Monday, July 31, 2006

Speaking up against gag order

I asked my friend why component parties in Barisian Nasional are not doing more to voice objections to UMNO's Islamist ambitions and he emailed this brief reply “…vote against BN in the next GE” - together with a press statement.

Press Statement:

The recent stop talk order given by the prime minister to the Article 11 forum organisers sends a wrong signal to the international community on Malaysia’s intention to join the ranks of the civilised world. The action is an antithesis to the perception painted by the government to the international community that Malaysia is a modern, moderate and democratic nation which celebrates its religious and cultural diversity. The gag order bears serious constitutional consequences for all Malaysians.

There are a few pertinent questions that ought to be answered: first, are Malaysians legally allowed to discuss issues pertaining to their rights enshrined in the federal constitution even if these issues are related to ethnic relations, religion, cultural and social rights? Who is to decide if the average Malaysians are ready or not to discuss ethnic relations and religious issues affecting them?

Second, is the action taken by the state in stopping a legally constituted forum an act of undermining the rights to freedom of speech enshrined in the federal constitution?

Third, what are the constitutional consequences faced by all citizens in the event that their constitutional rights are usurped by the state? What the recourse available to them to seek protection of their constitutional rights?

Fourth, by stopping any civilised discourse on ethnic relations or religious freedom can the state find an amicable solution to the inherent issues surfaced in the Moorthy, Sharmala and Linda Joy cases or the ethnic biases which appeared in several ethnic relations and history publications?

A democratically elected government is responsible to defend and protect the constitutional rights of its people to freely exercise their rights within the boundaries of the nation’s legal framework. In this case, the anti-IFC protesters can continue their peaceful and non-violent protest against the proceedings of the Article 11 forum but the forum should be allowed to continue. The role of the state is to ensure that the action of the opposing parties is not affecting the rights of the other.

With the control of coercive instruments of power including several draconian legislations e.g. the Internal Security Act at the disposal of the government, it is beyond doubt that the threat from the government to act against the continuation of the discourse is real. The only thing that we can do is to remind the government that its action is a recipe of authoritarian rule. The price is Malaysia’s international standing as the champion of the oppressed nations. We should not preach what we cannot practice.

Khoo Kay Peng

Friday, July 28, 2006

Article 11

No discussion. No discourse. No recourse. As of today, the clampdown begins. But here’s a press statement I received from Article 11 - possibly the last one you'll ever read until the pivotal Lina Joy verdict is announced, perhaps.
Article 11 Unrelated to Inter-Faith Commission

A press statement by Article 11, a coalition of Malaysian NGOs committed to upholding the fundamental rights of all Malaysians regardless of religion, race, descent, place of birth or gender.

Article 11 is very concerned that the Prime Minister's statement reported in today's press, calling for a halt to Article 11's public forums, is based on the widespread but mistaken belief that the coalition's activities are aimed at reviving the initiative to establish an Inter-Faith Commission (IFC).

Article 11 would like to take this opportunity to clarify that the forums, entitled "Federal Constitution: Protection for All", are in no way related with the IFC initiative. Rather, Article 11's forums focus on the rights that the Federal Constitution, as the supreme law of Malaysia, guarantees to each citizen. The forums are also intended to highlight the concerns of civil society resulting from the plight of various individuals who are unable to obtain legal redress and who therefore suffer as a result of the current jurisdictional uncertainty in the courts. There is no discussion about the IFC in Article 11's public forums or other activities.

Article 11 will seek a meeting with the Prime Minister to request further information about his concerns regarding the coalition's activities and to provide clarification on the misconception that links Article 11 with the IFC.

Article 11 takes note of the concerns of the Prime Minister. The coalition members will meet soon, and will carefully consider his advice in its discussions of its future plans.
Meanwhile lawyer and current president of the National Human Rights Society (Hakam) Malik Imtiaz Sarwar sets the record straight with a letter posted on Malaysiakini (excerpted):
The Article 11 initiative is, however, aimed at creating awareness of the Federal Constitution, the guarantees provided therein and the concept of rule of law against increasing assertions that Malaysia is - in law - an Islamic State. In presenting the Federal Constitution, the initiative has at no point sought to question the status of Islam as the official religion of Malaysia – it is what the Constitution says, after all. Neither has the initiative sought to challenge or attack the administration of Islamic Law nor the esteemed position of the Malay Rulers.

The initiative has however shown that the provisions in the constitution relating to Islam have a context and, amongst other things, are to be read in the light of the constitutional declaration that the Constitution is the supreme law of Malaysia. The context being suggested by Article 11 is not that of the members of Article 11, the organisers or even the speakers at their forums. The context being suggested is one which the courts of this country have recognised. The suggestion that Malaysia is a secular country has recently been wrongly attributed to persons who have unfairly been characterised as trouble makers intent on attacking the administration of Islam. That is wholly incorrect. The statement is one of declared law. In 1988, the Supreme Court decision in Che Omar Che Soh, declared:

‘... we have to set aside our personal feelings because the law in this country is still what it is today, secular law, where morality not accepted by the law is not enjoying the status of the law … Until the law and the system is changed, we have no choice but to proceed as we are doing today.’

The law stands as that decision of the Supreme Court has not been reversed or departed from. In fact, during the recent Lina Joy Federal Court appeal, the court asked whether it was being asked to depart from the principle in Che Omar Che Soh. Counsel opposing the appeal answered in the affirmative, indicating an acceptance that declared law in this country is as it stands in Che Omar Che Soh.

We must not confuse the crucial distinction between a country in which the majority are Muslims, and is thus an Islamic country, and a country in which the supreme law is the syariah, an Islamic state. In Che Omar Che Soh, the Supreme Court stated:

‘If it had been otherwise (an Islamic State), there would have been another provision in the Constitution which would have the effect that any law contrary to the injunction of Islam will be void. Far from making such provision, (the Constitution), on the other hand, purposely preserves the continuity of secular law prior to the Constitution …’
The inexorable slide that Sulaiman Abdullah, Counsel for the Federal Territory Religious Council and respondent in the Lina Joy case referred to, is underway.

Link: Dissenting judgment in Lina's appeal hearing September 2003

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

International night

Saturday was most unusual. That evening Prasad and Ganesh visited and stayed for dinner. It’s been awhile since we last met up, Prasad in particular who went back to India, got married and became a father. He had last worked in KL 2 years ago. God has been good to him. The two Indian nationals from Hyderabad are working in KL. Ganesh is Hindu but he has been to our church a couple of times so I asked what he thought about it. He shrugged and said okay. He has no aversion being among Christians and we were glad for that.

At home with us at the time was Rawna, a Myanmar pastor who’s studying theology at STM in Seremban. He stays over during weekends and that evening the three found much in common as Rawna was in Hyderabad for 5 years until 2001. For ahile there was a bit of Telugu, mentions of railway stations and obscure streets. Then there’s Ravin, a Sikh who’s putting up with us until he finds alternative lodging. Ravin’s the sort of guy you don’t want to meet in a dark alley, but there you go. Rolls his own tobacco too. So there’s this animated conversation about food and places going on back and forth among ‘displaced’ persons in the very Chinese enclave of Setapak. Hmm.

After Prasad and Ganesh left, we waited for our next caller. Ivy was bringing an Arab student for a visit – he wanted to meet a typical ‘Malaysian family’, said she of her English language student. We did our best to be typical when the doorbell rang. I half expected a man in robes and keffiyeh but Salem our Arab Muslim visitor from Riyaddh was in neither. Simply dressed in white-sleeved shirt and dark pants, he greeted us politely after he took off his shoes. Salem’s married to a religious teacher (burqa-draped, but she didn’t come along), so you can imagine the extraordinary circumstances in which a Chinese Malaysian woman who’s not his wife became his driver and guide for the evening. Back in Saudi Arabia, religious Arab men do not walk in ‘proximity’ with women who are not their family or spouse. For Salem, that night was a first.

Salem smiled often, spoke softly with twinkling eyes as he tried to arrange English words in meaningful sentences. He searched haltingly for the right terms to ask about our family, our kids, my age (“you very old!”), describe places he had traveled to, unscrupulous taxi drivers, and of course his country (“Malaysia very beautiful, er,- next to Saudi”). We had just started talking about American guns and weapons (!) when Ivy signaled - time to go. 10.45pm. Wife wants him home by 10pm. Salem is sheepish. Would we be meeting your family before you leave KL, we asked? His wife is shy, he said, but he would speak to her about it. Gracious man. Interesting evening.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Family Read-aloud

Family Night is read-aloud night at the Tan Residence. It has been interesting to say the least, and I think I like the way it's working out. Our family time together has evolved thru the years and the present shape suits us fine - for now. After dinner Mondays, each of us take out a book we’re reading, and then read a portion aloud.

Last Monday, Sook Ching read from Marva Dawn’s Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down. It was a chapter where Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death was quoted at length. Something about TV and how it has changed discourse and lowered our information/action ratio. Er, it simply means we’ve got more information than we know what to do with it, and we’re no longer reflecting and responding appropriately to all the news and info we receive.

“Most of our daily news is inert, consisting of information that gives us something to talk about but cannot lead to any meaningful action,” says Postman. Seems to me what's true in the TV age is just as true in the internet age. Dawn agrees with Postman’s thesis, but she surprises with a disarming admission: “In my naivete I believed that most people put truth into practice…” That human nature defies coherence as much as it seeks for one makes a case for that inner contradiction that the Bible calls ‘sin.’

Elliot’s choice was a long passage from Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. Taken from a chapter entitled, 'What the KKK and real-estate agents have in common', you know it's going to be intriguing or funny, or both. Well, it had us all in stitches. It was about how Stetson Kennedy infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan and single-handedly brought the white supremacist group down (Stetson’s claims have been somewhat tainted of late by new revelations, but the infiltration bit is correct). By the way, Superman had a part in it, and you just have to read about it to know that truth indeed is stranger than fiction. The bottom line? Information is power.

Ethan read from his assigned study from B.K Kuiper’s The Church in History, and then cross-referencing it against Lion’s History of Christianity. Kuiper’s book described the Montanists as ‘heretical’ while the other book gave a quick overview and an unhelpful conclusion that they were ‘fanatics.’ So which is which, Ethan asked? How do you define heresy, and who decides it? Of course that led to a brief discussion on creeds and fundamentals subscribed by all evangelical Christians. What was clear was the fact that credal confessions of the 1st century church spelled out what was believed to be non-negotiables of the faith, strengthening its hand as it engaged spurious teachings and heresies.

I picked a recent book I bought at Border’s called, The Riddle and The Knight. Written by Giles Milton it traces the fantastical journeys of 14th century Sir John Mandeville, England’s own Marco Polo. A sort of travelogue with a bit of sleuthing thrown in. There's an interesting bit about how Christianity came to Russia. It seems Vladimir the pagan prince of Kiev sent out emissaries to seek out the ‘true faith’ to take back to his land. After a couple of misadventures (including interviews with Jews and Muslims), his men ended up in Constantinople.

It was a Greek Orthodox service in Haghia Sophia that did it. They went home with this report: “We knew not whether we were in heaven or earth, for surely there is no splendour or beauty anywhere upon earth. We cannot describe it to you; only this we know, that God dwells there among men, and that their service surpasses the worship of all other places.” Now, doesn't that make you want to ask: what would visitors take away from their visit to our own churches today?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


"In the Old and New Testaments, the moments of great impact in the world were never those in which the people of God became indistinguishable from those in their world. When this happened it was a moment of spiritual debauchery. In order to influence the world, the people of God have to be quite different from it cognitively and morally. The irony is that to be relevant, the church has to be otherworldly; and when this spiritual otherness is extinguished by the ache for this-worldly acceptance, it loses the thing that it wants above all else—relevance. The church eventually discovers, to its great dismay, that it has lost its voice and no longer has anything left to say. That is the discovery that now seems to be looming ahead of the evangelical world. It is the iceberg that awaits the Titanic as those on board persuade themselves of their invincibility and pass the days in partying." (David F. Wells)

How does one become otherworldly and not live like you're in another world? It's an unending tug-of-war, to be in the world and yet not of it. What David Wells calls being different and otherworldly, Scripture describes as being holy. Now there's a scary word. Bishop J.C. Ryle says it is the habit of thinking after God's thoughts, "being of one mind with Him."

Thursday, July 06, 2006


President Tan Sri William Cheng of Associated Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Malaysia (ACCCIM) thinks employers should consider shorter work week – in view of operational costs. Take a look at Japan, he says. They have a 40-hour work week, its petrol is four times that of Malaysia, the average worker earns ten times more than the average Malaysian, and the yen has moved from 360 to a US$20 years ago to just 100 to a dollar (RM3.70) today. Yet Japan is among one of the most efficient and productive countries in the world. It appears the work done by one Japanese is equivalent to 4 Malaysians.

How do you like that?

It seems the way to cut down on operational cost therefore is not cutting back on work hours alone, but upping efficiency and productivity.

Just the other day at the office we argued over efficiency and wondered why we appeared less productive than we were some years ago. Wages have gone up, workload has increased, but margins have thinned. We’ve got our foot flat on the pedal, but it seems like we’re neither getting better nor more efficient. It’s easier to trim operational costs but the million-dollar question is what do you do with the productivity gap?

I have other questions too:

  • Didn't technology and IT promise to raise living standards, quality of life, and productivity?
  • Why do we have more gadgets and less control?
  • What have all our 'time-saving' devises saved for us, and how did we squander all the time saved?
  • Is the fragmented family but one tragic consequence of our stolen lives?
  • Why do we seem to be working harder but feeling less and less fulfilled?
  • If work is 'vocation' does it make long work hours all right?
  • Is the holy grail of a shorter work week achievable only in a developed country but not in a developing one?

Monday, July 03, 2006

Everyday kungfu

Get a load of these real-life kung fu practitioners - only in China I guess. Just the sort of thing to warm Stephen Chow's heart. Don't know if you all have seen them before but they cracked me up! Click on the pics for a bigger view: