Friday, August 31, 2007


"This is what the LORD Almighty says:
"Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.
Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor.
In your hearts do not think evil of each other."

Zechariah 7:8-10

"Build houses and settle down;
plant gardens and eat what they produce.

Marry and have sons and daughters;
find wives for your sons

and give your daughters in marriage,
so that they too may have sons and daughters.

Increase in number there;
do not decrease.

Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city
to which I have carried you into exile.

Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers,
you too will prosper."

Jeremiah 29:5-7

If my people, who are called by my name,
will humble themselves and pray and seek my face
and turn from their wicked ways,
then will I hear from heaven
and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
2 Chronicle 7:14

Thursday, August 30, 2007

7 more hostages to go...

AP Photo

News reports say 12 hostages have been released thus far. 7 more are in Taliban hands, held in different locations in Ghazni province outside Kabul.

ABP: The Taliban has released 12 South Korean hostages in Afghanistan.
The ten women and two men, part of a group of 23 Christian volunteers kidnapped from a bus in Ghazni province on 19 July, were handed over to members of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in three different groups.

BBC: The 12 hostages - 10 women and two men - were freed in groups at separate locations around Ghazni province, several hours apart.

Red Cross officials who helped drive them to safety on Wednesday said the group were "relieved" and physically in good shape.

Merdeka reflections

Found this link to Catholic Asian News on Screenshots. Check it out for some viewpoints on Merdeka:

Celebration of liberation from colonial rule and of material success must therefore be coupled with sober reflections in the search for success in ethnic and religious unity. Then perhaps within the next 50 years Malaysians can proudly say, “No other people is as wise and prudent as this great nation (Dt 4:6).”

  • My dear Malaysia: What has become of You? By K. George

  • 50 years of Islamisation By Aneel David Kannabhiran
  • Malaysia: The next 50 years By Colin Nunis
  • When I become Prime Minister By Adnan Amir
  • Christian Federation of Malaysia Press Statement

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

8 South Korean Hostages Freed

(Reuters photo)

The Taliban released 8 South Korean hostages in 2 batches to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

AP: To secure the hostages’ release, South Korea reaffirmed a pledge to withdraw its 200 troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year and prevent South Korean Christian missionaries from working there. The Taliban apparently backed down on earlier demands for a prisoner exchange. [More]

Reuters: A spokesman for South Korea's president, Chon Ho-seon, did not respond to questions at a news briefing in Seoul on Wednesday on whether a ransom was part of the deal but said South Korea had done what was needed.

"We believe it is any country's responsibility to respond with flexibility to save lives as long as you don't depart too far from the principles and practice of the international community," Chon said. [More]

USAToday: Barnett Rubin, an Afghanistan expert at New York University, said the agreement was a public relations victory for the Taliban. "It has enhanced their stature as an Afghan political group," he said. "They engaged in negotiations with a foreign government." [More]

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The selling-out of Malaysia

The last week or so has seen the official yawing of the Islamic state mantra and I must say it is beginning to grate. First, we were told we were never secular, that we had always been an Islamic state. Then, our venerable PM muddies the water by saying we were neither secular nor theocratic (note ‘Islamic’ is not the choice adjective here) but a country that practices parliamentary democracy, albeit with Islam as its official religion. And as if the previous pronouncement did not exist, Pak Lah issues a written reply in parliament that we’re an Islamic state after all. According to Malaysiakini, he said:

“Malaysia is an Islamic state which is administered based on the principles of Islam and at the same time adheres to the principles of parliamentary democracy guided by the highest law of the land - the Federal Constitution.”
As Malaysiakini notes, Pak Lah’s term in BM 'negara Islam' could mean either 'Islamic state' or 'Islamic country', both of which do not mean the same thing in English. So the semantics game continues.

Of course, further stirring up the conundrum was former AG Tun Abu Talib Othman who in an earlier interview with Malaysiakini, admitted indifference to the Islamic-secular state debate. In his interview he said he had no regrets during his tenure as AG, or over his role in the controversial sacking of then Lord President Tun Salleh Abbas. He defended his actions as ‘applicable law’ and disagreed that declaring Malaysia Islamic had impact on human rights. “It doesn’t really matter to me so long as I’m not forced to do anything against my will... That’s the basic premise,” he said.

I find the former AG’s admission all the more shocking (nay, shameful) if you would step back into time with me to 1988, to events surrounding Salleh Abbas’ fateful dismissal on account of 5 controversial charges produced against him. One of these charges is especially pertinent and I shall summarise from Abbas’ book, "Mayday for Justice":

Charge #2 alleged that at the launching of the book, Malaysia Law and Law, Justice and the Judiciary:Transnational Trends on 12 1988….”(iv) you made special reference to the interpretative role of judges and advocated the acceptance of the Islamic legal system not only in the interpretation of the Civil Law of Malaysia but in its general application.”

“Your attempt to restate the law generally along Islamic legal principles ignores the character of Malaysia society as one which is multi-religious and multi-racial with deep cultural differences. No responsible Government can allow the postulation of such views by the head of the Judiciary without causing fear and consternation among its non-Muslim population. Further your statement violates established principles of judicial interpretation widely accepted in the courts in Malaysia and in the Commonwealth.”

And then during submission to the Tribunal, AG Abu Talib pressed home his point:

“He (Abbas) is advocating a new rule…he is not sensitive of the secular position of this country and the law of this country…”

(emphasis mine)

[More about Abbas dismissal and Malaysia's judical crisis here]

The former AG’s post-rationalisation and doublespeak is painfully obvious. It appears now that whether Malaysia is secular or Islamic does not matter. So what? Indeed. It meant something to the former AG then. It was on this very allegation of advocating Islamic rule, of being insensitive of the secular position of this country, of causing fear among its non-Muslim population, that formed one of the primary charges for Abbas’ dismissal.

I ask:

Who has been insensitive to the country’s secular position today?

Who has been denying the secular character of the Federal Constitution while stridently insisting Malaysia is an Islamic state?

Who in the Judiciary has suggested that Common Law be dropped, to the horror of all right thinking people in the country?

Who in the Judiciary has subjugated freedoms enshrined in the Federal Constitution to the interpretation of Syariah?

Who in the PM’s department has proposed the application of Syariah as appropriate replacement for English Common Law, causing distress to millions of non-Muslims in the country?

Who has been calling Malaysia an Islamic state while ignoring Malaysia’s multi-religious and multi-racial reality, thereby causing “fear and consternation among its non-Muslim population”?

Why is the Government insensitive to the concerns of over 40% of its non-Muslim population who do not want the country to be arbitrarily declared Islamic?

Who is preaching unity and causing schisms just when we're celebrating 50 years of Merdeka?

Who is going to answer for the selling-out of Malaysia?

Monday, August 27, 2007

Young Writers Camp 07

The highest purpose of art is to inspire.
What else can you do?

What else can you do for any one but inspire them?
Bob Dylan

The Young Writers Camp (YWC) was a grand experience that reinvigorated the SU teen magazine PHASES. More than anyone else it was Alvin who, returning from Middlebury (and a brief stint in Hong Kong), wondered why no one thought about nurturing budding writers in Malaysia, and started to push the envelope. That was eons ago. They were halcyon days, I think, and it raised a small community of writers to evoke awe and nostalgia to this day. Stuff of legend, almost, and I’m glad to have had a whiff of it.

The PHYW – that’s what the campers called themselves – made quite a splash. Where did these kids come from? Who knew why those pioneering camps at Fraser’s and Kuala Selangor way back when were so stirring? Was it all a fluke? A confluence of stars? The tenacity of dreams? Breath of the Spirit? It was all these, and one thing more: someone to do the heavy lifting. That would be quite a few souls whose names escape me at the moment.

But you can’t really have too much of a good thing; people grow up. The PHYW did, and it wasn’t the same after that. Perhaps we tried too hard to keep the notion of some indescribable flame alive. I guess everyone else who came after didn’t think it was their thing - not the teens who came later. Yet some of us clung on to a faint hope, not quite believing it was over. So it was that we decided to give it another shot. Not quite a new start, (what with a bunch of familiar faces) and maybe, a new focus, wrapped with a greater sense of urgency. If the chemistry’s right, there would be strong medicine to last a while.

Even so, we weren’t at all sure if another YWC would do the trick so soon after the last false start in Malacca. Then when Phui Yee raised her hand, everything started moving very quickly, and the rest trooped in.

Yet for all our good intentions, the YWC hung in the balance for a while. Somewhere between presumption and conviction was the indictment of 5 registration forms. Only 5? With nearly 2 weeks to go before the camp, this was dreary news. If we erred by opening the gates too wide the last time, were we now too stringent? Did we frighten away hopefuls and wannabes with our list of participating luminaries – Tricia, Sivin, KJ, et al? Or did people smell a fish when we mentioned projects? Fortunately, by the time registrations closed we had 24 or 25. Quite respectable, considering all we wanted was 30 or so, erm, ‘quality’ campers.

Post-camp, one week later.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who thought the YWC went very well. Ok, maybe it’s too soon to say, but we all sensed an energy. Not unlike those heady days, yet different in that the present bunch seemed less cocky. There was again a confluence of stars, the breath of the Spirit. We raised the bar, challenged the kids to give legs to their words, and then some.

A few people who didn’t know writers could have this much fun swore they were coming back next year. Karcy felt the standard of writing was several notches up compared to the last camp. Colin thought a lot of the campers had a greater sense of calling than was usual. Darren called his mom to say the standard was ‘very high’ and that he was glad he came. Elliot found the camp more ‘christian.’ And Daniel said we may have succeeded where we failed in previous camps: we turned everyone into an activist.

Well. If the camp’s inspired anyone, we’ve done something right. We're all the richer for it, don't you think?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Refugee Nation

Malaysia is not a member to the U.N. Convention on Refugee Status 1951 and Protocol 1867, and does not intend to sign a UN pact recognizing or protecting refugees within her borders. This immediately classifies all refugees as illegal immigrants (together with undocumented workers and asylum seekers), which explains their constant harassment, detention, and deportation. The sad and tragic truth is, many of these refugees have been playing cat and mouse with the authorities – particularly Rela - and some have even been born here, with no country to call their own, but the squatter colonies to call home.

But Malaysia is a signatory to the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child, which ironically allows all children born here to acquire nationality. Since their parents are illegal immigrants and foreigners, their birth certs are stamped orang asing (foreigner).

That’s something to mull over as Malaysia celebrates her 50th birthday.

Malaysian Aris Oziar has moved from mulling to making a difference. Visit his blog Fifty Refugees which documents the stories of 50 illegal immigrants on our shores. So the next time you’re tempted to complain about traffic jams, remember their stories. If you think we have it bad, they are having it worse.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Bad News - Good News


One of the country's worst road accidents, which occurred in the wee hours of yesterday on the North-South Expressway near here, was a disaster waiting to happen.

The driver had 13 traffic summonses - some still outstanding - and two warrants of arrest against him while the 20-year-old bus, which also had 19 summonses, did not even have the permit to ply the route.

The passengers of the bus, bound for Alor Star from Malacca, never stood a chance against such a poor record - 19 of them were killed along with the 37- year-old driver. [More]
(STAR pix)


The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) confirmed on Monday that it had facilitated the release of two South Korean hostages held by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The two women were among 23 South Koreans kidnapped by Taliban militants on July 19. Two male captives were executed at the end of July. [More]

Yonhap News reported the released hostages are Kim Gina, 32, and Kim Kyung-ja, 37.

(AP Photo)

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Answering Minister Zam

Andrew Khoo who is the Deputy Chairperson of the Malaysian Bar’s Human Rights Committee, came up with an excellent response to Info Minister Zam’s strident objections to the Merdeka Statement. Excerpts from his letter in theSun:

Why was the Jabatan Perpaduan Negara re-named Jabatan Perpaduan Negara dan Integrasi Nasional? The 42 organisations which were listed as supporting (whether in whole or in part) the Merdeka Statement either deal with or represent ordinary people of all walks of life on an everyday basis. Does the Honourable Minister really think that the Federation of Malaysian Consumer Associations is elitist? Or the Malaysian Confederation of the Disabled? Or Yayasan Strategik Sosial? This last organisation is a body that works with underprivileged and marginalised, mainly Indian, children and youths. How more “un-elitist” can you get?

Does he consider the Malaysia Hindu Sangam elitist? Or the Malaysian Buddhist Association? Rather than face the reality, the preferred response appears to be to classify these groups as an elitist unrepresentative fringe group, and then to dismiss them as “Irrelevant!”

Furthermore, when you actually take a look at the Merdeka Statement, is it so bad that under the first item there is a call to ensure that “all new policies should be tested against the tenets of the Federal Constitution and the Rukun Negara? Is it so horrible that “an independent and transparent National Consultative Council on Vision 2020 should be established immediately? Is it so intolerable that “a National Research Institute on Ethnic Relations should be established?” Are these things, in and of themselves, so repugnant to the average person in the street that the majority of Malaysians would be offended by such suggestions? [More]

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

I am a town

I was going to write about Madeleine Peyroux (yes, yes, belated discovery) but got distracted by this beautiful melancholic song by another favourite singer songwriter, Mary Chapin Carpenter. So it's a song about a southern town a universe away. But I come from a small town myself (Alor Star) and I, too, was brought up in a Southern Baptist church. Under the skin, we are all the same.


I'm a town in Carolina, I'm a detour on a ride
For a phone call and a soda, I'm a blur from the driver's side
I'm the last gas for an hour if you're going twenty-five
I am Texaco and tobacco, I am dust you leave behind

I am peaches in September, and corn from a roadside stall
I'm the language of the natives, I'm a cadence and a drawl
I'm the pines behind the graveyard, and the cool beneath their shade,
where the boys have left their beer cans
I am weeds between the graves.

My porches sag and lean with old black men and children
Their sleep is filled with dreams, I never can fulfill them
I am a town.

I am a church beside the highway where the ditches never drain
I'm a Baptist like my daddy, and Jesus knows my name
I am memory and stillness, I am lonely in old age;
I am not your destination
I am clinging to my ways
I am a town.

I'm a town in Carolina, I am billboards in the fields
I'm an old truck up on cinder blocks, missing all my wheels
I am Pabst Blue Ribbon, American, and "Southern Serves the South"
I am tucked behind the Jaycees sign, on the rural route
I am a town
I am a town
I am a town

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Charges against Siti Noor dropped

Remember her?

That's singer Siti Noor Idayu Abd Moin who was detained by the Perak Religious Dept for allegedly dressing sexily and encouraging vice by performing at a nightclub. The STAR carried this report yesterday:

The 22-year-old singer said the department reached the decision after a meeting on Saturday.

“At the meeting, (the Perak Religious Department) decided to drop the charge as it it did not have enough evidence to press charges," said Siti Noor Idayu.

During the meeting, she said, the department officers also advised her to dress properly in future performances. [More]

Well, I'm glad for her.

I'll probably be told to mind my own business but I’m also curious: Did the religious dept really have a case but not enough evidence, or what? Interferance from higher-ups? And if these officers insisted on advising her about proper dressing even when she's not charged, does it imply that she was - according to laws regulating Muslim propriety - improperly dressed and then reluctantly let off? Again, if she was let off due to lack of evidence, what kind of evidence would have implicated her?

Mmm. Just curious.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Two views

Reading statements from Very Important People in the mainstream press can be a strange experience. Here are two people who take decidedly different viewpoints. Granted, it's not the same context or audience, but few will question that they both refer to our Malaysian condition:

Duli Yang Teramat Mulia Raja Muda Perak Darul Ridzuan, Raja Dr. Nazrin Shah Ibni Sultan Azlan Muhibbuddin Shah

FIFTY years of the national relay race has been run and we have covered a good distance and achieved much.

However, every coin has two sides.

Let us not be naive in thinking it is all a rosy picture. There is still much room for improvement.

Interaction between the ethnic groups, to the extent that it exists, remains more of an urban phenomenon. In recent years, ethnic identities appear to have become more explicit. In some instances, what divides us has become more emphasised than what unites us.

Moreover, the impasse at the global level between Islam and non-Islam affects even a moderate country like Malaysia.

Matters of faith are topics of immense controversy. They provoke overzealousness and coercive action, and drive Malaysians further and further away from each other.

Our diversity was meant to be our unique asset. The Federal Constitution and the Rukun Negara institutionalised living together in peaceful, harmonious co-existence.


It is also very important we have leaders who are earnest in maintaining unity, never resorting to religious or ethnic posturing to further their political careers at the expense of peace and security. If they fail, they must be held accountable and made answerable before the law. [More]

Information Minister Datuk Seri Zainuddin Maidin

Information Minister Datuk Seri Zainuddin Maidin said today the citizens’ wish list issued by 42 Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) does not represent the aspirations and wishes of the people nor does it reflect the reality.

"Rather, it is a clever attempt to disunite the people in the country," he said.

"This is a statement that ignores the reality acknowledged by the world and the people as well as Malaysia’s achievements since independence. One thing that is recognised by the world and has been a model (for the world) is the unity of the people and their ability to live in harmony.

"This is not a citizens’ wish but the wish of a handful of people. This is uncalled for," he told reporters when asked to comment on the citizens’ wish list initiated by the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute (Asli) in commemoration of Malaysia’s 50th anniversary of independence.

"They (42 NGOs) are an elite group which cannot be considered as representing the people and are not a group representing the feelings of the people below and they are removed from the heart and pulse of the people," he said. [More]

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Homeschool and homeschool

I was encouraged to read that Rev Terrence Sinnadurai the founder of Desa Amal Jireh (previously Rumah Faith) was among those nominated for the NST-PwC Malaysian Humanitarian Award.

I don’t know Rev Terrence personally and only now have I come across the name. But since 1985 he has helped to provide a home for poor orphans and abandoned kids. What’s impressive was the fact that the home which is registered with Selangor Welfare Department and the Registrar of Societies has grown through the years. Amazing scope of work there. According to its website, Desa Amal Jireh which now occupies a RM7.5 million 47-acre ‘village’ in Semenyih houses almost 90 underprivileged children and 7 adults.

Interestingly (but less unusual these days) the home also operates a homeschool for 15 of its children. Rev Terrence said that homeschool provides schooling for children who have difficulties with government schools until such time they are ready to rejoin the mainstream. Komathi Manimaran, who has been at the home since she was 2 years old, said she likes homeschool, because “lessons are in English and it has improved my English tremendously.”

I am an advocate of alternative education and stories of Desa Amal Jireh’s education initiative warm my heart. So many people have problems adjusting to conventional schools. Especially those who are underprivileged or at-risk children who cannot adapt to the system offered by our Education Ministry. Unsurprisingly, the medium of instruction (BM) is often cited as a reason for dropping out of national schools.

On another note...

Outside these centers for underprivileged children, more 'homeschools' are sprouting up and the reasons are the same: their students have difficulties adjusting, they have disciplinary issues, and are unable to cope with conventional schooling. What’s a parent to do? Put them in a homeschool center.

All this is fine, but I am somewhat amused and a little uncomfortable that these learning centers are being described as homeschool. For the life of me, why are they being called homeschool when these kids are not taught (a) at home, or (b) by their own parents?

It’s confusing and if I have to be blunt, it is also downright misleading.

It's not their fault that the education these centers offer is erroneously called homeschool; it’s a convenient handle largely promoted by some homeschool curriculum vendors. Yet it seems there is a responsibility to be clear about concept and terminology – especially in areas as controversial as home education or homeschool. Of course I appreciate that there are those of us who are averse to the term ‘homeschool’ because they believe ‘school’ is synonymous with institution, but that's another story. Besides, education that takes place at home doesn’t even come close to making it one.

Anyway, once during a forum where I was panel speaker as a homeschooling parent (sometimes unnecessarily qualified as “pure” homeschooling) an official from the Education Ministry expressed reservation and concern over these homeschool centers saying they were neither schools (according to the official version) nor were they conducted at home (by parents). I remember admitting to the confusion in front of the audience, but was unable to say anything more except that these learning centers were providing invaluable service and fulfilling a genuine need, regardless of the misnomer.

Folks whose kids are in these learning centers call it homeschool because a homeschool curriculum is used. While I won't lose sleep over it, it still grates whenever I hear it used in this way.