have enough majority.” That’s going to be tested soon.

 

UPDATE: Al Gore put out the following statement (this is in regards to the sodomy charges against Anwar):

 

Statement of Former Vice President Gore

 

(Nashville, TN). The real tragedy is that the government of Malaysia engages in character assassination to silence an effective leader of the political opposition. Twice, now, the government has used the same tactic in an effort to politically destroy Anwar Ibrahim. In the process, however, it is damaging its own credibility at home and abroad. The means exist for the government to allow this situation to be quickly resolved, simultaneously restoring dignity to Anwar Ibrahim and to itself. I hope greater wisdom will prevail.

 

“For the second time, Gore is goring us, repeating the 1998 goring…”

 

12 August 2008 By Malaysia Matters

…said Malaysian foreign minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim in response to criticism made by former US Vice President, Al Gore.

 

“We hope he [Gore] will stop goring as it is about time he re-examines the goring process within himself and his country,” Rais said after a flag-hoisting ceremony in Putrajaya in conjunction with Asean’s 41st anniversary.

 

Rais was reacting to a recent statement whereby Gore accused the Malaysian government of using “character assassination” twice in an effort to politically destroy Anwar Ibrahim. -That is, once this summer, and then again back in 1998.

 

Almost ten years ago Gore similarly offended Malaysians during Anwar’s first difficulty with sodomy charges. At that time, Gore actually utilized some of the opposition slogans as part of his public criticism of the Malaysian government.

 

Mr Gore also used the word ‘reformasi’ – the rallying cry of anti-government protestors who support the sacked Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, Anwar Ibrahim.

 

It was Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s responsibility as the then-Foriegn Minister to chastize Gore for his “irresponsible incitement.”

 

But fast forward to 2008. Gore is yet again backing Anwar.

 

What is behind this?

 

Has Gore been paying attention? Does he understand that Anwar’s coalition partners include the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party – the same guys that have recruited folks to go to Pakistan and fight with the Taliban?

 

And, of course, the irony here is that, given PAS’s ideal to move the government towards instituting an ever-more universal Sharia law, it is the very sort of statute that Anwar is charged with that PAS would stand behind.

 

So if Gore is hoping to back the crew that seeks to further westernize Malaysia’s democracy, he’s sitting in the wrong camp.

 

 

 

 

Blame it on the “Israel Lobby”

 

19 August 2008 By Kevin Holtsberry

 

 

(Image via Wikipedia)

It seems this particular conspiracy theory never gets old or goes out of style:

 

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has accused his country’s government of supporting the pro-Israel lobby in the US and Jewish groups inside Israel.

 

“I have evidence proving that the government is backing the Jewish lobby in the US and some parties inside Israel,” Anwar told IslamOnline.net in an exclusive interview.

 

But as usual those making the accusations have nothing but their own grand theories to offer as proof or evidence:

 

Anwar, a former deputy premier contesting legislative by-election as the next step in his plan to become premier, declined to elaborate on the nature of the support or his evidence.

 

I guess it is easier to blame the “Israel Lobby” than to address the very real problems involved.

 

It might be easy to laugh off such conspiracies if there wasn’t a long history of tragic results from this type of worldview.

 

 

 

 

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Anwar’s connections to Terror…Al Gore, did you see this?

 

20 August 2008 By Malaysia Matters

Anwar’s recent anti-semitic remarks gave us pause and cause to take stock of the man and another look at his record and past associations. It is of paramount importance that both Malaysians and Americans understand the dangerous implications of a Malaysia ruled by Anwar Ibrahim.

 

As is pointed out by Ganesh Sahathevan of the The Terror Finance Blog, “many Westerners believe Anwar to be a liberal who would prefer the rule of civil law rather than Sharia. This belief is often relied on to argue against any evidence of his involvement in the financing of terrorism , or at the very least, structures that lead to acts of terrorism.”

 

But the evidence of involvement with those connections can’t, and shouldn’t be ignored – especially by Americans (including Gore) who seem to be drawn in by Anwar’s ‘underdog’ status as opposition leader and choose to ignore facts about his past.

 

His role in founding the International Institute of Islamic Thought, and the IIIT’s subsequent financing of jihadist and Islamist organisations known to be involved in acts of terrorism should set off alarm bells.

 

For instance, during Israel’s action in Lebanon, Anwar’s commentary in the press was very pro-Hamas and anti-Israeli. It would seem that associates of his put that sentiment into action. A board member of Anwar’s IIIT, Sheik Yusuf Al-Qardawi, “for whom Anwar has great admiration, ” is the likely founder and leader of the “Union for Good,” an association now banned in Israel because it is a de facto Hamas support network.

 

And during Anwar’s most recent trouble with authorities, the laundry list of those who have signed a petition citing the Quran calling for the charges against Anwar to be dropped includes many additional Anwar associates who are clear conduits for aid to enemies of the United States.

 

 

 

Islamicists endorse Anwar Ibrahim

 

27 August 2008 By Kevin Holtsberry

 

Image by KamalSell via Flickr

 

In the wake of his landslide victory Malaysia’s Islamist party has endorsed Anwar Ibrahim, removing a major obstacle in his push to win power.

 

But the question remains whether he can hold his coalition together:

 

Analysts said that PAS, which wants an Islamic state in this Asian country of 27 million people, would remain a difficult partner for Mr Anwar’s “rainbow coalition” which also comprises liberals and an ethnic Chinese party.

 

 

A record of corruption

 

2 September 2008 By Malaysia Matters

What is often overlooked is the fact that, aside from being accused and imprisoned for sodomy back in 1999, the other charges Anwar was incarcerated for were related to malfeasance and corruption. But the fruit of likely corrupt activity that Anwar partook in during his time in the public trust during the 1990’s was not yet evident.

 

Work done by TerrorFinance.org points to the lucrative May 2006 IPO of Al-Baraka Banking Group, (ABG) – an entity who’s chairman, Salah Kamel was responsible for the purchase of shares of Bank Islam that at the time was a Malaysian government-owned entity and allegedly involved in laundering funds belonging to the Third World Relief Agency. Anwar has been, and still is a member of the board of directors.

 

Further, it appears that while Anwar was Minister of Finance in the mid-90’s he sold the government’s remaining shares of Bank Islam to SAAR Foundation, headed by an individual named Jamal Barzinji. At the same time, SAAR foundation was financing Anwar’s International Institute of Islamic Thought. Barzinji was a director at each organization.

 

For the entire article go to:

 

http://www.terrorfinance.org/the_terror_finance_blog/2007/02/yassin_alkadia_.html

 

 

Anwar’s ties to terror while in the US

 

4 September 2008 By Malaysia Matters

 

 

While a fellow at the American Center for Democracy, Ilan Weinglass detailed for FrontPageMagazine.com Anwar’s ties to terrorism through the International Institute of Islamic Thought:

 

Anwar Ibrahim is a founder and director of the Muslim Brotherhood affiliated International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), a think tank in Virginia that has alleged links to terrorism. IIIT’s 2003 tax-exempt IRS filing lists a $720 donation to the al-Haramain Islamic Foundation of Ashland, Oregon, which was designated as a terrorist funding organization by the U.S. government in 2004. Among the Treasury Department’s findings were that the Oregon branch of al-Haramain engaged in tax fraud, money laundering, supporting Chechen mujahideen affiliated with al Qaeda, and had “direct links between the U.S. branch and Usama bin Laden.” In fact, many of al – Haramain’s offices around the world were closed for supporting terrorism.

 

There is more evidence of IIIT’s links to terrorism. A few examples: according to court documents, in the early 1990s IIIT donated at least $50,000 to a think tank run by Sami al-Arian, the World Islamic and Study Enterprise (WISE), that served as a front group for Palestinian Islamic Jihad. IIIT is also named as a defendant in two class-action lawsuits brought by victims of the 9/11 attacks. One alleges that IIIT received the bulk of its operating expenses from the SAAR network, whose component groups are accused in another class-action suit of being “fronts for the sponsor of al Qaeda and international terror.” The same suit lists IIIT as well as every officer of IIIT besides Anwar Ibrahim as a supporter of the SAAR network. This public information was available to SAIS, yet the school extended a fellowship to Ibrahim.

 

Ibrahim, along with three other IIIT directors, is also a trustee of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY). According to congressional testimony of testimony of Jonathan Winer, former Deputy Secretary of State for International Law Enforcement, in October 2002 WAMY made Hamas leader Khalid Mishal an “honored guest” at a conference held in Riyadh. A Saudi opposition group reports that WAMY disseminates literature encouraging “religious hatred and violence against Jews, Christians, Shi’a and Ashaari Muslims.” Evidently, as a trustee of this group, Anwar Ibrahim is far from advocating moderate Islam.

 

Ibrahim and his family were also the beneficiaries of an apparent tax fraud perpetrated by IIIT. The same tax filings showing a donation to the al-Haramian foundation show $92,200 in contributions to Ibrahim’s daughter, Nurul Izzah. IIIT violated U.S. law when it wrote “none” under “Donee’s relationship” when listing donations to Ibrahim’s daughter. The group would have lost its tax-exempt status had it been known that it was sending money to the family member of a director. Ibrahim never disavowed this act when given the chance and even stated explicitlythat these contributions were made for the education of his six children.

 

Moreover, the International Free Anwar Campaign (IFAC), which was established when Ibrahim was in a Malaysian prison, has some apparent links to al Qaeda. Rahim Ghouse, who was an IFAC leader based out of Melbourne, Australia, had business dealings with Yassin al-Qadi, who is on the Treasury Department’s list of Specially Designated Terrorists for funding al Qaeda. While this alone is not conclusive, it should have raised a red flag. Instead, SAIS assigned Ibrahim to “counsel students who wish to learn more about Southeast Asia and the Muslim world.”

 

Perhaps most importantly, Ibrahim never disavowed IIIT’s support of terrorism. On the contrary: in an October 25, 2003 response to the broadcasting of terror-supporting charges against IIIT on Australian television, he effusively praised the organization and said that charges against it were politically motivated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

World Assembly of Muslim Youth

 

5 September 2008 By Malaysia Matters

Another organization for which Anwar has provided leadership is The World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY). Background on WAMY courtesy of www.discoverthenetworks.org.

 

The World Assembly of Muslim Youth is also one of the vehicles through which the Saudi Wahhabi government funds Islamic extremism and international terrorism. WAMY was co-founded by Kamal Helwabi, a former senior member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, and by Osama bin Laden’s nephew, Abdullah bin Laden (who served as WAMY’s President through 2002 and is now its Treasurer). WAMY raises funds for the terrorist group Hamas, and in October 2002 made Hamas leader Khaled Mash’al an “honored guest” at a Muslim youth and globalization conference held in Riyadh. WAMY also helps finance the Kashmir insurgency against India, characterizing it as a “liberation” movement.

 

A Saudi opposition group reports that WAMY disseminates literature encouraging “religious hatred and violence against Jews, Christians, Shi’a and Ashaari Muslims.” As WAMY puts it, this literature is expressly designed ”to teach our children to love taking revenge on the Jews and the oppressors, and teach them that our youngsters will liberate Palestine and Jerusalem when they go back to Islam and make jihad for the sake of Allah.” Some WAMY publications have included interviews with Saudi clerics such as Ayed al-Qarni, an adviser to Saudi Prince Fahd. In one such interview, al-Qarni stated that he prays for America’s destruction daily, that he encourages students to go to Iraq to fight against U.S. forces, and that those who cannot go should at least contribute money to the cause. Another WAMY publication features a list of “martyrs” who have attacked and murdered Israelis; one of the individuals on this list is a man who drove 14 bus passengers off a cliff as a member of the group “Heroes from Palestine.”

 

Investigations of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center uncovered, in an apartment of one of the terrorists, an envelope marked “WAMY” along with a training manual on how to set up terrorist cells in other countries and stage attacks.

 

WAMY came under FBI scrutiny after 9/11, when it was determined that a radiologist, Dr. Al Badr al-Hamzi, whose credit card was found among the possessions of the hijackers, was receiving funding from the organization. The Senate Finance Committee requested that the IRS examine WAMY’s U.S. branch for links to terrorism. WAMY was also named in a trillion-dollar lawsuit by the families of the victims of 9/11.

 

In May 2004, federal law-enforcement, immigration, and anti-terrorism agents raided WAMY’s Alexandria, Virginia office, seizing all of its computers and hard drives, and arresting a volunteer board member, Ibrahim Abdullah, on immigration charges. WAMY had been operating out of the office of Jamal Barzinji, who was involved with a total of seven organizations that were raided by federal agents in connection with terrorist financing. After the raid on its office, WAMY likened itself to the YMCA, saying that it was interested only in “youth education, youth development, and serving the Muslim community.”

 

Though WAMY’s activities in the United States were derailed, its operations elsewhere in the world continue unabated — in many instances with the help of other, likeminded organizations. For example, WAMY’s efforts in Somalia are supported by the “Christian charities” Novib and Oxfam, which are based in the United Kingdom and Holland, respectively.

 

One of WAMY’s closest affiliates is the European Council for Fatwa and Research, which aims to spread fundamentalist Islam and implement Shari’a (Islamic Law) worldwide. Another organization with intimate ties to WAMY is the Muslim Students’ Association of the U.S. and Canada. And four directors of the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) – including Anwar Ibrahim, a terror-supporting Malaysian Islamist who co-founded IIIT – are trustees of WAMY.

 

In December 1999, WAMY announced at a press conference in Saudi Arabia that it “was extending both moral and financial support to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) ”to help it construct its $3.5 million headquarters in Washington, D.C.” WAMY also agreed to “introduce CAIR to Saudi philanthropists and recommend their financial support for the headquarters project.” In 2002, CAIR and WAMY jointly announced, again from Saudi Arabia, their collaboration on a $1 million public-relations campaign.

 

Islam scholar Stephen Schwartz calls WAMY “the Saudi equivalent of the Hitler Youth: a hate-mongering, ultra-extremist group preaching, among other niceties, that Shia Muslims are not real Muslims, but products of a Jewish conspiracy.” The website Militant Islam Monitor characterizes the organization as “part of the Saudi Wahhabist ‘Jihad through conversion’ drive.”

 

 

 

Malaysia Matters Podcast: With Mary Kissel of the Wall Street Journal-Asia

 

15 September 2008 By Joshua Trevino

If you’re following Malaysia — and you’re reading Malaysia Matters, after all! — you know that this is the moment of decision for the Barisan National coalition that has held power since Malaysian independence, and for the opposition coalition led by Anwar Ibrahim that promised to seize power tomorrow. In this portentous moment for Malaysia, we are fortunate to be joined for a very special podcast by Mary Kissel, editorial page editor of the Wall Street Journal-Asia. Ms Kissel is based in Hong Kong, and just returned from Kuala Lumpur. She shares her thoughts and impressions of Malaysian events with Malaysia Matters readers here.

 

 

 

 

BN: Anwar Lies To The People

 

16 September 2008 By Kevin Holtsberry

The leaders of the Barisan Nasional (BN) component parties are definately calling Anwar Ibrahim’s bluff:

 

Umno Vice-President Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam said the people should now get back to work rather than be engrossed in listening to Anwar’s theatrics about forming a new government.

 

He said the time has come for the people to no longer pay attention to what Anwar had to say as it was only a waste of time.

 

“With the date Sept 16 coming to pass, it is clear that what has been mentioned (about forming new government) is just play-acting,” he said.

 

Umno supreme council member Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal also dismissed as mere lies the claims by Anwar about having a list of BN crossovers.

 

“This is the Ramadan month, an auspicious month… let’s not create a situation that can affect the people’s confidence,” said Shafie who is also Unity, Culture, Arts and Heritage Minister.

 

Umno information chief Tan Sri Muhammad Muhd Taib also said that Anwar’s failure to form the new government today showed that he had no credibility and was only out to create trouble.

 

“He is desperate to grab power in an unethical way; this goes to show that he is hungry for power,” he said.

 

So the question remains: is Anwar trying to bluff his way to power? If he has the votes why not reveal them?

 

Given his past promises and strong words, his credibility is on the line. Malayisans, and the world, will be watching to see how he responds.

 

Malaysia Matters podcast: Opening of the Third International Conference on the Muslim World and the West.

 

9 June 2008 By Joshua Trevino

 

 

I’m pleased to report that Malaysia Matters has the audio for the entire opening session of the Third International Conference on the Muslim World and the West. Fair warning: this one is quite long, and the file is quite big. Nonetheless, we hope you’ll appreciate having a listen at what goes on when princes, prime ministers, and functionaries get together and share their inmost thoughts.

 

You may listen to this podcast here, you may subscribe to our podcast RSS feed, or you may subscribe via iTunes.

 

 

 

 

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Malaysia Matters podcast: Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf.

 

9 June 2008 By Joshua Trevino

 

Yesterday, Jerome Armstrong and I had the privilege of sitting down to interview Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, founder and CEO of the American Society for Muslim Advancement, author of “What’s Right with Islam,” imam of Masjid al-Farah in New York City, and most important — for our purposes — the co-founder and Chairman of the Board of the Cordoba Initiative. The Cordoba Initiative is part of the reason we’re here in Kuala Lumpur: it is co-sponsoring, with the Malaysian Foreign Ministry, the Third International Conference on the Muslim World and the West (about which more anon), and it has as its core mission the “[healing of] the relationship between the Islamic World and America.”

 

Imam Feisal was extraordinarily generous with his time, and though the exchange was intense at points, we managed to discuss an impressive array of issues, from American elections, to a commonality of values between America and Islam, to Malaysian history, and beyond. With apologies for the rather erratic audio quality, please settle in for a conversation with the Imam.

 

 

Glorious Melaka: Part One

 

 

24 June 2008 By Joshua Trevino

 

To say that Melaka is amazing is to understate its impact. After nearly a week in Kuala Lumpur, with occasional excursions to Putrajaya, we were ready for an escape into an entirely different Malaysia. Not that Malaysia’s capital, or its ersatz capital, were unsatisfactory. Putrajaya is a marvel of a major planned city — a sort of Asian Brasilia, without Brasilia’s awful architecture and shoddy construction. Its glass and stone facades gleam in the tropical brilliance, and its clean, broad boulevards would be the pride of a latter-day Haussmann. Kuala Lumpur, for its part, is obviously older, but not old — its monumental architecture is a sort of mishmash of Brutalism with Islamic motifs, and the lovely Petronas Towers (far more lovely than the lamented World Trade Centers in New York City) are the magnificent exception to the aesthetic rule. Both cities are post-facto creations: meant for the seat of governance of a Malaysia, and before that a Malaya, already in being.

 

To see the Malaysia that came before, we traveled to Melaka.

 

 

The verdant landscape of southeast Asia in the rainy season rolled past us as we rode, passengers of a driver named Mior, for two hours from Kuala Lumpur to Melaka. Immediately outside the capital, the vegetation had the look of a plantation: thick trees in rows upon the hlls, ready for harvest — or perhaps, as this was Malaysia, tapping. Suburbs planted in the once-empty stretches between KL, Putrajaya, and the improbably named Cyberjaya dotted the roadside. But for the Malaysian flags and the odd architectural touches, they could have been faceless, nameless developments outside Miami. The middle classes, it seems, demand much the same of their living spaces the world over.

 

The changes as we approached the coast, and Melaka, were subtle. The vegetation changed from ordered to anarchic, till we were driving down a four-lane highway through what looked like deepest jungle. The infrastructure changed, too: the adequate drainage outside the government towns yielded to overflowing culverts, and as the rain hammered the landscape, we joined a line of vehicles careening through deep rushing torrents surging across the asphalt. Civilization began to reassert itself. The odd roadside shop appeared; a gas station; then a mall, seemingly stuck in the middle of nowhere, and advertising Islamic fashions. At once we were in a city — Melaka! — but there were the same concrete facades, and the same featureless shop fronts. From the window I watched in dismay, until –

 

 

– Mior swerved about a bend, and there we were at the foot of the hill that overlooked old Melaka. To our left, the 300-year old Christ Church. Upon the hill, the ruins of a 400-year old Dutch fort. To our right, across the river, the old city with its Chinese spires and temples. Before us, a full-scale replica of a Portuguese ship, just like the ones that cruised in to this harbor nearly 500 years ago. This was Melaka — or, should I say, Malacca — and this was what I came for.

 

Empire is an impolite word now, suggesting the subjugation of peoples and the crushing of liberties. Cities like Melaka and their historical memories are testament to empire’s beneficence, and indeed its glories. This old Malay sultanate was colonized by Chinese from Zheng He’s great fleet in the 15th century, who probably also brought Islam to the peninsula. Following the Chinese were the Portuguese, who lost the port to the Dutch in the following century — but not before planting there a community of Roman Catholics that survive today. They number in the thousands now, still call themselves Portuguese, look like Malays, and speak Kristang — Christian — a patois with Malay grammar and old Portuguese vocabulary. The Dutch presence was impermanent, and gave way to British rule as other Dutch outposts, among them Cape Town, were also falling under London’s protection from French revolutionary designs.

 

 

The result is Melaka now: a thriving, colorful, vivid city of many faiths. Within one square mile, one finds a Tamil Methodist parish, a Roman Catholic parish, an Anglican parish, multiple mosques, Hindu shrines, and more Buddhist temples than one can count. Quite nearly all races are there, and it’s a rare adult who is not trilingual. This is a fruit of empire — and it is to Malaysia’s credit that, in stark contrast to most other post-colonial states, it has seen fit to leave it undisturbed.

 

We parted ways with Mior and his cab, and vanished into the warren of streets, alleys, and byways of the old port….

 

To be continued in part two.

 

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Back from Malaysia

 

17 June 2008 By Jerome Armstrong

I’m back from Malaysia. It wasn’t my first time to Kuala Lumpur, but I felt like it was the first time I began to understand the country’s uniqueness in today’s world. A slideshow I blogged contains some photos of the trip, especially to Malacca, which is about 2 hours south of Kuala Lumpur. Walking along one of the streets, we passed a Chinese temple, then a Hindu temple, a Mosque and then a Buddhist temple. Posted on MyDD (you can view the slide show there), through the photos, you really get a sense of the diversity in Malaysia, through this old city.

 

Also on MyDD, I posted some thoughts on Malaysia politics, the blogging scene in Malaysia, and blogged on the interview we held with Zaid Ibrahim, the prominent reformer that is heading up the judicial reform in Malaysia.

 

While I was in Malaysia, a story broke about a Judge that told of threats and intimidation attempts, which highlighted the need for reform. Also happening while I was there in Malaysia, was the rise of gasoline prices, with the government allowing the price to rise by 40 per cent, which will add to the instability inside the country.

 

I was also able to attend parts of the conference on the divide between the Muslim and Western worlds. I found that the Malaysian PM Badawi’s held a very inclusive and pluralistic viewpoint on religion, but there are points of tension. The Imam Feisal Rauf, chairman of the Cordoba Initiative, had an article up on the “Clash of Civilizations”. You should check out the comments in that thread too, to see the clash in action. I’ll post more on this when they release the “Kuala Lumpur Accord.”

 

 

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Sons of the soil, and of the sea.

 

9 June 2008 By Joshua Trevino

 

 

 

 

 

The striking thing about Malaysia, when you first walk about its streets and byways, is the multiethnic cast of the country. This is something of a trope amongst its observers, so let me elaborate a bit: it’s multi-ethnic and multi-faith, and it generally works, and its workings are a testament to the beneficial failure — yes, failure — of the country’s foundational principles.

 

 

There’s no point in recapitulating the whole drama of Malaysian history here, but a synopsis would have to take into account its settlement by Malays, the Islamization of the land by Arab and Sindhi traders, the first Chinese colonies in the 15th century, the Portuguese colonies in the 16th century, the Dutch shortly thereafter, the British in the 18th century, and the flood of Indians and yet more Chinese that the British brought in. Colonization in western Malaysia especially, whether by Malay, Muslim, or European, was never a mere act of administration that left the composition and character of the local population unchanged. Travelers know well that the rule of British colonization in particular was not to settle, but to govern. (That the handful of exceptions are almost all among the major powers of the world is a coincidence that deserves examination another day.)

 

The Malay lands, having been settled time and again — to the detriment solely of the lonely aboriginal bands who survive in the forested interior even now — were governed, to be sure, but also settled in a fashion. This settlement was not accomplished by Britons themselves, but by people willing to do the work that Britons wanted done. Indians to trade, Chinese to mine, and Malays to farm: all played their part in the grand tapestry that made the former Malaya the jewel of the United Kingdom’s east Asian empire.

 

 

Malaysia’s road to independence was, as roads to independence are, rocky and at points bloody. Mostly Chinese Communists ravaged the country for twelve years from 1948, and as the nation moved inexorably toward sovereignty, the question long suppressed by London’s rule had to be answered: who owned Malaysia? Right of first occupancy meant yielding it to the hill tribes — an absurdity and impossibility. Ethnic minority leaders insisted upon a Malaysia for Malaysians, with the state being for all who lived within it, of any origin. Ethnic Malay leaders, and especially the ethnic Malay leaders of the UMNO party — which rules to this day — insisted that Malaysia was for Malays. Singapore, dominated by Chinese, was expelled from the young Malaysia for this reason. Through the 1960s, periodic race riots wracked the young country, and as that decade ended, the bumiputra system of Malay ethnic preference was formulated, and in time became national policy.

 

Malaysia, in the face of its rich multi-ethnic, multi-faith history, defined itself as a state of one ethnicity, itself defined by one faith — Islam. Then it instituted a system of economic preferences to enforce that vision.

 

 

Here is where Malaysia should have failed. Here is where so many of the post-colonial states of the 20th century went terribly amiss. Malaysia was not the sole polity of its kind. We easily forget that in 1950, Alexandria, Egypt, was barely half Muslim, and barely half Arab. We dimly recall that Istanbul, Turkey, was, until 1923, a city of mostly Greeks, Armenians, and other Christians. We barely remember that Kampala, Uganda, used to be a thriving center of Indian culture in verdant east Africa. We do not trouble ourselves at the disappearance of the 500-year old Portuguese communities of Goa and Mozambique. Those nations, in the throes of independence, defined themselves as Malaysia did — not as existing for all their peoples, but as preferential regimes for the majority, however slim that majority was. The minorities were assimilated, or expelled, or slaughtered.

 

Here, too, is where Malaysia did not fail. Malaysia implemented all the policies and preconditions necessary for failure, and then resolutely failed to fail. Its minorities did not leave, were not expelled — and after the strife of the 1960s, were not attacked. The bumiputra preferences did not impoverish the Chinese or the Indians against whom they discriminated. There were no pogroms, no ethnic cleansing, and no internal jihads. If it is too much to say that Malaysia was wholly just and peaceful by the standards of Middle America, it is not to much to say that it was both these things by the standard of its fellow post-colonial regimes.

 

 

The striking thing about Malaysia, when you first walk about its streets and byways, is the multiethnic cast of the country. The second time you walk about, you notice the same thing. The third time too, and every time thereafter. Malaysia’s faces are the faces of empire — not solely British, but empires of trade, faith, and vassalage across the centuries. Unlike so many vestiges of empire in so many places, they are not cruel reminders of subjugation — but tentative, hopeful, vivid visages of hope. Malaysia’s success is rooted in its failure to be what it threatened to be. As I walk about Kuala Lumpur in the thick heat of day, and the slick darkness of night, it seems to me that nobody wants it any other way.

 

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Prime Ministerial porridge.

 

9 June 2008 By Joshua Trevino

 

It’s not often that one gets to meet a head of state, and it’s even more rare to have a substantive conversation with him. Less common than either is to have the head of state make you breakfast afterward. On Sunday morning, I had the privilege of doing all three with Malaysian Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Abdullah bin Haji Ahmad Badawi.

 

The purpose of our meeting with the Prime Minister was to spend a few moments alone with him, and ask him whatever it pleased us to ask. I’ll let my colleague Jerome Armstrong speak for his end of things, which he has already done quite well. For my part, I was interested in the PM’s thoughts on the concept of Islam Hadhari, which we’ve written on here previously. (Unfortunately, no recording was allowed, and verbatim transcripts are beyond my ken — but I can give approximate quotes. The photos here are original.)

 

As we’re here in Kuala Lumpur to attend the Third International Conference on the Muslim World and the West, inquiring about Islam Hadhari seemed particularly apropos: as a model for the Islamic approach to state and society, it has much to recommend it when set against its competitors within the Muslim world. By way of prefacing my question, I mentioned Badawi’s 2005 remarks in New Zealand, and he affirmed that this was an accurate expression of his aspirations for Islam Hadhari. He then went on to say — and was insistent upon my understanding — that Islam Hadhari is not a theological affair, but purely civil and societal. I wondered whether this was for my benefit, or whatever Malaysian audience his comments might reach. (Indeed, Malaysia Matters does, judging from site traffic, have a meaningful Malaysian readership.) It is, according to him, a necessary precondition for the maintenance of Malaysia as a state that is simultaneously Islamic and pluralistic: no mean feat, as history and current events show.

 

 

On the whole, as one might expect, Islam Hadhari as presented by the Prime Minister in our conversation — and as evidenced in his governance — appears quite benign and even constructive. Certainly, in my own travels in the Muslim world, ranging from Turkey to Jordan to east Africa, Malaysia strikes me as the most appealing from a Western perspective. With a nearly free press, an active democratic life, and a striking plurality of ethnicities and faiths (upon which we’ll be writing more shortly), it has none of the depressing and artificial ethnic uniformity of the Turkish and Arab lands, and vastly better governance than any of the African states. Though there is a long tradition of pundits and public figures getting quite wrong impressions from personal meetings with genial foreign leaders, I will go out on a limb here and state that Abdullah Badawi struck me as not merely saying the right things, but as sincerely believing and acting upon them. Though there is plenty to criticize about him and his country — see my colleague Jonathan Wynne-Jones’s report in the Daily Telegraph for one rather notable example, or this — but the gap between both and their peers is nonetheless so large that it seems, to the un-objective observer, somewhat ungracious to dwell upon it.

 

And then he made me breakfast.

 

More striking than anything the Prime Minister said in our brief exchange was his behavior afterward. The Prime Ministerial residence outside of Kuala Lumpur is quite a bit more modest than one would expect — more in the style of a well-heeled gated villa in Miami-Dade than the southeast Asian palace of my own imagination — and it is well-appointed and cozy inside, with a decor of leatherbound books, Malaysian hardwoods, and various animals that the Prime Minister, a sporting man, has killed over the years. (He is rather proud of the latter: upon taking our leave, he made sure to grab my arm, point toward a magnificent pheasant in a glass case, and say, “I shot that!”) Adjacent to his office is a sort of library and reception room, to which we media types retired upon the conclusion of our PM time. We expected to eat breakfast with Badawi’s communications man, and then retreat to the warren of concrete and causeways that is Kuala Lumpur.

 

 

Off to the side of the room was a large table upon which were arrayed many bowls of Malay spices, and, to my confusion, a large tureen of ordinary porridge. What to do? “Let me show you,” said someone behind me, and I turned to see the Prime Minister reaching for the empty bowl in my hands. “You will not regret this,” he said, “This is my breakfast — a Malay breakfast.” He scooped a large serving of porridge into my bowl, and then proceeded to add heaping servings of the adjacent spices. “Roasted garlic,” he said, and then named the rest in Malay: a potpourri of green herbs, burgundy nuts, brilliant red chilis, and more. He stopped at the chilis, and shot me a look — “Do you want these?” Yes, I said. “You should not take on too much,” he announced, and gave me the tiniest serving. Finally, he squeezed a lime over it all, handed me the bowl, and told me to mix it up.

 

I did, trying not to look dubious. I took a bite of the multihued, Malay-spiced porridge. It was the most delicious breakfast dish I have ever tasted. “Malay breakfast!” exclaimed the smiling Prime Minister. The rush to replicate the concoction began, and my own breakfast was delayed as I assisted several media members in creating their own Prime Ministerial porridge.

 

What’s the purpose in relating anecdotes like these? Some do it because it illustrates to others their casual closeness to the holders of power, but I like to think that Calvin would remind me that I get served breakfast by a head of state through grace rather than merit. In that light, it’s useful as a humanizing corrective to the usual media scrum that surrounds public figures. Whatever one thinks of Dato’ Seri Abdullah bin Haji Ahmad Badawi, know that as a man he is kind and approachable — and he makes a fantastic porridge.

 

 

 

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