Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Merdeka and Myopia

Merdeka. Independence.

49 years earlier the British Union Jack was lowered for the last time and the Malayan flag raised to exuberant cries of ‘Merdeka!’ by Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman. 49 years later, the vision of the nation’s founding fathers has been threatened by the myopia of race and Islamism.

Malaysia’s first PM is on record (1st May 1958 Hansard) saying, "I would like to make it clear that this country is not an Islamic State as it is generally understood, we merely provided that Islam shall be the official religion of the State." Au contraire, said present parliamentary secretary of the Prime Minister’s Department Masitah Ibrahim in response to a supplementary question by DAP’s Karpal Singh. “The opinions of the former prime ministers that Malaysia was a secular nation were purely personal,” she retorted.

This is a stunning declaration without so much as a reprimand by members of the ruling party in Parliament. It was left to opposition MPs to raise the alarm.What are Malaysians – especially non-Muslims – to make of this?

Thomas Fuller's article in IHT titled, Nation’s secular vision vs ‘writing on the wall’ quoted Malaysian scholar Farish Noor saying, "The idea of a secular state is dead in Malaysia. An Islamic society is already on the cards. The question is what kind of Islamic society this will be." Ivy Josiah, director of the Women's Aid Organization, says the writing is on the wall: "It's only a matter of time before Malaysia becomes another Taliban state." (Read Fuller’s article here)

Meanwhile, Fellow at Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia (IKIM) Md Aslam Ahmad tells us what he really thinks of Malaysia’s multicultural heritage. In what is possibly the official line of the present administration, he aims his polemic at secularism and skewers our pretty tourist-brochure illusion:
Who says the secular worldview is our common worldview? That is surely not acceptable to Muslims, who are aware that secularism is antithetical not only to Islam but to all religious worldviews.

Leaving the ignorant and confused Muslims aside, there is no way to make conscious Muslims accept a secular interpretation of life and existence as espoused by Western culture and civilisation. The followers of other religions should recognise the fact that their religions have many things in common with Islam, particularly when it comes to ethics and morality. It is through Malaysia, as an Islamic state, that other religions would thrive, and that we have better chance of fostering national unity based on a common religious worldview.

A secular Malaysia would be an enemy not only to Islam but a common enemy to all religions. (Full article here)
I’m glad Ng Kam Weng of Kairos weighed in with a strong response to that nonsense. Multiculturalism and pluralism have defined Malaysia since its inception in 1957 (and even earlier), and are hardly alien ideologies. Saying Md Asham had “inverted the dynamics of rational debate in this country by suggesting that the non-Muslims’ call for multiculturalism is driven by an ideology inherently hostile to Islam” he challenged the author to drop his sarcasm and take a look at Islam’s backyard where it is clear that religious and cultural conflicts have proliferated, regardless of Islam's claim to unity. (Full article here)

In the meantime, Malaysians took another slap in the face with this unnecessary squabble: BN MPs from MCA questioned the issue of new history textbooks that excluded historical figures such as Yap Ah Loy who founded Kuala Lumpur in the late 1800's. Non-Malay leaders’ role in the Independence negotiations and resistance to the Japanese occupation have been curiously omitted. Education Ministry parliamentary secretary Komala Devi explained that it wasn’t the government’s intention to sideline the contribution of any ethnic group, but to improve “sections perceived to be boring and unimportant by students.” Boring and unimportant? Right. What we see surely does not reflect an iota of good intention, does it?

Admittedly, there is little to celebrate in a country that continues to alienate her own people with such callousness. In some ways Marina Mahathir’s sentiments are shared by many right-thinking Malaysians whatever the color of their skin or creed. Are we a dying breed then? Here's an excerpt of what she wrote in her Musings column recently:
You can almost feel a near-hysteria in the air that, for some people, their country is being threatened by some kafir poltergeist. But then their “country” is one that comprises only one type of people, practises one religion exclusively, tolerates no diversity of opinion nor discussion, assumes the moral superiority of only one race and condescendingly tolerates the existence of others.

Their country is one where they wouldn’t dream of going into the home of someone of another religion, let alone eat with them, where the slightest thing is a threat to faith and therefore should be banned, where thinking is deemed satanic, where judgments are made on people at the smallest excuse, where people who are cruel, moralistic and sanctimonious are lauded as heroes of the race, where lies are blatantly told to get around everything.

I don’t know about you but that sad and confusing place is not my Malaysia. For Merdeka this year, I’d like to have it back please.(More)
There's not a few who believe her father ex-PM Dr Mahathir had a hand in Malaysia's sad descent. But his daughter Marina was with me in the same secondary school in Alor Star and for awhile we were also in the same literary society committee. There’s always some things in her articles I don’t agree with (even in the above piece), but there’s a lot more that I concur with. For instance this one ended on a poignant note, and it brought on a rush of nostalgia. Hate to admit it, but um, it gave me a lump in my throat. I, too, would like the Malaysia I knew back.


>NECF (National Evangelical Christian Fellowship) statement regarding religion and the Federal Constitution here.

>Maria Kana on Missionary response to Islamisation:
In 1988 the MCCBCHS issued a Declaration On Freedom Of Religion Or Belief And On The Elimination Of Intolerance And Of Discrimination Based On Religion Or Belief in an attempt to halt the growing tendency to enact state laws which were deemed to be in contravention of the freedom of religion clause in the Federation Constitution. Thirteen years later the MCCBCHS is of the view that the situation has become worse. In January 2002 the same Declaration was re-launched to urge the Federal and all State Governments to respect the rights of every person to freedom of religion and recognise that Malaysia is constitutionally a secular State (Press Release, MCCBCHS, 31.01.02).

The stance adopted by the MCCBCHS (Malaysian Consultative Council For Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism) in rejecting the description of Malaysia as an Islamic state also reflects the position taken by the Christian Church on this contentious issue. Nevertheless the Church must accept the reality that the absorption of Islamic values will continue, in the words of the government publication entitled “Malaysia Adalah Sebuat Negera Islam”, “until the goal of entrenching Islam into the nation’s system is full achieved” (Catholic Asian News, March 2002).

In the light of serious implications, which such a policy of inculcating Islamic values holds for the future, the Church must now attend to the path to take in mission and evangelisation. (Full article here)
>Michele Malkin takes aim at the Lina Joy issue here and wonders why American feminists are strangely silent.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Fast-food nations

McDonald’s ranking in customer satisfaction in the US is slipping but that hasn’t stopped the fast-food giant from expanding its reach globally. Meanwhile Starbucks continues its lead with 3 new stores opening daily around the world.

Personally, I’m not a coffee person although I’m not averse to an occasional cuppa. McDonald’s? Well, I’ve seen Supersize Me and I know all about artery-clogging meat patties and trans fat and french fries. But when you need a quick bite and you’re not picky, McD’s all right. Besides, when you have kids it’s practically impossible to give it a wide berth.

Check out this map to see how Starbucks and McD’s stack up globally in the new world order.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


Confidential communiqué from Kofi Annan to Ehud Olmert detailing terms of Israeli-Hizbullah cease-fire. This made me laugh:

Immediately notify the U.N. if it has been fired upon, in as precise detail as possible, refraining from responding except where clearly required in immediate self-defense. The U.N. undertakes to bring, in an impartial manner, such incidents to the attention to the security council as quickly as possible.

Read the rest here.

Meanwhile, down under...

How about this - in Austrailia too:
Two Australian pastors in the province of Victoria will go to jail if they do not apologize for publicly comparing Christianity with Islam according to their beliefs. One organization attempting to come to their rescue is The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Washington-based international non- profit law firm renowned for protecting the free expression of all religious traditions.

Arguments are being presented today in the Appeals Court of Australia. A team of Australian lawyers is seeking to have overturned the 2004 ruling of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal which found that public expression of the pastors’ beliefs incited hatred against Muslims in violation of Victoria’s Racial and Religious Tolerance Act because the pastors’ beliefs were deemed “offensive” and “unreasonable” interpretations of Christian and Islamic teachings. The Becket Fund is a member of that team, counseling the pastors regarding their rights under international law dealing with religious freedoms. [More]
The Victoria state Islamic Council took offense at statements raised during a seminar led by the two pastors that "the Koran promotes violence and killing; that Muslims lie; and that Muslims intend to take over Australia and delclare it an Islamic State."[Crosswalk]

A simple show of hands will probably reveal few Christians who disagree with that, forgetting that history records similar christian impulses and ambitions and their tragic consequences. If anything, the incident illustrates the need to exercise restraint and care when dealing with other faiths. Christians tend to be careless and I must confess that I too have a tendency to generalise or speak too hastily - whether it is about Islam, Buddhism, or Hinduism. As someone who's living in Muslim-majority Malaysia I know too well the inherent dangers of hurting Islamic 'sensitivities.'

The study of comparative religions is tricky, but absolutely critical in a multicultural nation such as ours if you want to have a clearer understanding of spirituality in all its complementary and divergent shades. The question is, how do you do that in cynical times like this?

>The Becket Fund link to this story

Monday, August 14, 2006

Homeschool bumps

On being told that our two boys were homeschooled, a Pastor caught me off-guard with a strongly worded reply: “I would never approve of homeschool in my church. We live in Malaysia and Christian children cannot afford to miss being a witness in a multicultural society.”

What do you say to elders and pastors who adopt an adversarial position on alternative education? To think that once upon a time, the issues bugging us as new homeschoolers were curricula, socialisation, and <gasp!> entry into local universities!

Here are a few more bumps on the road to homeschool bliss to watch out for.

The all-purpose playmate
Some people have the strangest notion that homeschool is equivalent to no-school. It explains why we get requests to baby-sit kids whose parents do not know how to handle nor amuse - usually when conventional school terms wind down, or after their exams are over. "Can you drop Ethan and Elliot over at our place at 2 p.m.? Or would the boys prefer Jimmy to come by your place?"

Unfortunately, our kids have school even if the rest of the nation is enjoying one of its frequent breaks. Holidays are too plain boring for the ordinary school kids. You see, they have long forgotten what to do with themselves after being conditioned, examined, instructed, drilled, grilled and school-belled into submission. So, can our boys come over?

The resident comic relief
Sure we’re all part of Christ’s body, but to his peers in Sunday School, the homeschooler is funnybone and resident comic relief. Expect put-downs like “You homeschoolers so innocent-one, don’t know what’s a lesbian!” to spiteful name-calling like, “Dummy, never go to school don’t know anything.”

Though all parties involved usually plead innocent to any malice, it does get a bit grating. Depending on how armour-plated your homeschool child is, learning not to return tit-for-tat is an important lesson in character formation in your home curriculum if it isn’t already there. If nothing else, all this teasing makes for a message on verbal abuse: “That’s God telling you how your brother feels when you call him names!”

The kid who wasn't there
Beware the conscientious Sunday School teacher or youth leader. He/She is likely to belabour the importance of passing exams, studying hard to get a good job, etc, besides the constant diversions into fervent prayers for jittery students whose exams hang like the sword of Damocles over their future careers. The homeschooler, alas, is supposed to take all this in his stride since it’s not the class’ fault that he’s different. Who wants to know if a homeschooler has any educational need?

The lone stranger
After awhile, a homeschooler begins to really, really feel like Nemo. Not that he likes being a clownfish to begin with, but he realises that there’s not many people he can have a mutually satisfying friendship with.

Thanks to Mom and Dad, the home educated kid is alternately too mature for his age (so stand-offish!) or too kiddish for his church peers (what, still playing RISK?). Besides who wants to know about the books he’s reading, the Latin he’s learning, the number of times he has to mop the floor per week, the community work he’s doing, the Homeschool Support Group field trip he’s back from, or the scary SAT test that’s looming ahead?

The expedient substitute
The number of school tests, holidays, extra-curricular activities or tuition plays havoc with the church worship roster. “Elliot, can replace me or not this Sunday? Got test next week.”

In case you think it’s the lot of homeschoolers to be the convenient stand-in (since they do not go to school), their Mom doesn’t have it any easier too. The homeschool Mom (since she doesn’t ‘work’) is thought to have lots of time to spare, so can she help with this chore, or that errand please?

The unintentional rebel
Well, not exactly, but a homeschooler has his off days too. Like the human being that he is, a kid is as lazy as he dares to be. He knows, oh he knows what the whole homeschool scene is about, but can’t he just take it easy - for a while?

On the other hand, what’s the big deal about studying at home anyway? The other kids do cool things in regular schools – uniform brigades, parades, interschool competitions, football, meet interesting friends, etc.

Hmm, a homeschooler who wants to go back to the grind that is conventional school! It’s not as unusual as you think, but it’s enough to make any parent fast and pray for a solution. Do not underestimate the memory of meat, fish and cucumbers in Egypt, particularly if your homeschooler was pulled out of the neighbourhood school late in life (and who still can’t understand why he has to do this for his parents’ sake).

The black sheep of the flock
Temperature in church takes a slight dip - suddenly mothers don’t know what to talk about when they’re with you. Your Cell Group members try to be polite, but they are truly and deeply concerned that your son isn’t in school. “Are you sure you can do it, this homeschool thing?” Your CG leader is incredulous, convinced you’ve been misinformed by an overzealous homeschool advocate. He knows you’ve never been to college, and may not have considered the obvious limitation of your grey matter. “Sammor, you have 4 children and one more on the way? How your financial?”

Of course no one has officially broken fellowship with you, but brace yourself: here comes Mrs Chinniah whose three super-achieving children have had a sterling record in Sekolah Menengah St Michael’s, and two are on their way to their Masters, sans homeschool!

Meanwhile back on the road...
In the world out there and in the community we call Church, the lessons all of us have to learn are the same: how to count others better than ourselves, and how to act justly and love mercy (Micah 6:8). Let me end by mixing my metaphors and refer to a title of Warren Wiersbe’s many books: The Bumps Are What We Climb On. That, homeschoolers, is the stuff of real life.

[Originally posted on the HOMEFRONTIER newsgroup]

Friday, August 11, 2006

Sensitive talk

There is no denying the sense of impotence and despair that has engulfed Malaysians in recent days. And we are not talking about the recurring haze. Muslims feel their position and their religion are being questioned, while non-Muslims are increasingly paranoid about their status as citizens under one common Constitution. There is a chasm that cannot be bridged anytime soon and I see people taking positions and digging in.

Some parties think dialogue will solve the issue (albeit behind closed doors) but the reality is not so encouraging. Correct me if I am wrong - there is no state in the world with a Muslim majority (or a significant minority) that provides any platform for dialogue. None. There are too many taboos, too many non-negotiables; non-Muslims are right to ask why they constantly have to acquiesce in the name of ‘tolerance’ when none is forthcoming their way

And what’s happening along the corridors of power? Is an ‘elegant’ response coming from the PM who in his election speeches advanced himself as PM of ALL Malaysians?

Ioannis Gatsiounis of Asia Times provides a commentary that not so delicately suggests that history may already be written (or is it rewritten?) even as we look for answers.

Abdullah has been less than resolute in handling Malaysia's creeping fundamentalism, which is not to suggest the former Islamic scholar is promoting an intolerant strain of Islam. To be fair, Malaysia is a tricky place to govern. It requires deftly balancing the needs of the majority Muslim Malays with those of the Indian and Chinese minorities to prevent social unrest. And yet Abdullah knows that maintaining political control will require first and foremost placating the Malays.

But by caving in to hardline sensitivities over inter-faith dialogue and the supremacy of the constitution, Abdullah, inadvertently or otherwise, appears to be going beyond merely accommodating the Malay community to the point of empowering its fringes. And the dangers this may engender should not be underestimated - this being an era in which a growing number of Muslims around the world are resorting to intolerance to advance their causes and feeling inspired by the results (violent protests against the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed is but one example). [More]

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Dr M's cause

Ex-PM Dr Mahathir is at it again in his offensive against his designated successor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi by calling him to step down. “If we have a prime minister who sold the country, why wait for five years? We have to take early action,” said Dr M. “We must not always say we support the prime minister.”

As always 81-year old Dr M sticks to his oft-repeated philosophy of supporting the cause more than the person. It happened when Anwar Ibrahim was removed. Now as then Dr M says he has no quarrel with UMNO, did not ‘criticise’ UMNO, but its leader. To illustrate his view, he has consistently referred to UMNO pioneer Onn Jaafar and Malaysia’s first PM Tunku Abdul Rahman who themselves resigned or were pressured to step aside ostensibly for deviating from UMNO’s cause. Is it merely a severe case of ex-PM syndrome as former DPM Musa Hitam put it?

I have long stopped being surprised by Malaysian politics. The tragedy as I see it is due precisely to “the cause is more important than the man” schtick that Dr M has articulated so well. Ideas have consequences as they say. Somewhere behind this view is an ideology that is premised on a poor understanding of the value of personhood.

In Morris West’s book The Devil’s Advocate, a much-loved priest Father Nerone in a remote Italian village is captured by communist rebel Il Lupo. Their conversation is instructive, and illustrates the place of Man – tainted as he is by the Fall – in Biblical theology:
Nerone shrugged.

“The work isn’t important. A million men can do it better. You will probably do it better yourself. The work dies. How many men did Christ cure? And how many of them are alive today? The work is an expression of what a man is, what he feels, what he believes. If it lasts, if it develops, it’s not because of the man who began it, but because other men think and feel and believe the same way. Your own party’s an example of it. You’ll die too, you know. What then?”

“The work will go on,” said Il Lupo. The clear eyes lit suddenly as if at a great revelation. “The work will go on. The old systems will perish of their own corruption, and the people will come into their own. It’s happened in Russia. It will happen in Asia. America will be isolated. Europe will be forced into line. It will happen. Nerone, I may not be here to see it, but I’m not important.”

“That’s the difference between us,” said Giacomo Nerone softly. “You say you’re not important. I say I am…. what happens to me is eternally important, because I was from eternity in the mind of God…. Me! The blind, the futile, the fumbling, the failed. I was, I am, I shall be!”

“You believe that, really?” Il Lupo’s eyes probed him like a scalpel.

“I do.”

“You’ll die for it?”

“It seems so.”

Il Lupo stubbed out his cigarette and stood up. He said with flat conviction: “It’s a monstrous folly.”

“I know,” said Giacomo Nerone. “And it’s gone on for two thousand years. I wonder whether yours will last so long.”

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Ahmadinejad's hour

Iranian President’s visit to Malaysia on the occasion of the OIC’s emergency meeting on the Hizbollah-Israel conflict was prominently reported. Here is he (l) with our PM Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi (r). Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said Israel is an instrument of the US and Britain to dominate the Middle East, and that “It is an illegitimate regime and there is no reason for its existence.” There’s a nice guy for you. He previously put the world on notice after his election by saying the Holocaust was fiction and that Israel had to be “wiped off the map.”

Now the man is here, welcomed and feted as “Man of the Hour” in the New Straits Times own words (Aug 4 06). Here’s what else he said during his brief visit in KL: “Although the main cure is the elimination of the Zionist regime, in this stage an immediate ceasefire should be implemented…”

Someone help me because I have difficulty understanding what the honourable President is saying. If someone’s avowed aim is to eliminate you and erase you from the face of the earth, what legitimacy does this person have in calling for a “ceasefire”?

Here's what a Singapore foreign ministry spokesman said:

"We are utterly appalled by the statement. The situation in Lebanon is very grave. The urgent immediate need is to secure humanitarian relief for the civilian casualties."

"Such irresponsible and provocative statements are obviously intended only to further inflame the conflict and not address either the immediate humanitarian needs or the longer term goal of a durable solution that will address the security concerns of all parties."

No prizes for guessing what Malaysia said.

Interestingly, on the same day NST carried an Op-Ed by Michael Slackman titled A STEP BACKWARDS FOR IRANIAN DEMOCRACY. A blurb beneath the header read, "Iran, backer of Hizbollah, is using the Lebanon conflict to suppress political opposition at home."It first appeared in the NYT
linked here from IranFocus.

See also: The Hizbollah Program

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Uniformity's curse

We joined the crowds at Doulos when it was berthed at Westport after dropping off Ethan and Elliot for their TeenStreet reunion Saturday morning a couple of weeks ago. And oh the crowds! You would be forgiven if you thought there was a fire sale. Well, a lot of the books on display were going quite cheap although the range wasn’t the type that would have me jumping for joy. I think I stayed no more than an hour.

But I found this book – Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader by James Bratt – (RM24!) which is a collection of writings by Calvinist theologian-politician Abraham Kuyper. Kuyper was an intellectual giant and a prolific writer publishing hundreds of books and articles on topics such as politics, literature, art, philosophy, and social issues. He was also a homeschooler, so I feel a special kinship towards him being a homeschooling dad myself.

The late Francis Schaeffer was much influenced by Dutch reformer Kuyper and helped to popularize his work. Others have claimed that Kuyper’s theology of natural order and common grace provided the basis for the institutionalization of apartheid in South Africa (this 1995 monograph gives a different viewpoint). Anyway here’s a fascinating excerpt from a criticism on modern culture and what Kuyper calls the 'curse' of uniformity. Interesting read. Although it was written in 1869, Kuyper could well be speaking about our own times today:

Humanity fashions for itself an iron fence made up of identical stiles. That is its unity. But if you wish to se the unity of God, go out into a wild forest, observe there the crooked trunks, the twisted branches, the mingling of colours, the endless variety of shades, and not how it is precisely in the whimsical interplay of colours and lines that unity is revealed in its finest expression. But what is our age doing? On the model of that iron fence, it trims frolicsome shrubbery into a smooth hedge and prunes those wild trunks to the very top to create a forced unity in the tangled mass by an artificial uniformity. It confuses monotony with harmony and fancies that the full accord of life has been found when every instrument is properly attuned and no dissonances heard…The average is the standard to which it artificially elevates the one and forcibly flattens others, which explains the mediocrity of modern life. In fact, the flourishing of the arts is the tree of true unity, out of an impulse toward a fuller life. The curse of uniformity is thus manifest in the fact that our modern life is almost totally devoid of artistic talent of any kind, poverty-stricken in aesthetic vitality, and totally destitute of artistic creations. Let no one think that this deficiency is accidental. It is rather the necessary consequence of the drive toward uniformity.

I was recently reminded by a blogger that the last time anyone experimented in racial and cultural purity (doesn't that sound like uniformity?) it gave birth to the totalitarian state of the Third Reich. Sobering food for thought.