Monday, 31 March 2008

Brave new Malaysian identity emerging?

By Dr Azly Rahman | Mar 24, 08 3:49pm

"Our government teaches the whole people by its example. If the government becomes the lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy." -Louis D Brandeis (American Supreme Court Justice, 1856-1941).

I do not wish to remove from my present prison to a prison a little larger. I wish to break all prisons. -Ralph Waldo Emerson, American transcendentalist.

The second wave of Independence, achieved with the storming of the "Bastille that is Putrajaya" in March 2008, in a phenomena called "implo-volution" in which the old regime was crushed by its own weight of contradiction and one whose ruins were charted some fifty years ago, present an interesting possibility. It is that of the ethnogenesis (emerging new culture) of a new Malaysian identity. Political will is complementing this philosophical vision. The Internet is aiding in speeding up the process.

The wave is forcing the various ethnic groups to think of defining itself as a " new nation" when power-sharing of a truly multicultural nature at the state level is becoming a reality. Not only the different ethnic groups are fairly represented in what I call the "yellow" states of "Perak and Selangor" but religious background of the state leaders are also playing a key role in the evolving nature of the leadership.

The yellow states are forging ahead with care – aware of the sensitivities of the different ethnic and religious groups, focusing on the pragmatics and ethics drawn from each cultural tradition. Thus, we saw Penang CM Lim Guan Eng refusing to use thousands of ringgit of state funds to move to a new office, we saw the Kedah chief minister and we saw the continuation of Kelantan chief minister's commitment to the principles of Islam in governing the state with prudence and tolerance.

What is displayed is Confucianist-Taoist ideas and Islamic brand of ethical leadership – two seemingly radical philosophies that actually complement each other. When it comes to statecraft, both are useful in forming as basis for a philosophy of governance that appeals to the Malays and the Chinese. These ideals are no different that the ones taught in Christianity, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and the cultural philosophy of the natives of Sabah and Sarawak and of the Orang Asli.

The "ethics of authenticity" as philosopher Charles Taylor would put it, is universal enough to be a guiding light of this new nation. Ethics by any name is a system of check and balances of the Evil and the Good within. It is the Middle Path of Inner Statecraft.

Istana Zakaria and pondok Nik Aziz

In speaking of the manifestations of the excesses of greed and the imbalance of evil within, two installations of polar opposites are worth quoting as semiotics of conspicuous consumption, in a country such as Malaysia.

The old and dying regime, Barisan Nasional too consists of Chinese and Malays. But the evolution of racial-politics necessitated the development of a style of leadership that requires extra-ethical means to be employed in order for power to be sustained via the control of wealth and resources. Not only these are controlled but they are displayed conspicuously and of late, with arrogance. This brought about the shocking defeat of the 50-year-old seemingly indestructible machine. The excess of this image of conspicuous consumption is in the Istana Zakaria.

The alter image to Istana Zakaria would probably be the house that Tuan Guru Nik Aziz inhabits. But why do we have these contradictions? How have we come to this historical juncture in which the moral compass of the national leaders are misplaced or even lost and what we are seeing are the consequence of the capitalist system that is rearing its ugly immoral head. We have created monsters out of the freedom we give human beings to profit from the consumerist capitalist system we created out of the fear of socialism and Communism.

Billionaires and multi-millionaires in this nation are creations of a system. They are the products of the evolution of individuals that are installed by the institutions derived from the ideology of uncontrollable free enterprise constantly wanting to be freer and freer. Over a long period of time, the system creates a huge gap between the haves and the have-nots. It creates antagonism – of class and the hypermodern caste system. This is the Reaganomics of poverty - a mass deception of the "magic of the marketplace".

As a nation, what do we want to be known as? How do we re-engineer another evolution? How do we maintain a sense of personal freedom in the process of crafting a synthesis of "national identity and freedom?" Will the Internet be the great deconstructor of such an identity, once we forget it?

There are multiple contradictions in these questions. They are worth exploring.

Themes of freedom

I suggest we explore these themes below, either out of your own interest or for your graduate work. I think these are fertile areas of research to help us contribute to the ongoing conversation on the politics of identity.

Human nature and freedom

National Front, Freedom and its problems - based on political economy of identity formation

People's Front and freedom - even more problematic since we have multiple layers of identity, construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction of identity.

New bumiputeraism.

Archaeology of identity

Philosophy of beingness

Theology of existence

Sociology of nationhood

Technologies of the mind and body

Education and cultural engineering.

Culture critique and ethnogenesis

Social reproduction and social relations of production

Institutions and installations

Self in society

These I believe are themes we will explore as Malaysia progresses into the age of postmodernity bringing forth the excesses of freedom in a world characterised by the rapidisation of technology and the heightening of chaos and complexity. The question of "freedom" will be more daunting as the politics of identity and the identity of politics become inter-twined.

What does "nation" mean? How must a nation be "free"? What kind of freedom must a nation enjoy and protect? In a consumerist society, how is freedom defined? How do bring the notion of freedom down to the grassroots level of the rakyat—how will we synthesise these notions?

Brazilian educator Paulo Freire would call this synthesis "praxis" in which the subjective and objective aspect of the phenomena under study become synthesised and transformed into action. The stage "cultural action for freedom" is an important aspect of this Malaysian revolution of 2008. How do we turn those at the grassroots level into active participants of the national development agenda? How do we teach them to reject all forms of state propaganda?

Freedom is an elusive concept and has its ambiguities. Mat Rempits think they are free and lead a life of total freedom, but who controls the production and reproduction of Mat Rempits. At another level, the power elites in the government think that they are guardians of Freedom/Merdeka but what is the meaning of freedom when those "corridors" built are institutions that will benefit the few and sell the country to foreign investors - in the name of progress.

Freedom is a prison-house of language

The new state governments in the yellow states (Kedah, Penang, Perak, Selangor and Kelantan) will need to showcase what freedom means and how the rakyat will benefit, in the most meaningful and tangible ways. What are the benchmarks of social justice and freedom that the rakyat will see in the agenda? How will "standards" of tolerance, justice, and peace be set and achieved - how will these be measured? How will the rakyat be the judge and the ones to decide if these standards are achieved?

We're getting into a serious business of systemic and systematic change here, after the revolution.

Even fundamental is the question: who defines freedom? These themes below need to be explored in order to answer the question of the authorship of the definition of freedom:

Needs versus wants


Radical philosophy

Poverty of culture and culture of poverty

Culture not merely and house we inhabit and the tools we use but both, evolvingly – technology shapes our consciousness.

Where do we go from here – in our exploration of two contradictory terms nationhood and freedom?

Let us discuss this question - as a new nation.

Friday, 21 March 2008

What next after the "revolution"?

(By DrAzly Rahman at Harvard University, Boston, MA -an early notes for a speech at an upcoming Malaysian forum at Harvard University,
Boston Massachusetts, USA, March 2008.)

Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains
(- Jean Jacques Rousseau)

Man has no nature, what he has is history (- Ortega y Gassett)

When I was invited to this gathering of young thinkers, movers and shakers, and public intellectuals, I was writing about hope. The Malaysian Revolution of 2008 was about hope materializing. It was about 'freedom' fought and won.

How Malaysian do we want to become? How free do we want to be? How much can we in turn be imprisoned by the newfound freedom?

These, I believe are strange philosophical questions that is peculiar-sounding at a time when the machinery of the previous regime is being de-constructed and dismantled piece by piece after being captured in a revolution that is aided by the force of cybernetic technology.

For those who believe in divine intervention, the revolution or the "Asian implo-volution" (a combination of "implosion" and "evolution") as I would coin, the event was god's will carried out by the general will of the people.

The enabling technology of this "Asian implo-volution" is the will of the Internet – of technological determinism.

Are we at a second phase of Merdeka/Independence? Who were we fighting against? If 50 years ago, it was against the British imperialists, who are the neo-colonialists amongst us now? If in the 1950s, we had a multicultural struggle in the form of the "hartal", are we seeing a similar version of it now in the form of rallies such as of the Hindraf and Bersih?

Again, what is freedom and independence? How has it changed? Where does freedom lie? How do we feel and taste freedom? What are the manifestation so of the structure of freedom? What do we wish to be free from? Free of? Freed by?

These are the questions all of us must answer as a country of various nations evolving? Can one be free to shout "Fire... Fire...Fire" in a full packed theatre? Can one be free to pull his or her keris/dagger/Samurai sword out and shout "Tak Umno hilang di dunia? and not annoy the nation?

Can Abdullah Ahmad Badawi be free to allow the younger ones to run the nation, after the humiliating defeat? Can our Malaysian universities be free to do whatever they like to students, especially to intimidate those who wish to be set their minds free?

I have some thoughts on what freedom as it relates to what independence might be; thoughts that must be translated into practice.

Ten steps towards freedom

Independence and freedom are not a slogans but an existential state of mind and a condition of 'lived democracy', one in which citizens are aware of how oppressive systems are cultivated. We cannot be independent until we arrive at these historical junctures, and until we do the following:

1. Free the human mind from all forms of dogmas, superstitions, mental chains, hegemonic formations, and transitional levels of totalitarianism. Our educational system at all levels must strengthen the scientific and philosophical foundation of its curriculum and practices to effect changes in the higher-order thinking skills of the next generation. We should not tolerate any forms of bigotry, racial chauvinism, and retarded form of democracy in our educational system.

2. Understand the relationship between the 'self and the system of social relations of production' and how the self becomes alienated and reduced to labour and appendages and cogs in the wheels of industrial system of production, a system that hides under the name of the corporatist nation and any other term that masks the real exploitation of the human self.

3. Make ourselves aware that our social systems, through the rapid development of technology and its synthesis with local and international predatory culture, have helped create classes of human beings that transform their bodies into different classes of labour (manual, secretarial, managerial, militarial, intellectual, and capital-owning) that is now shaping the nature of class antagonism locally and globally.

4. Understand how our political, economic, cultural institutions have evolved and are created out of the vestiges of newer forms of colonialism, institutions that are built upon the ideology of race-based interpretations of human and material development that benefit the few who own the means of cultural, material, and intellectual production.

5. Understand how ideologies that oppress humanity works, how prevailing political, economic, cultural ideologies help craft false consciousness and create psychological barriers to the creation of a society that puts the principles of social contract into practice.

6. Be aware of how our physical landscape creates spaces of power and knowledge and alienates us and how huge structural transformations such as the Multimedia Super Corridor or those emerging corridors that create a new form of technological city-scape (technopoles) that benefits local and international real estate profiteers more that they provide more humane living spaces for the poor and the marginalised in an increasingly cybernated society.

7. Be fully aware of the relationship between science, culture, and society and how these interplay with contemporary global challenges and how we clearly or blindly adopt these rapid changes and transform them into our newer shibboleths of developmentalism – one such policy being the National BioTechnology Program.

8. Put a halt to the systematic stupefication of academicians and students in our public universities by first incorporating Academic Freedom Clauses in their mission statements and next enculturalising intellectualism in these learning environments. The public universities must be restructured based on a new paradigm of leadership. Leaders that enable the ability of our students and faculty to think must be removed and replaced with those that pay allegiance to truth. "Veritas!" or "Truth!" as Harvard University slogan decries.

9. Design an economic system founded upon socialistic principles that meet the needs of the many and curb our enthusiasm to consume conspicuously and consequently create a society divided by classes and a postmodern caste system. Rethink the progressive dimension of nationalization instead of pursuing the excesses of privatization. What good would Malaysia do if its leaders are siphoning the nation's wealth by the billions, stashing them in places such as Switzerland and the Cayman Island?

10. Restructure the entire education system that would not only create some variant of a classless society but also one that would evolve into a reflective one instead of being rushed to death along the path of Wall Street by those who owns the means of production.

First things first

Of course the first thing to do is to bring this "Asian implo-volution" to a conclusion and honor the people's hope to bring the power abusers of the old regime to justice.

This is a daunting first step in the process of acquiring power, maintaining it, and next consolidating it. But power here means the power to transform the lives of others for the better.

We must educate Malaysians on the nature of "inter-locking directorates" or the link between business and politics that helped brought the end to the old regime.

Soon, this must become a lesson learned.

In the meantime, I am keen in exploring the possibilities of the social philosopher Rousseau's ideas of 'social contract' and crafting a new definition of Malaysian multi-culturalism.

We wanted a revolution, we got an "implo-volution". What then must we do?

Wednesday, 12 March 2008


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Revolution of the mind
By Dr Azly Rahman

“If we've lost, we've lost" - Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, at post-election press conference, March 9 2008

Kesilapan besar Abdullah antaranya walaupun beliau mempunyai anggota Majlis Tertinggi Umno dan Kabinet sebagai penasihat utamanya, namun beliau tidak mengambil pandangan mereka kerana dilaporkan beliau pernah berkata ‘I trust the young one’. - Harakah Daily.Net, March 9, 2008

(To the question: Has Umno become irrelevant?) For the moment, yes. It's not always so. If Umno serves the country well, and looks after all the different races, then Umno will be relevant again. - Dr Mahathir Mohamad, March 9, 2008

Malaysia's 12th general election must now be a possible topic of a hundred PhD dissertations. It is about a revolution in a country trapped in the excesses of hypermodernity. The revolution was aided by the power of cybernetics and the daulat of the rakyat.

It was fuelled by the ruling regime's abuse of the ideological state apparatuses. It was also a rude awakening for a leader snoozing in Sleepy Hollow. While he slept, the rakyat engineered a usurpation - a quiet and unique revolution.

This was the ethnogenesis (birth of a new culture) of hopefully a more sober and sensible Malaysia ready to work together regardless of race, colour, creed, national origin.

There is a lot of work to be done in the area of social justice, education for multi-culturalism, and development for the people, by the people, for the people.

A lot of people must also be brought to justice - those who have been for decades protected by a corrupt regime. We have seen much violation of human rights. We have seen many who voiced their opinion on matters of social justice and freedom thrown into jail and detained without trial.

We have seen, especially during the Abdullah administration, the rise of Malay politicians whose leit motif has been arrogance and perpetuation of dangerous divisive politics.

Back to the Malaysian Revolution of 2008. It was like the storming of the Bastille in France. Malaysians saw the fall of the four states and the rise of a new 'cybernetic' fourth estate. The broadcast media of the old regime gave way to the new, subaltern media of the revolutionary forces. There was no need to storm and take over Angkasapuri.

Revolutionary ideals and notions of social justice were disseminated far fast, far, and wide through the Internet. Bloggers, columnists, members of MUD (Multiuser Domains), street artists, intellectuals, social activists, and the man and woman on the street were the revolutionary soldiers.

The hegemony of the ruling party has made many skeptical of the same miraculous win as in 2004. ‘Materials, machinery, and media’, as the eminent anthropologist turned politician Syed Husin Ali would say, 'are the foundation of authoritarianism and hegemony'.

I would add that the mind of Malaysians has quietly processed what constitutes truth and justice. Silently the revolution got underway; a revolution of the mind aided by digital communication technologies spearheaded by bloggers who evolved into ‘blogo-ticians’.

Newer paradigm

Any progressive change is exciting, as long as the revolution is a peaceful one that works towards eradication of poverty, improving the intellectual climate of universities, and true religious and racial harmony.

The people of Penang, Kedah, Perak, and Selangor will now shift to a new paradigm. Tanjung II is now a reality, and DAP veteran Lim Kit Siang's dream has come true.

Universiti Utara Malaysia in Kedah will need to be in smart partnership and make intellectual adjustments to a new paradigm. The university faculty will need to read The Blue Ocean Strategy to exist in harmony with the new ruling party. Any effort to free universities from the shackles of political domination is good.

Selangor, the advanced state, will move a new level of sophistication but one founded upon sustainable development that meets the needs of people. The same goes for the paradigm of development in Perak.

Kelantan's prayers against a takeover by Barisan Nasional (BN) was answered. Some say that truth and justice will always be allies of the righteous.

Full credit goes to Malaysians from all walks of life. They are the real winners and they are not to be betrayed. Their children need a better life, through education as a means for social, economic, moral, ethical, and intellectual progress. They are much more intelligent now, after 50 years of independence.

Why did the BN fail? Take your pick:

• Massive corruption
• Rampant abuse of power
• Rise of arrogant leaders
• Lies and deceit by the Election Commission
• Racism
• Inability to engineer equitable
and sustainable development programmes
• Cronyism and nepotism
• Creation of an alienated generation
• Conspicuous consumption
• Failure to control rising prices
• Rampant abuse of the Ideological State apparatus
• Inefficient management of resources
• Blatant disregard of human rights
• Suppression of the rights of the individual
• Exploitation of the dangerous concept of
ketuanan Melayu
• Protection of corrupt leaders

The next step for the four new states is to phase out the vestiges of the old regime and to document what did not work. How did the process of underdevelopment of the rakyat happen in those decades? Documents need to be secured and analysed to prove what went wrong and how we must move forward based on the principles of total accountability.

Each state run by the new order of governance must showcase what an ethical system looks like and how the creativity and problem-solving skills of the rakyat ought to be developed. This will teach us what development based on needs means, instead of one based on greed and conspicuous consumption. The latter has destroyed this nation.

The new regime needs to bring abusers of power to justice. The universities need to be freed, the education system need to be radically improved, good healthcare plans made affordable, the Mat Rempit and Along stopped, cultural pride restored through schooling that improves higher-order thinking skills, poverty eliminated, and the independence of the judiciary restored.

The party's over but the revolution continues. Malaysians must make Malaysian Malaysia a reality.

This revolution is made possible by the daulat of the rakyat - the Makkal Sakti of Malaysia's Radical Marhaenism, conceived by many Shao Lin masters and one whose zeal was transmitted through cyberspace!