Monday, January 30, 2012

He's heavy, he's the camp commandant!

Mohamed, my 17-year-old nephew, came home for a few days from National Service camp during the Chinese New Year holidays. He had been at the camp (somewhere in Malaysia) for three weeks then and the boyish enthusiasm bubbling up inside him was apparent. He shared his experiences -- good and bad -- with relatives who were curious to see how he had got on at the camp with other "wira (heroes) and wirawati (heroines), as the participants are called.

Mohamed was positive about his time there expect for one thing: he could not understand why the camp commandant -- a Major in the Malaysian army -- is overweight and unfit.

Mohamed and his mates had expected to see a military man with the physique of an athlete ala "Will Smith". Instead, they saw a fatty who seemed a likely candidate for The Biggest Loser programme. And the two officers who came together with the commandant were similarly heavy and seriously in need of regular hard workouts. Mohamed and his friends exchanged glances when they were introduced to the commandant and his officers at the "meet and greet" session with camp personnel. They later discussed their disillusionment.

But their faith in the uniformed units was somewhat restored when an admiral came to the camp a few days later to talk to the participants about careers in the navy. "The admiral was in great shape and looked very sharp in his uniform; we were impressed," says Mohamed.

What were the camp organisers thinking? You can't fool the Net Generation, which has grown up with computer games and everything associated with communications and media technologies. My nephew is a serious gamer and he is really into war games.

He is in awe of warriors from the past and aspires to be like them. He thinks the flag bearer of an army was the most important person in ancient times because he would be the first to give his life up for his country during a war. His idea of a warrior is one who is healthy, strong, loyal and has high moral principles.To his great disappointment, the commandant at his national service camp did not live up to expectations. His sense of humour is his saving grace, says Mohamed.

It is difficult to watch my nephew's thwarted expectation. The only thing I could do was to offer him quiet support and to gently tell him that all teenagers experience disappointing situations every now and again. I remind myself that he has to go through adverse conditions such as failure, disappointment, loneliness and grief in order to discover unknown and interesting things about his character. He must acquire the ability to feel better quickly after something unpleasant. And I think he handled this particular tough moment very well.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Without money, food and other things

PERTIWI Soup Kitchen volunteers distribute food and drink to the needy regularly.


The homeless are everywhere. Sometimes I see them walking the sidewalks of the less glamorous parts of Kuala Lumpur city. I caught two sleeping on a pavement opposite the bus station at Puduraya. I don't think about them all the time but they are on my radar screen.

I saw them again recently at the area behind Tune Hotel at Medan Tuanku. I had accompanied a photojournalist friend who wanted to take pictures for a magazine of members of PERTIWI Soup Kitchen serving meals to the homeless and hungry. The NGO does this on a regular basis and visit various locations around Kuala Lumpur distributing food and drink to the needy.




He quenched his thirst with a hot drink.



A long queue of homeless people built up as soon as PERTIWI volunteers set up tables for the soup kitchen. Women and men quietly waited for their turn to take their food and drink. Those who have received theirs smiled in appreciation and disappeared to their favourite spots in the immediate vicinity to enjoy their rations.

They were also given hygiene packs, courtesy of HSBC Bank Malaysia Berhad.


Did this meal satisfy his hunger?



Observe good personal hygiene.




Where do they go after this? Where will they sleep tonight? What dreams do they have? Do they think of their families? What's for breakfast tomorrow? When will their next meal be? Where will they take their shower?

I ask myself these questions each time I come face to face with a homeless person. And if I thought I was safe from such a fate, I had better think again.

"I'll never be homeless." What an arrogant assumption! Lots of evidence reveal otherwise. The fact is, a series of incidents in our lives can leave us completely destitute for years. Click here for one example.

PERTIWI Soup Kitchen: pertiwisoupkitchen@gmail.com









Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Guest Post: Moderate or Wasatiyyah: Can we make up our mind?



The New Straits Times published an article entitled "Malaysia has a gift for the world" on 16 December 2011. It was written by Distinguished Professor Dato' Shamsul Amri Baharuddin, Founding Director of the Institute of Ethnic Studies (KITA) at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), and Deputy Chair, National Professors Council of Malaysia (MPN).

He has allowed me to reproduce the full text of his paper from which the newspaper article was pruned. Please see below.

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Shamsul Amri Baharuddin
By Shamsul Amri Baharuddin


Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Najib Razak introduced his idea of a “Global Movement of the Moderates” (GMM) in his speech at the UN General Assembly, New York on 27 September 2010.


As he put it:

“…Across all religions we have inadvertently allowed the ugly voices of the periphery to drown out the many voices of reason and common sense. I therefore urge us to embark on building a ‘Global Movement of the Moderates’ from all faiths who are committed to work together to combat and marginalize extremists who have held the world hostage with their bigotry and bias.”

Towards the end of his speech Najib showcased Malaysia as a model of moderateness and ‘equilibrium’; a country that is multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-cultural and democratic but has ably managed its diversity through the promotion of mutual respect, peaceful coexistence, positive interaction and synergies between the various communities and faiths.

“It is this equilibrium that leads to moderation or ‘wasatiyyah’ in the Islamic tradition of mutual justice,” said Najib.

[Wasatiyyah, an Arabic term, has been translated as ‘intermediacy’ by Hamid Ahmad Al-Rifaie, Al-Wasattiyah: An Orthodox Pivot for Dialogue of Cultures, Series of ‘To Know Each Other’, No. 19, International Islamic Forum for Dialogue, Jeddah: Al-Medinah Press, 2005, p.15. For Dr. Yusuf Al-Qaradawi it refers to “a set of principles on moderate and balanced thought,” please see,  “The 30 Principles of Principles of Moderate and Balanced Thought”, this opinion appeared on 22 February 2010 in http://www.suhaibwebb.com/islam-studies/the-30-principles-of-wasatiyyah/]

Since September 2010 he has made many more speeches on the global stage (Turkey, Australia, UK, USA) as well as locally (too numerous to list) extolling the virtues of being ‘moderate’ and making known his idea for a GMM.

On 12 November 2011, in a speech at the East-West Centre, Hawaii, Najib spoke about the inaugural International Conference on the Global Movement of the Moderates, to take place in Kuala Lumpur from 17 to 19 January, 2012.

The keyword is ‘inaugural.’ It indicates that, whatever has been said in the last year about GMM, or ‘wasatiyyah’, was just to test the waters. It is a clear signal that from this conference onwards we would give serious consideration to this matter.

Let us scrutinize briefly both the concept and content of the GMM and why it should be known as the GMM, not the GWM (Global Wasattiyah Movement). This will encourage a consistent global understanding of the central concept of moderate and avoid confusion occurring among interested international supporters of the GMM.

In the literal, generic and everyday usage of the word, being a ‘moderate’ is a rational and common sense orientation in terms of a person’s social behaviour, as opposed to being an extremist and worse still, as a violent extremist. 
In short, being ‘moderate’ is being ‘non-violent’ and/or ‘peaceful.’  This is very much in line with the definition of peace in the Global Peace Index 2011, which is ‘the absence of violence.’

Malaysia was ranked 19th out of 153 countries listed in the Index but it is first in Southeast Asia, second in Asia, behind Japan, and fourth in the Asia-Pacific region, after New Zealand, Japan and Australia. In 2007, Malaysia was ranked 38th, and its improved position in 2011 only demonstrates an increased intensity in its peace and stability goals, hence the term ‘moderateness.’

People and governments globally are alarmed when violent extremist behaviour escalates into a full-scale war -- from the behaviour of an individual to that of a larger social movement based on historical, religious, economic or political justification -- which subsequently costs the lives of hundreds and thousands of innocent people. The return to moderateness, therefore, is not only a rational and logical thing to do but also an imperative necessity.

The moot question is, who is going to champion ‘moderateness’ at the social collective level, especially on the global stage?

The answer: Najib and Malaysia.  If adopted globally, Malaysia’s proposal could re-define and transform the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) into GMM.

GMM is a deceptively simple, rational and logical agenda for the largest of social movements. However, embarking on this task involves complex diplomatic maneuvers and suave realpolitik. The GMM campaign invites a huge risk, both for the Prime Minister and Malaysia, given the reality of a global politics shaped by the prejudiced perceptions of the world’s media.  In the spirit of NIKE’s ‘impossible is nothing’ GMM’s possible success ensures a handsome and long-term reward for the global community.

The period of floating the idea is over. Now we are getting down to business!

This fundamental premise of GMM was supported at the 8th ASEM meeting in Brussels in October 2010 and it is now endorsed internationally by the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) 2011 Final Communiqué in Para 7(g).

Para 7 states CHOGM’s central agenda in “maintaining their commitment to a stable and secure national and international environment, as a foundation for sustainable growth and resilience for Commonwealth countries and the broader international community.”

The CHOGM, in Para 7(g), is committed to improving international security, by taking a number of steps, one of which is by “embracing moderation as an important value to overcome all forms of extremism, as called for in the ‘Global Movement of the Moderates’.”

For Najib and Malaysia, it is time to drop the use of the term wasatiyyah, however important the term is, politically, for the domestic Malaysian audience, as the ‘moderate’ concept is now relevant in a global context.

Any advertising company worth its salt would say that we cannot continue to use the two words, ‘moderates’ and ‘wasatiyyah’, simultaneously or interchangeably. They are connected but carry different meanings when translated from Arabic to English. The world has now endorsed the English concept, as stated in the CHOGM 2011 Final Communiqué.

Perhaps the ‘National Seminar on Understanding Wasatiyyah & 1Malaysia’, a curtain raiser for the UMNO General Assembly 2011 held on 26 November 2011, should be the last occasion the word wasatiyyah was used in connection with GMM. After the disappearance of  ‘madani’ and ‘hadhari’ in the quicksand of Malaysian politics, to drop wasatiyyah is wise.

The ‘Islamic’ political mileage notwithstanding, the stark reality is that we need to stick to ‘moderate’ now because globally it is known as GMM not GWM.

The next step is more critical. This concept has to be carefully deliberated and skillfully elaborated, with clear implementable strategies for action, devoid of rhetoric. This is deemed necessary if GMM is to remain on the global stage and to find a permanent place in the landscape of global political idiom and activism, along with ‘glasnost’, ‘clash of civilizations’, ‘non-alignment’, and ‘sustainable development’.

In short, GMM has to have substance.

Najib has showcased Malaysia as a case study and a model of moderateness. He believes that it is the ‘equilibrium’ that exists within Malaysian society “that leads to moderation or wasatiyyah.

What is this ‘equilibrium’?

How do we explain to a leader from Africa or a non-governmental organisation member from Latin America or a high school kid from Japan or a young demonstrator at Tahrir Square, Cairo, about this phenomena called ‘equilibrium,’ which is the key to ‘moderateness’?

Before we can explain this, the PM’s team of ‘thinkers’ have to deliberate upon the following: first, the concept of ‘equilibrium’; second, the methods taken by the Malaysian government thus far to achieve it; third, the practical steps needed to build and sustain it; fourth, the strategy for monitoring results, in the short- and long-term; fifth, evaluating success, failure and any unintended consequences; and finally, how to put all these in a comprehensive package, for instance, from kindergarten to adulthood, as a procedure which could be applied globally.

Does Malaysia have these to offer to the world on the 17th January 2012? We must assume that we have because the occasion to launch the GMM has such serious global implications.

In the process of producing a credible document and eventually a full-fledged GMM do-it-yourself package for global distribution, we need to clarify the social phenomenon labeled as ‘equilibrium’ by the PM in order to explain the origin and pre-conditions of the state of moderateness that Malaysia has enjoyed so far.

In the logic of causal relations, a situation of ‘equilibrium’ that exists in Malaysia must have been the result of ‘something else.’ In other words, Malaysia must have done something right to have successfully created a situation of ‘balance’ in its society, hence ‘moderateness’ in its social outcomes which have led to its position in the Global Peace Index next to Australia.

Sociologically speaking, a state of ‘equilibrium’ or ‘balance’ in a society could only be achieved if sets of ‘opposites’ or ‘contradictions’ that exist within it have been successfully ‘realigned and arrived at a point of convergence’, including the acknowledgement to agree to disagree. These factors are necessary pre-conditions for ‘equilibrium.’

In the plural, fragmented and diversified Malaysian society, this ‘equilibrium’ has been brought about by a surprisingly unrecognized and intense ongoing social process of realignment and convergence called ‘social cohesion,’ which, in turn, is the origin and pre-condition of the Malaysian state of ‘moderateness’ that encouraged the PM to launch his GMM.

Perhaps we have been so engrossed in our pursuit of ‘national unity’ that we have failed to recognize our achievements in the last four decades since the May 13, 1969 tragedy, that is, peace and stability, in the form of ‘social cohesion’ created by serious efforts, official and non-official, rooted in a genuine desire to achieve ‘national unity’.
  
Put simply, ‘social cohesion’ in Malaysia is about how the plural, fragmented and diverse components of our society, characterized by deep opposites and contradictions, have been able, through a continuous process of negotiation, consensus and compromise, to rise above it all in a most mature manner, to embrace peace and reject any form of violence for long-term mutual survival, sustainability and resilience.

The GMM promoted by Najib will showcase Malaysia’s social cohesion to the world, not only in terms of how we have managed to bring it about through an endless series of ‘fire-fighting’ efforts, but also how we have monitored and calibrated it through an early warning system which has been constructed, as a pre-emptive and preventive strategy, to suit our peculiar circumstances, with the possibility of it being applied in other societies necessarily in a modified from
.
Essentially, the GMM is more than just wasatiyyah for it is an integration of tireless top-down efforts and imaginative bottom-up activism of ideas, practices and commitment, by Malaysians for Malaysia, for the rest of the world to share.

This is the message, concept and package we must deliver at the inaugural conference on GMM in mid-January 2012 as a gift from Malaysia to the world.