Archive for category Zairil Khir Johari

Islam, freedom and salvation

Zairil Khir Johari
The Malaysian Insider
February 19, 2014

Islam and freedom are two inseparable concepts, though one may not arrive at this conclusion based on the behaviour of many Muslims worldwide, particularly those claiming to carry the torch for the religion.

When the Prophet Muhammad introduced Islam in the 7th century, he not only brought with him a new deen (faith), but also through it delivered fundamental moral and social reform to the Arabian society. As it were, Islam brought light to end the darkness of slavery, female infanticide and social injustice.

At its height of glory during the Islamic Golden Age from the 8th to the 13th century, the Arab-Muslim world transformed from a warring, largely illiterate society to one characterised by major intellectual advancement in culture, mathematics, life sciences and philosophy.

It was an era of inclusiveness, symbolised by the establishment of the Baitul-Hikmat, or House of Wisdom, in Baghdad, where scholars both Muslim and non-Muslim converged to exchange and produce knowledge. Inspired by the call to ijtihad (independent reasoning), the goal was always to expand and include, and not to retreat and exclude. Read the rest of this entry »

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Tanda Putera fails to honour Tun Razak

by Zairil Khir Johari
5 September 2013

I am disappointed in Tanda Putera’s failure to honour Tun Razak’s achievements.

According to the Malaysiakini articled titled “Zam: DAP irate as its logo stands out in Tanda Putera” dated 4 September 2013, former minister of information Tan Sri Zainuddin Maidin is quoted as saying that the DAP is against the film because the party’s logo is prominently displayed in the film’s controversial May 13, 1969 racial riot scene.

I would like to state that I have seen the film, and having done so, I admit that I am sorely disappointed. However, my dissatisfaction against the film stems not so much from the fact that the DAP was constantly maligned (indeed, our logo appeared to be omnipresent in most of the racial riot scenes, although there was no direct reference linking the party to the riots). This is because I had expected nothing less than a perversion of reality, as how the DAP has been constantly victimised and misrepresented in recent times, most notably over the CEC election.

I was also not surprised by the grossly unfair and one-sided portrayal of the Chinese as the main instigators of the racial riots. That too was expected, considering the film was fully funded by a RM4.8 million grant from FINAS (National Film Development Corporation) and MDEC (Multimedia Development Corporation). After all, race-baiting and provocation is everyday fare for the BN-controlled mainstream media. Read the rest of this entry »

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Agenda kemerdekaan yang belum terselesai

by Zairil Khir Johari
The Malaysian Insider
August 31, 2013

Selama 56 tahun, rakyat Malaysia tanpa gagal menyambut satu perayaan yang cukup besar maknanya. Perayaan yang mengingatkan kita betapa berharganya nikmat hidup dalam keadaan bebas daripada cengkaman penjajah.

Dalam pada itu, umum juga menyedari bahawa penghayatan sambutan kemerdekaan bukan sekadar menggantungkan bendera kecil di kenderaan masing-masing, berdiri tegak di dalam pawagam semasa lagu Negaraku dimainkan atau berhimpun menunggu percikan bunga api pada detik 12 tengah malam.

Sebaliknya, kemerdekaan adalah sesuatu usaha pembinaan negara bangsa yang berterusan. Kemerdekaan bererti bahawa setiap anggota masyarakat memiliki hak dan tanggungjawab bersama untuk menentukan corak dan masa depan negara ini.

Kemerdekaan bererti bahawa pilihan rakyat menjadi pilihan keramat. Kemerdekaan bererti bahawa setiap insan yang bergelar rakyat dimartabatkan dengan kehidupan yang bermaruah dan peluang untuk menikmati berkongsi kekayaan negara ini.

Namun, walaupun sudah lebih setengah abad kemerdekaan, rakyat makin hidup dalam ketakutan dengan kadar jenayah yang kian meningkat. Hak demokratik pula tercabul apabila pilihan rakyat yang lantang dalam pilihan raya umum tidak berjaya diterjemahkan kepada realiti. Read the rest of this entry »

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Of sectarianism, secularism and power politics

Zairil Khir Johari
The Malaysian Insider
August 28, 2013

A climate of fear and tension appears to be gripping the Muslim world today – not only in the ever-conflicted Middle East, but even here in Malaysia. In recent months we have seen an increasing zeal on the part of the authorities, certain politicians and right-wing groups.

The gross overreaction in the handling of issues such as the surau in Johor, the “dog lady” video incident, the use of the word “Allah”, and the growing persecution of minorities such as the Chinese, the Christians and the Shias, have revealed uncharacteristic fanaticism. Since when have we become such an intolerant society?

The worst part is that most of these sentiments do not assume any rationality.

Take the virulent stance against the Shias, for example. During one of the terawih prayers that I attended in the recent Ramadan, a popular cleric had been invited to deliver a tazkirah or sermon.

In his sermon, the cleric nonchalantly informed us all that the Shias were not really Muslims, and that they worshipped a different religion altogether.

I thought this extreme view was perhaps an isolated one, until I read that the Kedah state government is planning to gazette a fatwa that will effectively treat Shias as deviants.

Now, if Shias are deviants and regarded as non-Muslims, why do we invite them every year to participate in our annual Tilawah Al-Quran competition at the Putra World Trade Centre?

In fact, since 1961, nine Iranians (read: Shias) have won the men’s recital competition. Furthermore, why is Iran accepted as a member of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)?

What about the thousands of Iranian students that we are willing to accept as students in our universities every year? Read the rest of this entry »

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Governing Malaysia

Zairil Khir Johari
The Malaysian Insider
Oct 12, 2012

OCT 12 — A favourite line of attack adopted by the Barisan Nasional (BN) government these days is the accusation that the opposition is only capable of making empty promises and hence is unable to govern.

To corroborate this premise, the prime minister recently suggested three points, namely: that the opposition coalition has failed to formalise itself under a common party symbol, that the inability to formulate a shadow Cabinet reveals a lack of credibility, and that the opposition’s sweet promises are in reality “venomous poison” that will eventually bring financial ruin to the country. In stressing the last point, he even went so far as to say that the Buku Jingga, the opposition’s official policy manifesto, “is not worth the paper it is printed on.”

Now, it’s all very fine for the prime minister to partake in showboating, especially when the mainstream media will offer no space for a rejoinder by the opposition. Unfortunately, even with the near-monopoly of information that he enjoys, it is disappointing that the prime minister has to resort to mischievous half-truths, unabashed hypocrisy and outright lies in order to malign the opposition. Read the rest of this entry »

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Defaming Penang CM akin to Nazi Germany tactics

Zairil Khir Johari
Malaysiakini
Sep 29, 2012

Outrageous defamation of Guan Eng in the STPM trial examinations is nothing more than a malicious personal attack based on fabricated lies and a shameless attempt at brainwashing students.

According to press reports, state-wide STPM trial examinations in Johor contain an inflammatory question-and-answer scheme that asserts the implication that Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng’s “warning” to schools in Penang not to subscribe to Malay mainstream newspapers is “racist and impeding integration among races”.

The essay question requires students to discuss the hypothesis that “integration among races can be achieved through national education system, but various challenges have to be overcome to realise this objective.”

According to the alleged answer scheme, one of the answers to this question was:

“The warning of Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng to 84 Chinese primary schools in the state to stop subscribing to Malay language mainstream newspapers is a racist action that impedes integration among races”. Read the rest of this entry »

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Isu haram undi DAP: ‘Utusan tak serik’

Zairil Khir Johari
Malaysiakini
Ogos 9 2012

ULASAN

Walaupun sudah dua kali didapati bersalah oleh mahkamah kerana menyiarkan laporan-laporan yang berunsur fitnah terhadap ketua menteri Pulau Pinang merangkap Setiausaha Agung DAP Lim Guan Eng, akhbar Utusan Malaysia tampaknya masih tidak serik.

Dengan tajuk sensasi, “Haram sokong DAP” pada muka hadapan serta laporan susulan di muka surat dalaman, Utusan Malaysia telah menyiarkan beberapa tuduhan liar seperti yang dipetik di bawah:

Adalah haram dan berdosa untuk umat Islam menyokong DAP yang secara terang-terangan menentang penubuhan negara Islam serta pelaksanaan hukum hudud.

Beliau berkata, agenda perjuangan DAP berbeza dengan MCA dan MIC dalam Barisan Nasional (BN) yang digolongkan sebagai bukan kafir harbi iaitu tidak membawa kemudaratan kepada kedudukan Islam dan umat Islam.

“Perjuangan DAP tidak terima Perlembagaan negara, mereka mahu sama rata Islam dan bukan Islam, kuil dan masjid juga mahu sama rata…”

(Dipetik daripada “Haram, berdosa undi DAP”, mukas urat 5, Utusan Malaysia 8 Ogos 2012.)

Adalah jelas di sini bahawa laporan tersebut bermotif politik dan bertujuan untuk menabur fitnah dan implikasi bahawa:

1.DAP merupakan parti yang haram.
2.DAP tidak menerima Perlembagaan Persekutuan.
3.DAP merupakan parti kafir harbi. Read the rest of this entry »

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The question of housing (Part 1): Understanding the problem

By Zairil Khir Johari | July 16, 2012
The Malaysian Insider

JULY 16 — As far as Penang is concerned, housing has become a hot button issue. Critics are aplenty and everyone, from the locals at the kopitiams to the expatriates at the cocktail bars, seems to have an opinion on it. However, before lamenting about the housing situation in Penang, one first needs to understand it.

The general grouse is twofold. Firstly, it is said that housing prices are exponentially increasing with no signs of a slowdown. Secondly, complaints are heard that there is not enough housing to cater for the lower-income groups. The fear is then raised that the shortage of low-cost housing coupled with ever-increasing property prices will eventually drive people out of the state, especially from the island.

Now, the first contention is admittedly true. There is no denying the fact that property prices are on the rise, having averagely increased by 50 per cent over the past five years. However, the causes of this phenomenon are often misunderstood. On the second count, to say that there is an undersupply of low-cost housing is inaccurate. In fact, it is a statistical fallacy. Both require further explanation.
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1 Malaysia, 2 BNs, 3 agendas

by Zairil Khir Johari
The Malaysian Insider
Jun 20, 2012

JUNE 20 — As Malaysians begin to grow weary of the guessing game that is the election date, a more amusing charade is beginning to develop in the northern corner of our country. Of late, one particular state — in fact the second smallest one — seems to be grabbing the lion’s share of media attention.

The sudden obsession with Penang, as evidenced by the unrelenting headlines and the constant barrage of political proclamations on a multitude of Penang-related issues, would appear to speak of a concerted attempt to consolidate the entire federal machinery towards the goal of dismantling the current state government.

Yet interestingly enough, if one were to scrutinise between the lines of the numerous statements made by various Barisan Nasional (BN) leaders regarding Penang, one would begin to wonder whether the blue orchestra was performing in single harmony, or whether they were in fact being directed by numerous conductors playing to different beats. Read the rest of this entry »

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Sun setting on Penang’s factories?

By Zairil Khir Johari | May 30, 2012
The Malaysian Insider

MAY 30 — With the general election closing in, the Penang Barisan Nasional (BN) leadership is certainly not short on promises.

Having recently assumed the hot seat, newly-minted state BN chairman Teng Chang Yeow has been eagerly peddling the coalition’s “alternative blueprint” for Penang, an election manifesto that includes a plan to restore free port status to the island while turning it into an international tourism hub, along with plans for an international financial centre, innovation park and aquaculture hub in mainland Seberang Perai.

And then, as if to prove that his fancy labelling actually carries some philosophical substance, he goes to great lengths to explain his vision of a post-industrial future for Penang, where he promises to transform the services sector into an engine of growth as a replacement to the manufacturing industry.
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Guan Eng declines to counter-attack Tunku Aziz

Malaysiakini
May 16, 2012

Despite the personal attacks launched by former senator and DAP vice-chairperson Tunku Abdul Aziz Tunku Ibrahim, Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng has chosen not to retaliate.

Lim, in a press statement, said that he had received Tunku’s resignation letter from the DAP yesterday, and has attempted to contact the latter since he announced his departure on a programme on ntv7 on Monday, but failed.

“I do not wish to exchange personal attacks with Tunku but wish to put on record the party’s appreciation for his contribution for the four years he has been the DAP’s national vice-chief,” he said.

“Let time decide who is on the side of truth,” added the DAP secretary-general. Read the rest of this entry »

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The legitimacy of law

by Zairil Khir Johari
The Malaysian Insider
May 04, 2012

MAY 4 — I don’t know if the government actually noticed, but more than 100,000 people broke the law last Saturday. They did so not only unashamedly, but also proudly and cheerfully.

The Bersih 3.0 rally on April 28 saw what is estimated to be hundreds of thousands of Malaysians gathering at six different locations in Kuala Lumpur before marching towards a single destination point — Dataran Merdeka, or as some temporarily-erected signage labelled it, Tel Aviv.

In case the authorities have forgotten, this constitutes a breach of the newly enacted Peaceful Assembly Act which clearly outlaws “street protests”, legally defined as an “open air assembly which begins with a meeting at a specified place and consists of walking in a mass march or rally for the purpose of objecting to or advancing a particular cause or causes.” Which was exactly what a few hundred thousand of us did.

I point this out because for everything that has happened, no one, especially those on the side of authority, seems to have noticed this technicality. If the authorities did, then they certainly didn’t do anything about it. In fact, the Inspector-General of Police himself has claimed that his officers had been instructed to give way to demonstrators.

Am I to understand that our police will now facilitate law-breaking? Perhaps, if one were to grant them the benefit of the doubt, one could say that they were being pragmatic, or understanding, or merely turning a blind eye. Or perhaps it is simply that there was nothing they could reasonably do because the law made no sense in the first place.

In other words, the legitimacy of this particular legislation now comes into question. Here, I think it is important to distinguish between legality and legitimacy. Legitimacy hinges on popular acceptance, while legality rests solely on conformity and observance of the letter of the law. Just because a law exists doesn’t make it legitimate. After all, Hitler’s systematic subjugation of the Jewish people was for all intents and purposes perfectly legal, yet can we accord legitimacy to his actions? Read the rest of this entry »

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Just another election prediction

by Zairil Khir Johari
The Malaysian Insider
Mar 02, 2012

MARCH 2 — The art of prediction is such that one can only really predict things after they have happened. So goes a wise saying by the French-Romanian playwright Eugene Ionesco. Be that as it may, nothing will stop Malaysians from engaging in our favourite pastime — trying to predict the timing of the 13th general election.

For more than a year now, we have all been living in constant anticipation of an election that has been perpetually “around the corner.” It has even come to the point where no politician in this country is able to get through a single day without someone asking, “So when will the elections be?” Some have even fallen into the habit of continually predicting one to be just three months away, a cycle that has been renewed five times in the last 15 months.

I too am unable to escape this quintessential question that is thrown at me time and again. In tandem with the progression of current affairs, my answers have also undergone constant evolvement.

However, whenever I am asked when should the general election be held, I have held one constant response for more than a year: that it should have been held last year, in concurrence with the Sarawak state election. Read the rest of this entry »

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The story of a prime minister

By Zairil Khir Johari | February 17, 2012
The Malaysian Insider

FEB 17 — This is the story of a man who became prime minister not very long ago.

This man had not, however, been elected into the premiership, and consequently never earned his own governing mandate. He had succeeded into the job when his predecessor was forced to resign under internal pressure. While the coup was not entirely of his own orchestration, this prime minister had played an important albeit implicit role in facilitating it.

His predecessor is an altogether different story. Initially elected with much fanfare by a buoyant nation on a platform of hope and change after years of rule by an authoritarian and right-of-centre leadership, his premiership had by its tail-end been reduced to a lethargic disappointment.

Though heavily criticised and the subject of mass ridicule, he was still able to pull through with a mediocre win at the general election. Remaining defiant, he announced that he would fulfil the mandate of the people and see through his term as prime minister.
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Renungan di angkasa

by Zairil Khir Johari
The Malaysian Insider
Jan 27, 2012

27 JAN — Sebaik sahaja enjin pesawat mula bergema tandanya bakal berlepas, saya terus memejamkan mata merenung perbualan di lapangan terbang sebentar tadi.

Semasa menunggu di balai perlepasan, saya telah terserempak dengan seorang sahabat lama keluarga. Walaupun sudah lama tidak berjumpa, masa tidak mengizinkan omongan panjang. Maka selepas bertanya khabar saya terus menjunam ke dalam topik yang sedang hangat dibicarakan umum.

“Memandangkan Pakcik pernah menjadi ahli lembaga pengarah Universiti Malaya, apakah pendapat Pakcik tentang beberapa insiden kebangkitan mahasiswa baru-baru ini dan tindakan tatatertib yang dikenakan ke atas mereka?”

Pesara yang bergelar Tan Sri itu terus tersenyum. “Saya bukan sahaja bekas ahli lembaga pengarah, saya juga seorang graduan UM! Tetapi untuk menjawab soalan kamu, saya amat mengesali suasana pendidikan tinggi di negara kita dewasa ini.”

Saya menoleh sekejap ke arah pintu perlepasan. Tiada aktiviti lagi. “Bagaimana tu?”

“Sebab di mana kita sepatutnya mendahului, kita sudah jauh ketinggalan, dalam segala aspek,” ujar Tan Sri yang selama 36 tahun telah mencurahkan khidmat bakti untuk tanahair. “Begini, kita bermula dari awal. Kita negara yang bernasib baik kerana telah mewarisi institusi-institusi yang matang. Itu tidak boleh dinafikan. Antara kuasa-kuasa imperialisme yang telah menakluki dunia semasa era kolonial, boleh dikatakan bahawa kuasa British adalah penjajah yang paling baik. Ataupun sekurang-kurangnya, yang paling kurang zalim. Setuju?” Read the rest of this entry »

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Solidariti ekonomi penawar kemelut

by Zairil Khir Johari
The Malaysian Insider
Jan 15, 2012

15 JAN — Sempena Persidangan Kebangsaan DAP 2012 tempoh hari, Jawatankuasa Tertinggi Pusat telah membentangkan “Deklarasi Shah Alam” sebagai juadah intelektual terbaru dalam agenda parti untuk Pilihan Raya Umum yang akan datang.

Perisytiharan yang dibuat ini melambangkan modal siasah baru yang cuba dipacu oleh DAP demi memupuk satu wadah kenegaraan yang berkisar pada dasar dan bukan sekadar isu-isu sensasi.

Teras asas dalam perisytiharan tersebut adalah isu ekonomi yang diulas melalui konsep “solidariti ekonomi”. Intisari perisytiharan tidak perlu diulangi di sini, namun saya ingin mengupas sedikit tentang tema yang boleh dikatakan menjadi “jiwa” yang menyelubungi jasad yang dipanggil Deklarasi Shah Alam ini.

Sesungguhnya tanggungjawab sesebuah kerajaan adalah untuk memastikan kualiti hidup yang selesa dan sejahtera bagi rakyatnya. Ini bermaksud kehidupan yang tidak dibebani hutang yang melampau, serta pendapatan yang memadai untuk membina rumahtangga dengan segala kelengkapan asas seperti rumah, kereta dan pendidikan anak-anak. Dalam erti kata lain, kesejahteraan ekonomi rakyat hendaklah dipelihara. Read the rest of this entry »

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109: The day we must move on

By Zairil Khir Johari | January 05, 2012
The Malaysian Insider

JAN 5 — Three-and-a-half years ago, in line with the fad of reviving old TV drama serials such as “90210” and “Hawaii-5-O”, Malaysians were treated to a remake of a soap opera that began its first run in 1998. Though the original had been universally panned by industry critics and foreign audiences, it nevertheless enjoyed somewhat limited domestic success. Of course, it also helped that the producers of the drama also controlled every media outlet in the country.

As is the case with unimaginative remakes, the same formula is once again rehashed. And while a coterie of new characters including a young, tall and handsome antagonist was thrown into the fray in an attempt to inject some semblance of freshness, the same actor, now visibly aged, was re-casted as the reluctant protagonist.

In staying true to the spirit of the original version, Malaysians were once again treated to a roller coaster of absurd plot twists, logic-defying scenarios and draggy story arcs involving numerous sub-plots detailing tales of sordid sex, DNA manipulation and — in keeping with the times — leaked video tapes.
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A conversation at the hospital

By Zairil Khir Johari | 7 December, 2011
The Rocket

The most noticeable difference in experience between a private and a public hospital is the fact that in the former, the waiting room is air-conditioned. Other than that, the unavailability of parking lots, infinitesimal queue numbers and staff members adept at ignoring your eye contact are all characteristic of Malaysian hospitals, no matter how much you pay.

“Sometimes I wonder why we pay more for such service?”

I turned towards the source of the unsolicited comment. He was middle-aged, middle-class and probably undergoing a mid-life crisis judging from the way his hair was carefully combed to cover a bald patch. I smiled.

“My wife is here for a check-up,” he said, glancing in the direction of a neatly-dressed lady with an exasperated expression that said there he goes again.
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It’s a mad, mad world

By Zairil Khir Johari | November 18, 2011
The Malaysian Insider

Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad. So goes the ancient phrase that has, throughout the millennia, remained an appropriate and relevant dictum to this very day.

The systemic trait of madness has been an inherent hallmark of declining autocratic regimes since time immemorial. Take, for example, the story of the Roman emperor Caligula, whose reign began with much promise and great popularity, but who quickly succumbed to the luxuries of power and who, towards the end of his short-lived rule, attempted to appoint his favourite horse as a consul of the Roman Senate.

And then of course there is the late totalitarian President Saparmurat Niyazov of Turkmenistan who, apart from styling himself Turkmenbashi (Leader of Turkmens), also deigned to rename calendar months after members of his own family, in addition to outlawing long hair and beards for Turkmen men and advising the citizenry to gnaw on bones in order to strengthen their teeth, because apparently it works for dogs.
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A philosophical comparison of the budgets

By Zairil Khir Johari | October 11, 2011
The Malaysian Insider

OCT 11 — And so it has come to this. The last push. With the general election expected soon, both Pakatan Rakyat and Barisan Nasional are preparing themselves for the final assault. Barricades have been erected, cannons lined up and guns trained on the other side. In the last week, we have witnessed the opening salvos launched by both sides.

First to the tilt was Pakatan Rakyat with a modest offering encapsulated in the title “kesejahteraan untuk semua” or “prosperity for all’. And just as it was about to gain traction the ruling Barisan Nasional descended with a no-holds-barred mega welfare budget, coincidentally called “bajet membela rakyat, mensejahtera negara”, or “defending the people and prosperity for the country”.

Without a doubt, both sides have angled the budget with an election in mind. Thus, there is no escaping the menial comparisons between the two sets of proffered “goodies” — RM500 for lower-income households compared to RM1,000 for lower-income housewives, or cash and book voucher bonuses for students compared to RM700 childcare allowances, or a restructuring of teachers’ salary schemes compared to an outright increase in teachers’ allowances. In short, most comparative discourse has been about whose sack contains bigger and better presents — Santa Najib or Santa.
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