Friday, March 31, 2006

Zam vs. Kali's Battle Royale Continues...

The Battle Royale between Zam and Kali continues openly at the Parliament. From Bernama: Malaysian Newspapers Told To Be Instruments For Nationalism.

"Nationalistic Malaysia, Not Malaysian Malaysia."

Newspapers in Malaysia should not act as the voices for foreign concepts of freedom and democracy but instead should be instruments for the formation of a nationalistic Malaysia and not Malaysian Malaysia, the Dewan Rakyat was told Thursday.

Referring to the New Straits Times, Information Minister Datuk Zainuddin Maidin said the newspaper had published a feature article on Jan 4, 2006 that aimed to destroy the Malay identity in Malaysia.

The newspaper had also carried another article which gave the impression that a person had converted to Islam because of the dominance of Malays in the armed forces, he said.

"This is not a Malaysian doctrine but the legacy of a foreign doctrine that had resulted in a tragedy in Malaysia," he said when winding up the debate on the motion of thanks for the royal address for his ministry.

The Zam's Bolehland Version of 'Press Freedom'

At the same time, he said, some segments of the media had misinterpreted the freedom and transparency promoted by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

"They have disregarded the norms and principles of Malaysian laws which all this while have guided the freedom of the press in the country," he said.

This could be seen in the coverage of the nude ear squat video controversy involving a woman detainee at a police station last year, he said.

"We could see several newspapers were biased, emotional and lopsided in their reporting. They claimed the woman was a Chinese national but it was later revealed she was a Malaysian Malay," said Zainuddin.

He said newspapers indulging in sensational reporting like this incident did not care about the sensitivities of the people.

The result was diminishing respect for and anger against the police and shame for the country, he said.

Cartoon witch hunt

Touching on the issue of RTM showing a video footage of the caricatures of Prophet Muhammad which were originally carried by a Danish newspaper, he said the ministry had issued show cause letters to the officers involved.

"Disciplinary action will be taken against any officer found responsible for airing the pictures of the caricatures," he said.

He said RTM decided on the action despite the Internal Security Ministry informing it that programmes broadcast by RTM were not governed by the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984.

Zainuddin apologised for the mistake by RTM in airing the cartoons.

"The ministry regrets the incident as the gatekeepers or video editors overlooked the sensitivity of the news clip although it was a fleeting visual footage.

"This is not the same as a still photo which can be easily seen and picked for publication in a newspaper or magazine," he said.

While the newspaper headlines was dominated by the 'MV Augusta sale with just 1 Euro', the observant Zam did not miss out the 'Jan 4th article'. I do not have the luxury of purchasing back archives or resourcing the library's newspaper archives for the Jan 4th article, but I managed to find an article on 4th January by the NST Editorial. It was about Kayveas though. However, when I searched further painstakingly, I managed to find what Kali wrote in the Sunday Column on 8th of January. Here is the reproduction of the article, sourced from Berita Malaysia.

[deleted-seemed to be the wrong article]

This should be the one, according to Little Bird Neil from Screenshots:

Defending Malaysia's Diversity

PRIME Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has a well-deserved reputation for integrity and for the propagation of Islam Hadhari - a moderate, modernist Islam focused on basic principles and the pursuit of knowledge. But official Islam in Malaysia continues to play into the hands of Islamophobes everywhere and upset the 45 per cent or so of Malaysia's population who are non-Muslim.

Two current issues suggest that Abdullah will have to invest more of his own political capital in bringing a narrow official Islam into line with his own vision of an inclusivist faith that is intellectually alive and can coexist easily with the nation's large Hindu, Christian, Buddhist and other minorities.

In one case last week, a religious court declared that a deceased, M.Moorthy, a member of the first Malaysian team to climb Mount Everest, was a Muslim - and insisted that he be buried according to Muslim rites - despite the fact that he had been born a Hindu and, according to testimony by his wife and family, had never converted to Islam. The powers of the Muslim religious authorities were then confirmed by the High Court, which ruled it could not intervene in a decision by the religious court. In other words, in modern, multi-ethnic, inclusivist
Malaysia, the religious courts are a law unto themselves.

This is particularly worrying for non-Muslims. But it has wider implications in a society where all Malays are deemed to be Muslims, whatever they actually believe, and where religious movements by Malays have recently been persecuted on the grounds that they were judged heretical by the religious authorities. One sect that had been declared "apostates" recently saw its headquarters razed to the ground.

In another current case, a new Islamic Family Law has been rammed through Parliament. Although it has the legitimate aim of standardising the implementation of Syariah, Muslim women from across the religious/political spectrum see it as a backward step that enhances an already male-biased law. It will, they say, make polygamy and divorce easier for men, and reduce a wife's property and maintenance rights in the event of polygamy.

This legislation is being spearheaded by none other than the Prime Minister's Department. Bowing to old legal interpretations of Syariah on family issues is in contrast to Abdullah's public rhetoric calling for a progressive Islam, constantly reinventing itself in response to contemporary challenges and social conditions. "The notion that the Islamic concept of law is absolute and hence immutable has resulted in intellectual inertia," he has said, noting that "pluralism and diversity" were keys to the universality of the Muslim message.

As ever in Malaysia, the underlying themes may be more about political power struggles than religious beliefs. The governing Umno must compete for Malay votes with the fundamentalist Pas.

Religion can be a weapon, too, in Umno's internal politics. As with Christians in the United States, religious pressure groups exert political influence at the margin
out of proportion to their numbers and politicians cynically use the groups for their own ends.

Abdullah generally has the trust of non-Malays, and Malays can recognise that his own beliefs are sincere, not the product of political calculation. That cannot be easily said of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, the former deputy prime minister who proclaims liberal principles to receptive Western audiences but increasingly flirts with Islamic fundamentalism as he seeks to return to Malaysian politics.

In reality, Malaysian society is a lot more plural and tolerant than
politicians' statements sometimes suggest.

Nonetheless, the currents show the difficulty that Abdullah faces in reversing the trends of 20 years under his predecessor, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

While Dr Mahathir's own agenda was an aggressively modernising nationalism, for political reasons he allowed religious authorities to expand their power at the expense of secular forces. In many areas, including dress, Malay traditions have been abandoned to conform with alien but supposedly more Islamic practices imported from the Middle East.

Natural wealth and a benign history have enabled Malaysia to prosper economically while religious/ethnic divides have grown, at least in peninsular Malaysia. (Things are different in the ethnically more diverse Sabah and Sarawak.)

It may be hard to admit this in Kuala Lumpur, but Malaysia badly needs to look to Indonesia for an example of how to be a modern, multiethnic state. That will eventually require ending the automatic identification of "Malay" with "Muslim" and acknowledging that different interpretations of Islam can coexist within the same predominantly Muslim state.

In Indonesia, pluralism and Islam are synonymous, but in Malaysia the links between religious authorities and a state with huge powers of bureaucratic patronage are inhibiting for both.

Unless Malaysia's Prime Minister tackles the social gap between Muslims and non-Muslims, it will continue to grow, whatever the claims of tourist brochures about Malaysian multiculturalism. Capital will continue to exit the country, and Abdullah's vision of Islam Hadhari will be stillborn.

Could that be the article-the call for 'Malaysian Malaysia'?

Now, what's Taiko's say on this?

The writer of the article is still unknown. Check out Jeff's post.

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