Archive for June 26th, 2008

9MP Mid-Term Review – BN Ministers/MPs struggling to keep awake

Barisan Nasional Ministers and MPs had never found it more difficult than today to keep awake to go through a major government policy speech in Parliament – the tabling of the Ninth Malaysia Plan Mid-Term Review by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

Even BN MPs who wanted to thump the table to create an atmosphere of support for the Prime Minister found little cause to do so, except for two or three occasions when Sabah and Sarawak were mentioned.

The only time the Barisan Nasional Ministers and MPs perked up were at the end of Abdullah’s speech, when he deviated from the prepared text distributed by the Treasury to make a political attack on those who wanted to “grab power” despite the general election result of March 8, 2008.

If the Ninth Malaysia Plan Mid-Term Review Report is intended to give new hope and inspiration to Malaysians that the Abdullah administration has heard the message of the March 8 political tsunami, and is prepared to strike out in new directions to enable the country to face the challenges of globalization, the result is a negative one. Read the rest of this entry »


Religion and the Social Contract: Can Religion be reconciled with Civil Society?

By Farish A. Noor

Modern nation-states are, for all intents and purposes, artificial entities that are the product of consensus and rational agency. Practically every modern nation-state in the world today traces its history to some founding moment and a founding document that lays down the terms of the social contract that brought together a disparate community of individuals to form a pact, which in turn sustains the nation as a whole and lends it sense of identity and cohesiveness over time.

Now of course the foundational moment of many a nation-state today is lost in the mist of history and some might ask the question of how and why should an agreement made by a handful of men (and it is nearly always men, not women, mind you) who lived centuries ago be relevant to the citizens of today? America’s founding moment, for instance, lay in the midst of battle and the struggle of the American colonies to break free from the yoke of British imperialism then. However even a cursory glance at the documents of the past will show that America’s founding fathers were a small band of landed white American capitalists, land-owners and slave-traders who cared little for the fate of the thousands of African-Americans who were the descendants of slaves brought there from Africa. Equally scant attention was paid to the plight of the native Americans who in time would be marginalised and corralled into their reserves and left out of the mainstream of society, relegated to the status of ‘savage natives’ unfit for modernisation. Likewise women who made up half of the colonies’ population are hardly mentioned in the founding documents of what later became the United States of America.

Be that as it may, there remained enough scope for expansion and development in the American Constitution to allow the country to adapt to the changing realities of the time, and crucial articles of the Constitution – which guarantee equality and freedom of speech, for instance – paved the way for the American Civil Rights movement and the American Feminist movement that came into being by the mid-20th century.

As in the case of the United States, so was it the case in many other secular democracies in the developed part of the world where social upheavals and transformation were facilitated by the looseness of their respective Constitutions, that in turn allowed for the continuous revision and re-reading of its meaning and intent. What is crucial to note in all these cases is the fact that the advances in terms of civil and political rights in these countries occurred via recourse to the Constitution and the rule of law. At no point was the Constitution rejected outright simply because the founding fathers of the nation all came from the same elite strata of white, middle-classed men. Read the rest of this entry »