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The Star - Musings - Why some societies collapse (28 August 2014)
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Why some societies collapse

Musings by Marina Mahathir

Sometimes, political and social problems arise out of some very basic issues of survival.

I LIKE to read odd books sometimes. In particular, I like to read books about the human condition, not so much the philosophies behind it but as much as can be learnt from reality as possible.

One of the authors I really enjoy reading is Jared Diamond, an Ameri­can academic, best known for his books such as Guns, Germs and Steel, Collapse and his latest, The World Until Yesterday.

Diamond is known as a polymath, a person “whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas; such a person is known to draw on complex bodies of know­ledge to solve specific problems”.

Prof Diamond is an expert on physiology, biophysics, ornithology, environmentalism, history, ecology, geography, evolutionary ecology and anthropology.

Today at age 76, he is Professor of Geography at the University of California Los Angeles. Reading any of Diamond’s books really makes you understand the world in a different way because of his ability to weave together diffe­rent threads of knowledge.

For instance, in his book Collapse, which discusses why some societies collapse while others are resilient, he points out that what we think of as political and social problems arise out of some very basic issues of survival.

In the case of Rwanda, famously depicted as a civil war between the Hutu and the Tutsi, at its most basic, it was about the tensions that arise when people are so squeezed toget­her that the amount of land they have to grow food on is too small to be productive.

Similarly, in The World Until Yes­terday, which compares traditional hunter-gatherer societies with state societies (ie the “developed” world), when people are asked why they go to war with each other, the answers are usually simple things like “reven­ge”, “women” or “pigs” or “cattle”.

But at heart it is about ensuring the survival of the society you live in, no matter what the size. He backs up these assertions by the many anthropological, archaeological and historical studies that have been done about societies around the world and shows that we cannot really judge them all by the same values.

For instance, we may think that tri­­bal societies in places such as Pa­­pua New Guinea or parts of Africa are “backward” but that is because we are judging them by our stan­dards.

Indeed, there is much to admire in their attitudes towards children and in the way they resolve disputes. On the other hand, there is much about “modern” society today which these tribal people would find ap­­palling, especially in the way we sometimes treat our old people.

This is not to say that everything about these tribal hunter-gatherer communities is wonderful. Until relatively recently, many of them lived in a constant state of warfare and things such as infanticide were very common, for the most practical reasons.

Most of us would not want to give up the benefits of living in a settled centralised state for such nomadic hand-to-mouth lifestyles. But there are some things which we do which are not that far off from those “pri­mitive” habits.

Diamond compares only Western lifestyles with the tribal communities he did field studies on. Which means that the contrasts can be big.

If he had studied Asian societies, however, he would have found us somewhere in the middle.

For instance, the Asian extended family and the way our children are cared for by many adults, not just their parents, is more akin to the way hunter-gatherer communities in Papua New Guinea or the Amazon live.

The way we coddle our children too is more similar to those com­munities than to that of Western parenting, which stresses indepen­dence.

Yet children from these hunter-gatherer communities are observed to become very confident adults who are well versed in many adult responsibilities such as foraging for food, caring for children and protec­ting their communities; while children brought up in the Western style often grow up very protected but unable to take on adult responsibilities when they come of age.

For instance, we disapprove of early marriage because our children are often unprepared to be parents even after being biologically ready.

But children in tribal communities, who have not only been obser­ving their parents daily but also have had to help care for younger siblings, know exactly what to do should they have children even at very young ages.

What is confusing for us Malay­sians is that we are very much a society in transition, not quite a so­­cie­ty living hand-to-mouth but not quite yet a modern one, despite our buildings and gadgets.

Our attitudes towards many things hark back to a different type of society where everyone knew each other and relationships were set in certain ways.

But things have changed very rapidly for us. We should, therefore, take heed of Diamond’s main discovery in Col­lapse: if as a society we do not adapt fast enough to change, we will face collapse.

> Marina Mahathir is a human rights activist who works on women, children and HIV/AIDS issues. Her column in this newspaper goes back 25 years and has likewise evolved because, in her own words, ‘she probably thinks too much for her own good.’ Marina continues to speak out and crusade for causes that she passionately believes in. The views expressed here are entirely her own.

> The views expressed are entirely the writer's own.
The Star - Musings - Do the brainwork before pressuring Israel (14 August 2014)
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Do the brainwork before pressuring Israel

Musings by Marina Mahathir

To be effective in calling for change, there needs to be an organised strategic campaign with an educational component.

THESE are emotional times. My, these are emotional times. Nerves are frayed, amidst grief, tension and a general feeling of loss and depression.

We’ve had a bad year undoubtedly and there’s still more time to go before 2014 is over and we feel trepidation while wondering, what other bad thing will befall us next? Still, despite all this, there is no reason for us all to lose our minds, to be irrational in the way we react to very important things.
Let me make this clear: what Israel is doing to Gaza is unconscionable and rightly condemned by the whole world. I also think the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a global campaign to increase the economic and political pressure on Israel to end its occupation and colonisation of Palestinian lands, to give full equality to Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel and to respect the right of return of Palestinian refugees, is effective.

However, I do think that most Malaysians do not understand what BDS is all about. The BDS website makes clear what is meant by boycott, divest and sanction.

“Boycotts target products and companies (Israeli and international) that profit from the violation of Palestinian rights, as well as Israeli sporting, cultural and academic institutions.

“Anyone can boycott Israeli goods, simply by making sure that they don’t buy produce made in Israel or by Israeli companies. Campaigners and groups call on consumers not to buy Israeli goods and on businesses not to buy or sell them.”

The BDS movement is very clear that it is about boycotting Israeli goods. Now, how many Israeli goods are there in the Malaysian market? Given our stringent laws, probably none.

A burger made in an industrial kitchen in Malaysia is still a Malaysian burger, as is the person making or selling it. BDS explains “individual consumers can show their opposition to Israel’s violations by participating in a consumer boycott of Israeli companies, goods and services or of international companies involved in Israeli policies violating Palestinian human rights and international law.

“A consumer boycott works in two ways: firstly by generating public awareness about Israeli apartheid and occupation as well as international support for it and secondly by applying economic pressure for change.”

Again it emphasises “Israeli companies, goods and services” and “international companies involved in Israeli policies violating Palestinian human rights and international law”.

So what Israeli companies, goods and services are available in Malaysia? Where are our oranges and olives from? One major Israeli fruit juice exporter Priniv has reported that “a deal to export fresh fruit juices to Sweden has been called off after they refused to export the produce in a way that would make it easier to conceal the fact it was produced in Israel.

“Customers in Belgium and France have also made similar requests. Priniv director Ido Yaniv attributed the drop in sales to Israel’s ongoing attack in Gaza”. There is one Israeli product available here in Malaysia that nobody has called for a boycott of – Waze.

Too afraid of getting lost? Divestment means “targeting corporations complicit in the violation of Palestinian rights and ensuring that the likes of university investment portfolios and pension funds are not used to finance such companies.

“These efforts raise awareness about the reality of Israel’s policies and encourage companies to use their economic influence to pressure Israel to end its systematic denial of Palestinian rights”.

What does “complicit in the violation of Palestinian rights” mean? It means investing in the development of arms that are then used to kill Palestinians, for example.

Have we checked whom we buy our military weapons and equipment from? Finally, sanctions “are an essential part of demonstrating disapproval for a country’s actions.

Israel’s membership of various diplomatic and economic forums provides both an unmerited veneer of respectability and material support for its crimes.

“By calling for sanctions against Israel, campaigners educate society about violations of international law and seek to end the complicity of other nations in these violations.”

Remember the sanctions against Iraq when Saddam Hussein was in power? Who in Malaysia is calling for the same on Israel? The point is that to be effective in protesting against Israel and calling for change, some brainwork needs to be done.

It is not about standing in front of burger restaurants and yelling at them, much less harassing, threatening and humiliating Malaysian workers.

As the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa has shown, BDS works. But it needs to be an organised strategic campaign with an educational component.

No point in the ignorant capitalising on people’s emotions for their own ends. Boycotts only work if the targets are clear and the actions have an impact.

Does Israel really care if you spat on some poor cashier in KL? I’m afraid not.

Marina Mahathir is a human rights activist who works on women, children and HIV/AIDS issues. Her column in this newspaper goes back 25 years and has likewise evolved because, in her own words, “she probably thinks too much for her own good”. Marina continues to speak out and crusade for causes that she passionately believes in. The views expressed here are entirely her own.
The Star - Musings - 'Hidden hands' steering our path (31 July 2014)
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'Hidden hands' steering our path

Musings by Marina Mahathir

Thursday July 31, 2014

Some claim these unseen hands operate through us being a democratic nation, where we get to vote our leaders into power and also have a say in what we want for our country.

LET me first wish everyone Selamat Hari Raya, maaf zahir batin. This Ramadan has been a particularly sad one with the MH17 tragedy, especially when it came so soon after the disappearance of MH370. Our hearts and prayers go to all those who lost their loved ones in both tragedies.

But even without MH17, Ramadan was no less rancorous with attempts to ban soup kitchens and bad-tempered drivers behaving without restraint towards old people.

Then in a misplaced attempt to be “even-handed”, some radio stations made the perpetrator look like a celebrity, much to the disgust of many.

Whatever it was, a month that is supposed to be about restraint and moderation turned out to be ill-tempered.

I can’t help thinking that if it hadn’t been for the very sobering effect of MH17, things would have been much worse.

Not that we can truly expect the rest of the year to be calm and peaceful.

Already people whose sole purpose in life seems to be being as divisive as possible have declared that democracy is an evil invention of the West that we should not follow.

Its worst effect, it seems, is that it gives “citizens the right to determine their own future”.

Funny, I thought that’s why we wanted independence from our colonisers, so that we could decide the future of our country for ourselves.

But I suppose their argument here is that we are still not independent because there are many “hidden hands” actually steering our path.

The thing about these “hidden hands” is that apparently they operate through us being a democratic nation where we get to vote our leaders into power and also have a say in what we want for our country.

Thus, an undemocratic concept like the “hidden hands” operates through being democratic.

So if we didn’t have democracy, their logic goes, these invisible unknown hands wouldn’t control us.

The funny thing is there must be a lot of these unseen hands around the world since there are so many democratic countries.
If they vote in the people we like, then the hidden hands fail.

But when they vote in people we don’t like, then those hands managed to win.

Since it is democracy that works in both cases, it’s hard not to think that those hands are really inconsistent.

So perhaps we should follow the undemocratic nations where the hands are not hidden at all, like, for example, Saudi Arabia?

So after 57 years of democracy, more or less, there are now people who think this is not a good idea. Not that they have any idea what should replace it, apart from that we should have an “Islamic” state. But a true Muslim state is a democratic one. Indeed the Quran warns us against despots and tyrants.

In chapter 4, verse 135, the Holy Book says “O You who have attained to faith! Be ever steadfast in upholding equity, bearing witness to the truth for the sake of God, even though it be against your own selves or your parents and kinsfolk. Whether the person concerned be rich or poor, God’s claim takes precedence over [the claims of] either of them. Do not, then, follow your own desires, lest you swerve from justice: for if you distort [the truth], behold, God is indeed aware of all that you do!” (Translation by Assad).

There are some whose sense of history seems to have little to do with facts.

The Constitutional monarchy, they claim, existed long before we became independent.

Which is an interesting re-telling of history, given that we did not have a Constitution before independence.

So what was “Constitutional” about the sultanates before then? Is that what they are proposing we revert to?

There are others who claim we should not have democracy because our Federal Constitution doesn’t contain the word.

I do love selective literalists who don’t know their history.

Did our forefathers clamour for independence because they wanted to be under anyone else’s yoke?

Why on earth did they decide we should have a Parliament we should vote for in elections if they did not want democracy?

Do they have to spell out every single word or did they know that “self-determination” meant democracy and nothing else? Perhaps people in 1957 were more intelligent than today?

And as for claiming we should not have democracy because it’s not mentioned in our Federal Cons­titution, I find this disingenuous of the selective literalists.

After all, they’re quite happy to want to do things that aren’t mentioned in the Quran. Like, the punishment for apostasy or for drinking. Or to do the opposite of things enjoined in the Quran such as not respecting people’s privacy and raiding them in their homes.

> Marina Mahathir is a human rights activist who works on women, children and HIV/AIDS issues. Her column in this newspaper goes back 25 years and has likewise evolved because, in her own words, “she probably thinks too much for her own good”. Marina continues to speak out and crusade for causes that she passionately believes in. The views expressed here are entirely her own.
> The views expressed are entirely the writer's own.

The Star - Sharing The Nation - The elusive happy factor (3 August 2014)
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The elusive happy factor

Sharing The Nation

Sunday August 3, 2014

By zainah anwar

People walk near a statue of Danish author Hans Christian Andersen in the centre of Copenhagen. - Filepic
-People walk near a statue of Danish author Hans Christian Andersen in the centre of Copenhagen. Filepic

The findings of the World Happiness Report are important as they serve as early warning signs to governments.

IN the midst of so much despair in the country over endless contentious issues and state paralysis to resolve them, I searched the Internet to look at why some countries are happy and some are not.

Not surprisingly, I found Denmark rated as the happiest country in the world in the 2013 World Happiness Report.

Not surprising too are the reasons why they are happy. The report highlights six key variables that explain three-quarters of the international differences in well-being between the top and bottom countries. They are GDP per capita, perceptions of corruption, years of healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on in times of trouble, prevalence of generosity and freedom to make life choices.

It is not just wealth that determines happiness, as we all know. The report finds political freedom, strong social networks and an absence of corruption are together more important than income in determining the differences between national happiness and unhappiness. At the individual level, it finds good mental and physical health, someone to count on, job security and stable families as crucial to happiness.

It seems the Danes have got the right mix. Denmark is the least corrupt and most happy country in the world. Danes believe their government is there to serve the people, not the other way around. There is a high level of trust and social cohesion that support high taxation to enable the government to invest in education, health and childcare.

Feminism is seen as a collective goal, not a battle of the sexes. Seventy-two per cent of women work, compared to 79% of men. Because of generous parental leave (a total of 52 weeks), free or low-cost childcare and early childhood education, 79% of mothers return to their previous level of employment. Voluntary gender quotas introduced by political parties in the 1970s have today resulted in women leading all the three parties in the ruling coalition, with Helle Thorning-Schmidt from the Social Democrats as Prime Minister.

There is something to be said for the Nordic way of living with its emphasis on social equity and well-being and an ­ethics of care that have often put countries like Denmark, Norway, and Sweden at the top of many development and well-being tables.

This is the second World Happiness Report, sponsored by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network and published by Columbia University’s Earth Institute, led by the renowned economist Jeffrey Sachs.

I am intrigued by this new science of happiness, how it can be defined, systematically measured and national variations explained to guide governments to pay more attention to the happiness and well-being of their citizens and to place this at the heart of policy making.

The report built on its first survey findings published in 2012 where it found that:

> Happier countries tend to be richer countries. Living in a rich country does increase your chances of leading a good life. But it found that more important for happiness than income are social factors like the strength of social support, the absence of corruption and the degree of personal freedom.

> Over time, as living standards have risen, happiness has increased in some countries, but not in others (e.g. the United States).

> Unemployment causes as much unhappiness as bereavement or separation. At work, job security and good relationships do more for job satisfaction than high pay and convenient hours.

> Behaving well makes people happier.

> Mental health is the biggest single factor affecting happiness in any country. Yet only a quarter of mentally ill people get treatment for their condition in advanced countries and fewer in poorer countries.

> Stable family life and enduring marriages are important for the happiness of parents and children.

> In advanced countries, women are happier than men, while the position in poorer countries is mixed.

Respondents are asked two sets of questions. One to measure their happiness as an evaluation of their life as a whole. And the other to measure happiness as an emotion. They were asked on their emotional experience the day before the interview – if they smiled or laughed a lot, did they experience enjoyment, happiness, worry, sadness, anger.

The report also looks at the benefits of happiness on health and longevity, income, productivity and organisational behaviour, individual and social behaviour. It gathered existing scientific evidence which indicates that subjective well-being has an objective impact across a broad range of behavioural traits and life outcomes. Levels of well-being predict future health, mortality, productivity and income. Happiness is associated with greater cooperation, motivation, and creativity, which in turn are instrumental to success in business, and in life as a whole.

So how can governments put well-being at the heart of policy making? This research shows that economic, social, psychological and ethical factors are all important to make people happy. And yet governments tend to focus only on economic growth, seeing rising income and consumption as the key to well-being.

As more and more countries move towards measuring happiness and well-being as an important component of develop­ment, the report recommends that as a start, national statistical agencies allocate resources to include subjective well-being questions in their annual household surveys.

These questions, rated on a scale of 0-10, are:

> Overall, how satisfied are you with life as a whole these days?

> Overall, to what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile?

> How did you feel yesterday – happy, worried, depressed?

These findings can then be correlated with key variables and data to generate enough information to shape policy making towards better national well-being. The World Happiness Report makes primary use of the annual Gallup World Poll which systematically tracks and reports on well-being, leadership approval ratings, confidence in national institutions, employment rates and other important issues affecting people’s daily lives in over 140 countries.

Malaysia’s ranking in the World Happiness Index of 2013 has dropped from 51st to 56th, putting it behind Singapore (30) and Thailand (36), but ahead of Indonesia (76).

Malaysia scored 5.760 in the Cantril ladder scale – a measure using respondents’ evaluation of their lives by imagining life as a ladder; the best possible life as a 10, and the worst possible life as a zero. Denmark scored 7.693.

I am afraid the 2014 findings might be worse with the growing sense of foreboding about the future of the country, what with so many figures behaving badly ceaselessly at the national level.

These findings are important as they also serve as early warning signs to govern­ments. They can provide indicators of growing citizen discomfort and potential unrest. How then do we use the data to help design policies and guide citizens to lead “the right kind of life”, to shape a future to achieve happiness and individual and national well-being, to go beyond economic growth and to advancing the richness of human life? How do we generate the conditions that allow everyone to thrive? What is the role of government in creating these enabling conditions?

> Zainah Anwar is the internationally acclaimed and award-winning co-founder and former executive director of Sisters in Islam (SIS Forum) and the co-founder and director of Musawah, a global movement for equality and justice in the Muslim family. She is a former member of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam). The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.
The Star - Musings - Heartening lessons from Japan (17 July 2014)
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Heartening Lessons From Japan

Musings by Marina Mahathir

Thursday July 17, 2014

While there are bigots there too, they are seen as mostly cranks and don’t get much airplay in the media.

SOMETIMES you need distance to have some perspective. I was just in Tokyo again to speak at a women’s conference.
One night I had the opportunity to have dinner with some 80 Malaysians living, studying and working in Japan. As always, Malaysians living abroad are just Malaysians, and not divided by race.

They introduced themselves mostly by state and by what they are doing – which truly covers a whole range of things from setting up Malaysian restaurants to working in Japanese and multinational companies to setting up their own IT companies to do some very innovative work.

What I found most interesting is that they speak to one another in English, Malay AND Japanese, thus adding another layer of common understanding among them. It was refreshing to be among them because conversation with these Malaysians is so much less toxic than at home.

Their group, which actually numbers some 2,400, meet fairly regularly and talk about what’s happening at home, thus giving lie to the notion that Malaysians abroad don’t care about Malaysian issues.

According to them, they have had heated debates about issues like hudud but it doesn’t break up the group. That should really be applauded. I can’t imagine anything similar back home.

Meanwhile, staying connected with what’s happening in Malaysia through social media becomes a real chore. Oh, for some civility in our discourses!

To be in a country where people are so considerate of each other that they won’t even subject others to embarrassing personal noises and then read of the way we talk to each other back home, is surreal.

If the cleanliness of toilets is the mark of modern civility, then Japan wins hands down. And this is also a country where when a male politician makes sexist remarks about a female colleague, the government actually feels embarrassed and makes him apologise.

No hope of any such thing back home, of course. Our ministers can make condescending remarks about the poor and homeless, even in a month where we are meant to be restrained in our words and deeds.

And while there are bigots in Japan too, they are seen as mostly cranks and don’t get much airplay in the media. Ours, on the other hand, are free to say any crazy thing they want, confident that they will not only be covered but actually lauded.

At the women’s conference, I spoke about how Muslim women are getting more empowered all around the world.

I didn’t expect any real interest in it but at the reception afterwards, the participants queued up to talk to me, patiently waiting their turn as each woman and I had a short conversation and then took photographs.

Imagine how long the 10th or 12th person, let alone the 20th, had to wait if each one took five minutes with me. But nobody hogged my time and everyone politely waited.

No doubt somebody will say that it is because Japan is so homogenous that it is much easier to get on with one another. And speaking the same language helps in keeping the same norms and values within the community. That may be true to some extent.

But while Japan may seem racially homogenous, there is still a certain amount of diversity in terms of types of Japanese people. Not all Japanese men are “salarymen” these days and although still behind compared to other countries, the women are moving forward, so much so that their Prime Minister has a plan for “womenomics”.

And while they may all speak the same language, they also now speak other languages much more than before. None of the women who chatted with me needed a translator. Many had lived and worked abroad and some were running big multinational companies. So they were a very sophisticated group.

But being homogenous does not preclude extending the same norms and values to non-Japanese. Go to any store and you won’t get any less than the usual high standard of service. That’s because every employee knows that the reputation of the store is on their shoulders. I have yet to meet an indifferent salesperson or someone who didn’t know how to answer a query I had.

Being helpful is part of their value of being considerate of others. Perhaps we should send our ministers and civil servants to Japan to learn this.

I noticed in talking to some of the Malaysians in Japan that they have absorbed some of these values, which is a really good thing.

Unfortunately, it may make it difficult for them to adapt to life back home again. Imagine going to a store and asking a salesperson something and they simply disappear rather than admit they don’t know the answer.

> Marina Mahathir is a human rights activist who works on women, ­children and HIV/AIDS issues. Her column in this newspaper goes back 25 years and has likewise evolved because, in her own words, “she probably thinks too much for her own good”. Marina ­continues to speak out and crusade for causes that she passionately believes in. The views expressed here are entirely her own.
The Star - Sharing The Nation - Ripe for the plucking (6 July 2014)
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Ripe for the plucking

Sharing The Nation

Sunday July 6, 2014

by zainah anwar

THE Malaysian intelligence agencies and police are rightly alarmed about Malaysian militants forging links with terror networks operating in Syria.

The potential for violence on Malaysian land is real given the history of Malaysian militants who fought in Afghanistan and their record of continuing radicalisation and violence upon returning to Malaysia.

But what is even more disturbing today is that while the first generation of jihadists went abroad to kill “infidels”, this new generation of young Malaysian militants in Syria now finds it justifiable to kill fellow Muslims in what is really a sectarian war.

Everyone seems focused on the threat these home-grown terrorists pose to national security.

For me, the more urgent and immediate issue that the government and its intelligence and security services should be understanding is the link between terrorism and extremism.

How and why did these young Malaysian men get indoctrinated into extremist ideology that justified the killing of not just their usual enemies of Christians and godless Communists, but now fellow Muslims of a different sect?

What ideas and ideologies did former PAS Ulama Council member and Kedah Youth leader Mohd Lotfi Ariffin imbibe in his journey from a childhood in Kedah to a madrasah in Pakistan to acts of terror in Afghanistan and Tajikistan, to five years of ISA detention, and now on to Syria to join Sunni jihadists in a sectarian war against a Shiite-led government?

Where and how was Lotfi indoctrinated into extremist ideo­logy?

What are the narratives that led him to leave home this time, leaving behind a wife and eight children, the youngest only two months old when he left?

Mohd Lotfi is just the most high profile of supposedly up to 30 Malaysian jihadists, or even more, in Syria. Many more are being recruited and trained, ready to be sent off to expand and extend the front lines of the so-declared “Islamic Caliphate”.

There is a reality here that we are not dealing with in Malaysia – the link between the upsurge in the Malaysian public space of intolerance, demonisation, bigotry and hate speech that began in the mid-2000s and how they feed the radicalisation process.

The situation is even more distressing for many Malaysians today because of the deafening silence of the top political leadership and the critical role they should be playing in delegitimising these extremists and their brazen display of bigotry.

Nay, some Cabinet ministers even echo these extremist idealogues for their own short-term political gain.

Constant exposure to extreme opinions and ideologies in a toxic public space, without any engagement with counter arguments, can radicalise vulnerable young minds, and reinforce and provide validation to those already converted to the extremist cause.

It is the propagation of extremist narratives of bigotry, intolerance, violence and martyrdom at many sites – universities, mosques, mainstream media, online chatrooms and websites – that provides fertile ground for radicalisation to grow and thrive.

Vulnerable radicalised young men searching for a cause and a meaning to life then become easy consumers of online jihadist literature out to recruit “martyrs” for the cause of Allah.

But the radicalisation of jihadists, much research shows, begins offline, not online.

Online jihadist sites only further reinforce the indoctrination begun elsewhere.

It is high time that the government took action to delegitimise the extremist language of supremacist groups who hog the headlines with their narratives of hate, bigotry, threats and fears.

It is high time government-linked media stopped their incitement with provocative front-page headlines and projecting belligerent supremacists on national news as if they represent the voice of the whole community.

It is high time those Cabinet ministers who have been echoing the intolerant and exclusivist language of these non-state actors took a step back and think through the consequences of their action.

It is high time that the rule of law was upheld and decisions and judgments were made on the basis of justice, fairness and what serves the best interest of society as a whole, rather than on sectarian and political grounds.

And it is high time that we stopped demonising the Shia, declaring them deviants and a threat to national security. It is Malaysian Sunni Muslims who are committing acts of terror in Syria and probably by now in Iraq, not the Malaysian Shia.

How can it be good for the peace and stability of Malaysia that on a daily basis we are assaulted by extremist and intolerant views, by a breakdown in the rule of law and back-door rewriting of the Constitution, by more and more manufactured threats from both state and non-state actors?

It is their views that seem to prevail in newspapers and on television as if they represent the majority, while the voices of moderate Malaysians and Muslims determined to live together and share the nation are sidelined.

Counter terrorism research has found that while not all extremism leads to terrorism, all terrorist acts are inspired by extremist narratives, that ideas and ideologies that sow discord, hate and bigotry contribute to justifying acts of terror, and therefore cannot be left unchallenged in society.

This constitutes a battle of ideas. Where are the counter arguments and counter narratives from those in authority if they are so alarmed about the militants in our midst?

How could it be that a nation that has eschewed extremism since its birth, and adopted the politics of accommodation in managing an ethnically divided society, is today gripped by so much intolerance and supremacist thinking?

And exporting terrorists who claim to fight in the cause of Allah?

How could it be that under a government that has adopted a 1Malaysia slogan, this society is more divided than ever before?

It is time we all screeched to a halt and thought through where we are heading and the kind of Malaysia we all want to live in.

Not for the first time, I am saying bring back the objectives of the Rukunegara to heal the wounds and bring us together.

There was a time when we believed that the only way our country could survive was if all the races could get on together and eschew a zero-sum game.

That was the national narrative adopted by the political leaders in government and opposition and supported by the rakyat.

That was how we survived and thrived all these decades while other ethnically divided countries fell apart.

So can we stop and ponder on the objectives of the Rukunegara:

> to achieve a greater unity of all her peoples;

> to maintain a democratic way of life;

> to create a just society in which the wealth of the nation shall be equitably shared;

> to ensure a liberal approach to her rich and diverse cultural traditions;

> to build a progressive society which shall be oriented to modern science and technology.

I believe the overwhelming majority of Malaysians continue to believe in these values.

Before it is too late, let’s focus our energy on working out how best this inter-communal national consensus on principles and objectives can be reflected in our laws, policies, and daily practices.

> Zainah Anwar is the internationally acclaimed and award-winning ­co-founder and former executive director of Sisters in Islam (SIS Forum) and the co-founder and director of Musawah, a global movement for equality and justice in the Muslim family. She is a former member of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam). The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.
The Star - Musings - We've got walking time-bombs (3 July 2014)
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We've got walking time-bombs

by Marina Mahathir

3 July 2014

Our concern should make us look at the state of our young men today, particularly the Muslim men at the bottom of the social scale.

SO we finally stepped over the line. When the first Malaysian suicide bomber died in Syria, we finally put to rest the idea that Malaysian Muslims would never do this. For so long, we have believed that suicide in itself is a sin and such drastic action is sinful because it harms and kills innocent people. But now these concepts seem not to hold water any more.

In the age of social media, not only are our youth going off to fight wars in a foreign land, they are even boasting about it to all their friends back home via Facebook and Twit­ter.

They need this self-advertising in order to ensure that everyone thinks of them as heroes and warriors, fighting for a cause that nobody really understands.

After all, by joining the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil), they are fighting other Muslims, not people of other faiths.

But why should we be surprised at this development? For the past year or so, Malaysian Muslims have been bombarded by propaganda against Syiahs in the mosques and in the media.

Alleged Syiahs are arrested and few care what happens to them. Our Home Minister has even declared Syiahs unIslamic, something even the ra­bidly anti-Syiah Saudis have never done.

Syiahs make up only about 10% of the world’s Muslims and even fewer in number in Malaysia compared to Sunnis.

Yet our Inspector-General of Police insisted that if we do not control Syiah activities in Malaysia, it “could lead to militant activities. We do not want what happened in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan to happen here, do we?”

Well, he’s wrong on two counts. The Malaysian militants going to fight with Isil in Syria are all Sunnis, and if Syria doesn’t happen here, then they’ll just go to Syria. If they survive, they’ll eventually bring it home.

Another Malaysian on a humanitarian mission to Syria who met one of these jihadists, had this to say: “Most of them who join are fanatics, mat rempits, those without high education or were from problematic families. Some of them committed some big sin and were told that they could purify themselves by taking part in the jihad. They want a short cut to hea­ven.”

This is an important clue as to what drives these young men to join a war that is far away from home. When home is dull and problematic, a fo­­reign war with the promise of hea­ven sounds infinitely more exci­ting.

Getting heads broken at their motorbike races on Friday nights pales in comparison to actually holding an AK47 and killing another human being.
Back home if you kill someone you might get punished for it. Here in Syria, you’ll go to heaven. What could be better than that? Even the clothes are cooler.

If anyone is worried about this development, and they certainly should be, then the answer is to look at the state of our young men today, particularly the Muslim men at the bottom of the social scale.

The ones who drop out of school early and face a future of either unemployment or menial work. The ones who take drugs in order to make their dull and bleak everyday lives slightly more interesting.

And we need to take some responsibility for these young men. We’ve been telling them that as Malay Muslim men, they are superior to everyone else and entitled to everything in this country.

Yet when they fail to attain any of these, when this so-called entitlement only goes to those with better connections than them, we discard and neglect them and call them names such as rempit.

We prohibit them from being anything but what we want them to be, and while we sneer at them, we also glorify and romanticise the violence in their lives through movies and novels.

The hero apparently always gets the girl, even if he has to rape her first.

But in real life, this doesn’t happen. The girls would rather they had a good job and a decent car.

As drug-ridden fishermen or mechanics, they will never earn enough to win the girls of their dreams.

That rage sometimes leads them to take it out on the nearest girls, the ones in their own villages. Why not? After all, society will always blame the girls anyway.

It is likely these are the types of young men who wind up being wooed by jihadist recruiters with promises of adventure, excitement and a free pass to heaven where the best girls are waiting.

We are complicit in the wasted lives of these young men. We may wring our hands in disbelief now but we’ve been moulding them for this for years. Why should we be surprised now?

Maybe some deeper reflection on our responsibility is needed this Ramadan.

> Marina Mahathir is a human rights activist who works on women, children and HIV/AIDS issues. Her co­lumn in this newspaper goes back 25 years and has likewise evolved because, in her own words, “she pro­bably thinks too much for her own good.” Marina continues to speak out and crusade for causes that she passionately believes in. The views expressed here are entirely her own.
The Star - Musings - Many things do not make sense (19 June 2014)
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Many things do not make sense

by Marina Mahathir

19 June 2014

We were once a civil and progressive country, but day by day, it seems like we are no longer the country we once were.

THERE are many things that I love about this country that I was born in and have lived in my whole life. But when it starts to give me knots in my stomach and a constant feeling of dread, I can’t help but wish it were another type of country, one where everybody feels easy and comfortable living in it.

It would be all right if things that happen actually make sense but every day things make less and less sense. I am starting to dream about living in a different type of country where everyone can go their own way and live in peace without harassment from anyone.

In another type of country, people are not afraid to apologise when they’ve done something wrong. Indeed, they come out as more honourable people. Instead, we have people whose main stock in trade is hubris. It is what makes them unable to lift charges against people who have done no wrong, leaving them forever in suspended animation.

Hubris is what makes some people unable to backtrack on a mistake they made, finding ever more convoluted justifications for it. Pure arrogance is what makes them dis- obey court orders and say they answer to nobody else. Never mind that this is exactly the sort of attitude that leads to the anarchy that they themselves fear.

In another type of country, the police would just follow the law and not think up interpretations that keep them sitting on their hands in the face of injustice. Especially, when it involves children and the mothers they should always be with, by any type of law.

If this was another type of country, when people have been slack at their jobs and this led to many fatalities, they would resign. We now know that had some people paid better attention and taken quick action, the fate of MH370 might not be still a mystery today more than 100 days after it disappeared.

In another country, the highest officials in charge of our skies would have stepped down from their jobs because that is the honourable thing to do. But who cares about honour or respect in this country?

If we were another type of country, we would stop declaring war on our own people. The so-called war on drugs has stopped neither drug trafficking nor drug addiction. Now, we are going to have a war on the homeless.

Without understanding the reasons why people are living on the streets, a war on them would be akin to waging a war on refugees and blaming host countries for being too generous while doing nothing about the violence in their home countries that drove them to leave in the first place. But it is so much easier to declare war than to wage peace. Ask George Bush.

If we were a rational, compassionate country, we would be declaring a war on the increasing violence against women and children and stop the abuses, gang rapes, kidnappings and murders. How do our officials tasked with protecting women and children justify their existence otherwise?

If we were a sensible country, we would stop lauding the mean and the vile as heroes. We would stop fearing the consequences of showing compassion and fairness towards those suffering injustice. We would just be plain decent folk doing the right thing by people.

If we were a normal country, we would never be proud of being unable to control ourselves and possibly inflicting violence on others. We would never insist on having laws to keep ourselves under control, even while we claim to be pious.

In fact, normal people are usually ashamed to describe themselves as having potential for violence. But we are not living in a normal country anymore.

If this was another country, the very idea of chopping off anyone’s hands for stealing or stoning people for adultery would be too repulsive to even discuss. But today, these punishments are what people seriously think will solve all our problems. The bankruptcy of ideas is there for all to see.

If this were a place where things made sense, a woman could never be divorced years after her husband died. Or get her wedding interrupted by officials from another religion. Or had her burial delayed because of a long-forgotten alleged conversion. Or had her underaged children taken away from her by a husband who converted to another religion. Isn’t it funny how these things always seem to happen to women?

Yet we were once a civil and progressive country. Where people respected one another and got on fine. Once we eschewed violence of any kind, and certainly not on one another. Today, we even go to foreign countries and blow ourselves up.
We are no longer the country we once were. The question is, why?

> Marina Mahathir is a human rights activist who works on women, children and HIV/AIDS issues. Her column in this newspaper goes back 25 years and has likewise evolved because, in her own words, “she probably thinks too much for her own good.” Marina continues to speak out and crusade for causes that she passionately believes in. The views expressed here are entirely her own.
> The views expressed are entirely the writer's own.
The Star - Musings - A deeper look at horrific crimes (5 June 2014)
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A deeper look at horrific crimes

Musings by Marina Mahathir

5 June 2014

Without knowing the underlying causes for such violence, how would we be able to
prevent it?

LAST week was a particularly horrific and sad week in our country. A man abused his toddler stepson to death.

A killer made a little girl his gruesome victim. Over 10 men and boys raped a teenage girl. The mother of another teenager, who was raped by two men, whipped one of the men in public.

As if these horrors were not bad enough, a little girl accidentally fell to her death in a shopping mall.

Most of us would be forgiven for thinking that the entire country needs a flower bath to get rid of what seems to be a dark cloud hovering over us.

But maybe we are not far wrong because there do seem to be bad vibes over our land, fuelled by so much aggravation, angst and animosity among us. Perhaps we are spending so much time arguing over things that don’t really matter that we have neglected what really does matter.

And what does matter? For one thing, the safety of our people, especially our women and children, matters very much.

Every time something as dreadful as child abuse, rape or murder happens, a huge outcry ensues and many newspaper column inches are written anguishing about it, with calls for ever more severe punishment for perpetrators.

Indeed, such perpetrators must be caught and punished so that we all feel safe again.

Let us not forget that the killer of little Nurin Jazlin has never been caught. But let’s also do more about prevention.

Prevention involves investigating and understanding the circumstances under which these crimes happen.

Do people really wake up and think of killing their children that day? Or is that the tragic result of a build-up of stresses and strains that could have been mitigated if only there was help?

Could a rape by people known to a victim have been averted by more vigilant neighbours, directly or indirectly, or by an environment that was different?
If the mother of the murdered child had not been homeless, would the child have fallen prey to the killer so easily?

I really wish our media would probe these cases a bit more deeply. What would cause a whole group of men and boys to band together to rape that young girl?

It was reported that they were high on drugs. What goes on in that village that there can be so many men taking drugs and assaulting girls with impunity?

Is there a larger problem here of unemployment, boredom and rep­ression? In the wake of Elliot Rodger’s mass murders, there were a lot of articles analysing his motivations and mental state.

I wish there were also the same not just for this gang rape, but also the others to see if there are some underlying causes for this violence. Without knowing these causes, how would we prevent it?

Regarding the child who died of abuse, once again we should look at the backstory. There can never be an excuse for child battery but when you look at a young, twice-married mother with many children, you can see how the stresses of such circumstances may make a person snap.

Not all young parents abuse their children, but very often those who do tend to have married and had their children at a young age.

Perhaps they were married off to prevent illicit sex, with no contraceptive advice and little preparation for parenthood.

This particular mother was only 31 and the dead child, aged six, was her fourth. Did her husband find the needs of her children taking away her attention from him?

To me, it’s yet another reason to not allow young people to marry before they are ready for the many responsibilities of marriage and parenthood.

The background of the mother of the murdered child is also a sad tale. With her husband in prison, she was left with three young children and no way of caring for them.

Leaving two with relatives, she was left homeless with her youngest and spent all her time wandering the city and living on the generosity of friends.

Where is our Welfare Department for vulnerable families of prisoners like these? When we send men to prison, do we check on how their families would survive? Or don’t we care?

Our many social problems need to be examined in a much more holistic way than they are now. But that takes intelligence, leadership and compassion.

There can’t be anything more callous than a Minister who blames homelessness on the “generosity of Malaysians”, as if to live on the dangerous streets is a lifestyle choice. Perhaps she should spend a night serving at soup kitchens.

As long as such arrogant blindness prevails, we will never solve these problems. And the violence will continue.

> Marina Mahathir is a human rights activist who works on women, children and HIV/AIDS issues. Her column in this newspaper goes back 25 years and has likewise evolved because, in her own words, “she probably thinks too much for her own good”. Marina continues to speak out and crusade for causes that she passionately believes in. The views expressed here are entirely her own.
JAIS Raid Shows Injustice of Unilateral Conversions (3 June 2014)
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Press Statement

JAIS Raid Shows Injustice of Unilateral Conversions

Sisters In Islam (SIS) calls on the Government to prohibit the unilateral conversion of minors. The recent report on JAIS’ disruption of a Hindu wedding is just one incident in a string of reports that have shown how the lives of citizens are being destroyed by silent conversions.

At the root of this case is unilateral conversion - when one spouse silently converts his children to Islam without the knowledge or consent of the non-converting spouse. Zarena Abdul Majid, the ‘Muslim’ bride, is not alone. She is accompanied by the children of Shamala Sathiyaseelan, R. Subashini, Indira Gandhi and more recently S. Deepa, whose fathers all unilaterally converted them to Islam in secret.

The impact is not just felt by the converted children, but by their mothers. In one fell swoop, these women lost the rights guaranteed to them under civil law – specifically, the Guardianship of Infants Act (amended in 1999) – where non-Muslims have equal rights to the guardianship of their children and thus equal rights to decide which religion they would adopt.

Legal recourse for the non-converting spouse often becomes an issue. Under powers vested by the Constitution, the civil High Court has the authority to rule on matters concerning a marriage in which one party had converted to Islam. Yet, there have been cases where the High Court has abdicated its jurisdiction to quash the conversion of the children to the Syariah Court, as in the case of Shamala S. Given that the Syariah Court has no jurisdiction over non-Muslims, she was trapped in a legal no-man’s land with no way out. Her rights might have been violated, but she had absolutely no recourse to any legal remedy.

This jurisdictional limbo also extends to law enforcement. The reluctance of police to take action against Deepa’s ex-husband, Izwan Abdullah, after he abducted their youngest son is a case in point. While the Syariah Court had granted Izwan custody, the Seremban High Court later granted Deepa custody of their two children and a recovery order. Despite this, the police have yet to enforce the recovery order, claiming it could not act due to conflicting orders from the syariah and civil courts.

What is abundantly clear is that none of these cases would have come about if unilateral conversions were prohibited. For as long as the courts, the police and law-makers continue to shift responsibility and delay addressing the crux of the problem, more lives will be destroyed.

Sisters In Islam
3 June 2014
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