Not rising to the bait

by Zeffri Yusof
The Malaysian Insider
Aug 25, 2011

AUG 25 — Every time religious issues come up in public discourse for a sustained period of time, I can’t help but feel it’s all just misdirection.

No, not in any conspiracy theory-sense; more of an escapist break from the hard truths that have to be dealt with in the here and now. Not in an afterlife.

Truths like our quite severe brain-drain situation. Truths like how our lower- and middle-income families are dealing with unprecedented inflation. Truths like the US and EU economies’ impact on ours.

Too bad for us Malaysians, race and religion still hold sway and continue to polarise the majority of us. More sinisterly, it makes us take our eyes off the ball.

We are mostly guilty, myself included. It’s all too easy to be dragged into emotional reactive states when those two hot issues come up. I’m willing myself not to, but boy, it can be hard.

I may be extrapolating, but the recent Bersih 2.0 show of racial solidarity probably means it would be a few more months before that favourite bogeyman is wheeled out again by the usual suspects.

Ironically, I’m hoping it returns soon because it seems less of a powder keg than the situation we appear to be in now.

This Ramadan has been extra filled with highly-charged, religious-tinged issues. One after another, like some badly-written script: Halal, Murtad, Christian proselytisation on Muslims, the “outing” of Muslim anti-theists, even the appropriateness of inter-religious charity (I have to say that last one was the absurdist clincher for me).

How I wish that instead of paying it undeserved attention, we all collectively not rise to the bait.

Call me a jaded observer but I think we can mostly agree there are much more pressing matters to attend to than whose God or even whose interpretation is right.

I say this with trepidation because I am painfully aware of people beyond reason where this could not be further from the truth, so mired in absolutes they are.

Yet in the end, sorting that out won’t be any of us, no matter how scholarly and theologically adept any self-styled “defender of faith” might be.

Theology, it’s been said, produces nothing of functional value and that is ringing very true right now. To be constructive, we actually have to go around it. And that, in a nutshell, is my pitch.

Lest we fall deeper into the quagmire of religious intolerance (by the way; that really is all we can realistically hope for — tolerance), our cyclical, and almost predictable Islam-Christian “clashes” appear oblivious to these core observations:

One, that everything that needs to be said or could be said has in fact already been said; and most of it documented as well.

Indeed, we’ve had over 1,400 years of friendly and not-so-friendly debates and discourse and it hasn’t blunted the extreme schools of thought from either side. Ask the scholars from both divides; there is literally nothing that can be introduced now that would be new or novel, much less profoundly game-changing … short of direct and major divine intervention. It’s time we all quit thinking that examples A or B of “getting along” is going to be the ooh-aah moment for the hard-headed.

Two, that arguments rarely change minds when it comes to positions of religion, faith or belief. Why? Because it’s the wrong mental instrument to employ — pointed, factual arguments that are meant to shift opinion can only work if all parties agree on the same basis of facts (shared truths, for one).

Clearly, this can never be the case here. Different sets of truths are being upheld; and only the overlaps semi-legitimise the arguments. This is the thing — Islam or Christianity set against Buddhism or Hinduism doesn’t quite have the same “ring” now, does it?

Three, is perhaps the most crucial and also the deal breaker. The religion meme as we know it is tightly bound and wound up with emotion. But as we all also know, in any disagreement, an amicable solution cannot be found when emotions run high.

To a disinterested observer, the solution in the case of the two Abrahamic religions, whatever form it may take, has to come from outside of Islam and Christianity. But since the default position has always been to disregard “non-expert” non-denominational opinion, we are pretty much at a dead end again.

Please don’t misconstrue my position. It really isn’t predicated on anything else other than pointing out that all inter-religious engagement can unfortunately lead to only one end. The arguments are circular and non-empirical. But thankfully, tolerance does not require engagement, only distance and opportunity. We should all realise that so we can move on to the real shaping discourse — you know, the elephant in the room.

  1. #1 by Loh on Friday, 26 August 2011 - 6:31 am

    Mahathir’s words
    Aug25 2011
    ///1. The New Economic Policy has been denigrated by opposition politicians including Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim until it seems to be the worse policy ever conceived and implemented in Malaysia.
    2. While Ramon Navaratnam blames the NEP as being the cause of foreign investors not coming to Malaysia, Anwar has condemned it for the abuses and corruption involved in its implementation.
    3. Anwar loudly proclaims that the NEP benefits only the cronies of the Government and that the contracts, Approval Permits and licenses given out under the NEP involve corruption. He makes it sound as if the NEP did not benefit the Malays and other Bumiputera at all.///–Mamakthir

    NEP has not been necessarily for the government to establish the programmes which were beneficial to Malays. It is NEP which restricted non-Malays to the same opportunity. Quota system has been put in place in educational institutions to discriminate against non-Malays under NEP not because of a lack of resources, but because UMNO wants Malay voters to feel that UMNO is their champions against non-Malays. It is racist of Mamakthir to implement government policies which only favour one race as if they are the only citizens in the country.

    ///4. While it must be admitted that a few of the recipients of APs, contracts and licenses may know the leaders of Government or are members of UMNO, and that there may be corruption involved in some cases but the charge is not warranted because in most cases the benefits of the NEP has been enjoyed by almost every Malay and Bumiputera. In fact indirectly and in some cases directly it has benefited the non-Bumiputera as well. ///–Mamakthir

    NEP had benefits some non-Bumiputras but most non-Bumiputras are discriminated. It is not fair that a policy benefits only a few at the expense of all others. Mamakthir can also argue that not only him but members of the Cabinet also enjoy the power to enrich themselves. The AP scheme is the most glaring examples that a few Malays, perhaps a hundred or less, enjoy billions of ringgit of lost government revenue which are shouldered by million of motorists. AP scheme proves that the powers-that-be can benefit their families. Mamakthir’s son is known to have been given APs worth millions if not billions. Are not ordinary poor Malays who are more worthy of the help in paying a lower monthly installments to their car mortgage than Mamakthir’s sons who cannot be classified as to be in the special position which needed government assistance, vis-à-vis article 153 of the constitution?

    ///5. For example every Malay child is helped in his education with free text books and often with free meals, Schools are built in the remotest areas where before there were no schools. Hostels are built for mostly Malay and other Bumiputera children so that they can live a better life and are able to study in better surroundings then in their homes in the villages.///–Mamakthir

    Any government with sufficient resources should do it for all the citizens rather than only one selected race among the different races in the country. Malaysia has sufficient resources to have such facilitates for students of all races, not just Malays. It is the UMNO government policy to impress upon the Malays that the government discriminates against non-Malays so as to encourage Malays to vote them in power, despite their corrupt practices. Trillions ringgit worth of oil windfall since 1974 could have provided all citizens the support given to Malays. Thus quota based on race for scholarships or university admission has not been on economic consideration. It was a political decision calculated to divide the people by race and to have Malays who form the majority, to vote for the racist government.

    ///6. For the qualified, tertiary education is readily
    accessible, with huge numbers of scholarships. As a result many of the children of poor families or of families unable to pay high fees, now hold university degrees, are highly qualified and many are professionals. As an example where before only 5% of the doctors in Malaysia were Malays and Bumiputera now 40% of them are Malays.///–Mamakthir

    It does not matter what race the doctor belongs to so long as the sick would avail of his expert services. That non-Malays were restricted to avail of education facilities and scholarships shows that the government has purposely restricted the availability of trained human resources for the benefit of the nation. That act alone is against national interest. It proves that racist thought harboured by UMNO leaders has ruined the nation.

    ///7. It is the same with the other professions. Just count the number of students in the public Universities in the country and those abroad on scholarships and one will appreciate how the NEP has benefitted the Malays and other Bumiputera in education.///–Mamakthir

    That is how a racist boast his racist achievement. UMNO leaders have chosen to forget that the country comprises people of different races, and the financial resources are for the government to disburse to all citizens without preference based on race or religion. Yet the government implements racist policies to discriminate against the minority races, out of might rather than needs.

    ///8. It must be remembered that providing good educations, free book, food, hostels, scholarships benefit not just the recipients but also the parents. The NEP contributed most in the education of Bumiputera.///–Mamakthir

    MCA still supports NEP.

    ///9. When under the NEP shares of companies were allocated to Malay applicants, they invariably sold the shares for capital gains almost immediately. This is because they did not have the money to purchase the shares and they had to repay the bank loans they had taken. ///–Mamakthir

    That is robbing non-Malays to pay to Malays. Yet the government considers it proper to continue with the policy of ensuring 30% ownership by Malays when the policy implemented did not ensure that whatever allotted to Malays are counted towards their share.

  2. #2 by Loh on Friday, 26 August 2011 - 6:36 am

    Mahathir’s words

    ///10. To avoid this the Government decided to create unit trusts so that the shares can only be sold back to the managers. Thus was the National Equity Corporation born.
    11. Today more than ten and half million (10,500,000) Malays and other Bumiputera hold shares in these unit trusts with total holdings valued at one hundred and thirty-five billion (135,000,000,000) Ringgit. This is a direct benefit from the NEP. The unit trust make up a substantial percentage of corporate wealth held by the Bumiputera.///–Mamakthir

    NEP envisaged a target of Malays having 30 % participation in economic activities, which were taken by the government as equivalent to 30% corporate ownership. That should have been the amount of share equity measured at the time NEP was started, as the ‘seed resources’ for Malays to participate in economic activities, and henceforth ending bumiputra and non-bumiputra distinction. At worst to non-Malays, the 30% should relate to the quantum of total corporate equity in 1990 when NEP should end. But the government takes the 30% as the requirement at the current date. It implies that that 30% would live on forever. Yet the EPU would not take 135 billion ringgit as the share of Malays’ unit trust in the computation of the infamous 30% equity target.

    ///12. Felda, the Federal Land Development Authority was started before NEP. But under the NEP the role of the authority was greatly augmented. The settlers benefit from the spin-offs into the transport business, refining and marketing of the produce.///–Mamakthir

    That was under Tun Razak before May 13. Yet Tun Razak considered it fit to have only Malays as settlers.

    The government had developed a million acres and more of rubber and palm oil plantation under the scheme by 1969. That was more than the acreage of estates under foreign ownerships. Foreign rubber estates accounted for at least 15% out of the 45% corporate ownership in 1970. Thus Felda plantation should have the net worth not less than 15% of the total corporate equity capital at that time Yet government statistics claimed that Malays owned 1.43 of the share capital in 1970. It means that FELDA, though developed using government funds for the benefit of only Malays have not be counted towards Malays equity capital in 1970. Surely Felda would continue to be excluded in the computation of Malays equity share capital. FELDA is worth of at least 70 billion ringgit. This together with the 135 billion ringgit of unit trust as stated by mamakthir should have pushed Malays corporate ownership beyond the 30%. Yet Mamakthir in an interview with BBC claimed that NEP should continue because there are still Malay drivers working for Chinese tycoons.

    ///13. Felda has been nursed until it has become the biggest plantation company in the world. The settlers have much higher incomes while their children are much better educated. All these are due to the new economic policy.///–Mamakthir

    Now that NEP has achieved so much, can NEP be justified if it is to be created now? It certainly cannot be justified. Thus NEP should end.

    ///14. Microcredit is extended to the smallest village enterprises and this has helped tens of thousands of Bumiputera villagers, especially the women in business.

    15. There are now thousands of Bumiputera businessmen who benefitted from the importation of used and new cars, from becoming agents and vendors to the national car projects and also in the oil and gas business as a result of the NEP.

    16. The best of them have grown big, some very big, becoming car dealers and assemblers, housing developers, steel fabricators, boat and ship builders, IT, transportation, ports and shipping, food and cosmetic manufacturers and many other businesses.///–Mamakthir

    Why does Najib say that there are still poor Malays in rural areas who need NEP?

    ///17. The privatisation scheme have also benefited Bumiputera business greatly, including the supply of materials and employment of engineers. Today they undertake multi-million dollar contracts in foreign countries.///–Mamakthir

    The Malays entrepreneurs can now stand on their own without NEP crutches.

    ///18. Are they all cronies, these successful ones? There are far too many of them to be cronies. That some are known to Government leaders is to be expected because Government leaders in Malaysia are accessible to everyone as a matter of policy. They may be UMNO members. But then there are more than 3 million UMNO members. Is the Government expected to exclude them from the benefits of the NEP? ///–Mamakthir

    NEP was an unfair programme that favours Malays and discriminates against non-Malays in every field of human endeavours. Tun Razak promised that that discriminatory policy was to be for 20 years. He stated a nebulous objective of Malays participating in 30% of economic activities. That 30% was a figure to indicate that Malays’ presences in business and commerce are felt. Malays’ participation in economic activities is now everywhere, and the NEP, perverted as it was implemented, has been extended to twice its length of time exceeding 40 years. It should have ended in 1990. But the then PM negated on Razak’s promise. He relates the achievement of Malays without the slightest intention to evaluate whether NEP had achieved its objectives. He obviously wants the unfair policy to continue.

    ///19. The fact is that almost all of those who have succeeded have benefited from the NEP. Those who show capability cannot be excluded from the support under the NEP. In fact it is safer to help those with good records then to give to untried people.

    20. Why is it that the Government is doing all these under the NEP? The answer is simple. The Malay businessmen do not get opportunities from the private sector. They never get contracts or sub-contracts or contracts for supplies in the private sector. Even after they have proved their capabilities when carrying out Government contracts, they will not get contracts from the private sector.///–Mamakthir

    The government keeps NEP for political purposes so that UMNO can fool Malays into voting it back to power, after they have been brainwashed to consider non-MALAYS their eternal enemies. Besides NEP allows UMNO politicians to engage in corrupt practices with impunity now that almost all personnel of government institutions and machineries are Malays and they are trained by Biro Tata Negara to promote the spirit of Malay brotherhood.

  3. #3 by Loh on Friday, 26 August 2011 - 6:41 am

    Mahathir’s words

    ///21. On the other hand even when the NEP was being implemented, many of the Government contracts still go to non-Malays. ///-Mamakthir

    Government contracts should be awarded based on the greatest benefit to the money spent. It is not for the politicians to play God and to award contracts based on favour and kick-back.

    ///22. The accusation of cronyism is made without any real basis. There are far too many benefitting from the NEP at all levels and in all fields for the policy to be benefitting only the cronies. ///–Mamakthir

    The fact that the cronies are the first to benefit, and that some other persons did benefit do not refute that the cronies benefited. Besides, the cronies gained the lion share of the largesse, and their resources are available for appropriation by the powers-that-be in time of needs. NEP facilitates cronyism as in the AP sheme.

    ///23. There may be corruption but the NEP would not have succeeded to the extent shown if corruption prevails in every case. The focus on cronyism and corruption is political, not based on the real role and achievements of the NEP.///–Mamakthir

    NEP is the mother of all corruptions. When NEP shelter those involved in corruption from law, perhaps a few religious persons could resist the temptation. Corruption might not happen in every case, but it would be bad enough if it did happen in every other case. Corruption perpetrated with impunity under NEP makes democracy untenable in Malaysia.

    ///24. If there is no NEP, the economic position of the Bumiputera would be dismal. There would not be as many Bumiputera professionals as there are now. The disparities in all fields of economic activities would be very much greater as the national economy grows.///-Mamakthir

    Without NEP, the Malays could still avail themselves of the education facilities and scholarships and the non-Malays can still get the same opportunities which the government has ample resources to provide. With competition in educational institutions, there might not have been cases of employable graduates. There would be as many Bumiputras professionals and also more non-Malay professionals. The ratio might differ but there would not be a sense of divide among Malaysians into Bumiputras and non-Bumiputras. Now the disparities of income among Malays are higher than it ever was. Are we sure that would not create class disputes among Malays? That is especially so when rewards do not commensurate with efforts beyond political connections?

    ///25. Some of the Malay beneficiaries of the NEP are supportive of the idea that the NEP should be scrapped. They dislike the benefits they had obtained from it to be mentioned as this would amount to, what the Malays called “ungkit”, i.e. to remind one of a debt of gratitude. Yet in Malay culture one should never forget the “budi” of another. As Muslims they should know that thankfulness for any benefit is enjoined by Islam.///–Mamakthir

    It is not so much the “ungkit” rather than the sense that they have participated in the act of discrimination, that they would want NEP removed. It is difficult to feel happy to have blood in hand. Others can reach what they are without the perverted NEP. Why should their achievement be suspects?

    ///26. Corruption and cronyism should be condemned, but most of the accusation is unjustified. They are motivated by personal and sectarian politics. The fair-minded must consider also the good achieved by the NEP.///–Mamakthir

    The fact that NEP discriminates against a section of the citizenships ensure that there would be racial polarization. It lasts longer than the policy has been in place. It is a nebulous concept that Malays should be united when there is no enemy against them. More so when Malays do not represent a race based on anthropological consideration. The only common denominator of Malays is the Islamic religion. To be proud of the achievement of Malays because they are Muslims, there are two billion other Muslims in the world to look for. It makes no sense to be proud of some Muslims who gain wealth from AP scheme that other Malays should pay more in their monthly car mortgage payment.

    ///27. It is sad that people who had benefitted from the NEP should want to deny it to others who are still in need of it. ///–Mamakthir

    NEP was a time-bound policy as promised by Tun Razak. Mamakthir clearly does not intend to honour the promise made by the former President of UMNO. To him, the discriminatory policy should continue forever whether or not it was needed, and much less whether it was justified.

    ///28. Admittedly the NEP has not achieved the target to remove the disparities between races in Malaysia completely. But there can be no doubt that it has reduced the disparities enough to keep Malaysia stable even during the financial crisis. What is more, it did this without stifling the remarkable growth.//–Mamakthir

    NEP has spawned corruption in the country and it has made Malaysians live a low-income and high–cost living.

    ///29. Have the non-Bumiputera benefitted from the NEP? They have. They have simply because invariably what is given to the Bumiputera must spin-off to the non-bumis. In some cases the Ali-Baba phenomena are exhibited, with the Bumiputera merely getting a small portion for just lending his name. But even if a Bumiputera contractor decides to implement the contract, he still has to procure building materials, skilled labour etc from the non-Bumiputera companies. Specialised work must also be given to non-Bumiputera as there are hardly any Bumiputera sub-contractor capable of doing this. In fact a substantial part of the projects during the NEP period went to non-Bumiputera. It cannot be that the non-Bumiputera earn no profits from these contracts, sub-contracts, supplies and skilled labour.///–Mamakthir

    It shows that Mamakthir does not know the meaning of fairness. To him non-Bumiputras should not have any involvement in economic activities which by extension. The Ali-baba scheme confirms that a person gets payment for doing nothing just because the government policies created the situation. The complaint should have been why the person given the contract to train as a capable entrepreneur forfeited the opportunity and thus the target of NEP could not be achieved within 20 years. Here he is complaining about the quantum of the undeserved profit. He even justifies the policies by claiming that bumi dealt with non-bumi as if business in the country should be restricted among people of the same classification. Yes non-Bumi earns money from all the subcontracts but are these subcontractors not the citizens who are also entitled to get the full contract based on competition?

    ///28. If there is no NEP and the contracts etc go directly to non-Bumiputera, then there would be no spin-off to the Bumiputera at all. The non-Bumiputera do not need Bumiputera for their contracts. The result must be increasing disparities in wealth between Bumiputera and non-Bumiputera as the economy grows. The dichotomy already seen in our Malaysian society will become worse when this happens.///-Mamakthir

    A government policy which was created to camouflage the d’coup d’etat and to justify the riots has evolved a life of its own through making statistical breakdown into bumiputras and non-bumiputras. Yet the powers that be would only quote irrelevant statistics to suit its needs. The government is not apologetic to the fact that government services in Malaysia have 90% Malays when they account for 55% of the population. That goes against the spirit of NEP.

    ///29. Politicians must find issues to support their bids for power. But condemning the NEP can only be done by twisting or ignoring the contributions of that policy to political stability and the economic success of Malaysia.///–Mamakthir

    Malaysia had been most stable with commendable racial and religious harmony among the people, until the orchestrated riots in 1969. NEP initiated the bumi and non-bumi divide and its perverted implementation has created racial and religious polarization. The non-Malays population is dwindling because of NEP. Trained human resources, Malays included, are leaving, and in its place Muslims of all nationality are taking root. Malaysia might soon compete with Middle East countries in terms of purity in Muslim population. Does it lead to political stability and economic success? Think again!

  4. #4 by limkamput on Friday, 26 August 2011 - 8:28 am

    All these stone cast position, intolerance, extremism, emotional charged position are the result of indoctrination from young by most religions (so please just don’t blame the communists). We can call all these value/moral inculcation but the reality is it is half truth, half mystic, half superstition. Make god and religion the private domain.

  5. #5 by yhsiew on Friday, 26 August 2011 - 9:12 am

    In multicultural Malaysia, it is just too “convenient” for politicians to capitalize on race and religion to score political credit. Unfortunately that always works for them.

  6. #6 by Jeffrey on Friday, 26 August 2011 - 9:53 am

    ///But thankfully, tolerance does not require engagement, only distance and opportunity.///- Zeffri Yusof

    How so exactly “distance and opportunity” facilitate tolerance?

  7. #7 by Cinapek on Friday, 26 August 2011 - 10:45 am

    I think many of us are sick and tired of those bigots continually stirring up religious issues for their own ends. And I do agree that if we can, we should rise to the bait and allow these bigots to revel in them. But it is not easy when these issues are supported by official institutions and people in position of power who conveniently close one eye to allow(maybe even encourage) these issues to fester for their own interest.

  8. #8 by Cinapek on Friday, 26 August 2011 - 10:46 am

    error. ….we should NOT rise to the bait……

  9. #9 by asia on Friday, 26 August 2011 - 12:00 pm

    People should compare Singapore with Malaysia

    Why Singapore developed far better than Malaysia in living standard and income?

    PKR should send a warning signal to Malaysians

    Today is not like 40 years ago Malaysia top in competitiveness in manufacturing investment

    Today there are rival competition from Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia, even india

    If NEP still implement to slow down our competitiveness and brain drain

    With every year the country expenses increasing and lesser lesser income

    Malaysia definitely going doom every Malaysian be suffered.

    Accept the facts

    WAKE UP! before it is too late

  10. #10 by boh-liao on Friday, 26 August 2011 - 12:32 pm

    How can M’sia move ahead? Always 1 step forward, 2 or 3 steps backward
    We r perpetually wallowing in d cesspool of race n religion: everyday we r flooded with racist n religious remarks, used 2 divide n rule, so dat a grp of opportunistic citizens can hang on 2 power n enrich themselves through limitless corruption

  11. #11 by ChinNA on Saturday, 27 August 2011 - 1:25 am

    chapati char keow teow

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