Malaysia Social Contract (Part 1): Religion and Equal Citizenship

Whoever seeks to redefine our past seeks to hijack our future. In this regard, recent attempts to rewrite the history of the Social-Legal Contract created at the founding of Malaya/Malaysia in 1957 and our Constitutional history are troubling. These attempts at rewriting of history include two goals: 1) legitimize the transformation of Malaysian politics premised on equal citizenship of all Malaysians to one based on Malay dominance (supremacy) since 1969 (one may call it subversion of Malaysian democracy), and 2) to strengthen demands for implementation of Shariah law in all sectors of society.

Social Contract (Part 1): Religion and Equal Citizenship

Whoever seeks to redefine our past seeks to hijack our future. In this regard, recent attempts to rewrite the history of the Social-Legal Contract created at the founding of Malaya/Malaysia in 1957 and our Constitutional history are troubling. These attempts at rewriting of history include two goals: 1) legitimize the transformation of Malaysian politics premised on equal citizenship of all Malaysians to one based on Malay dominance (supremacy) since 1969 (one may call it subversion of Malaysian democracy), and 2) to strengthen demands for implementation of Shariah law in all sectors of society. Continue reading “Malaysia Social Contract (Part 1): Religion and Equal Citizenship”

The Dhimmi Syndrome: The Psychological Degradation of the Oppressed

The Dhimmi Syndrome
Twelve centuries of humiliation impressed upon the individual and collective psychologies of the oppressed groups a common form of alienation – the dhimmi syndrome. On the individual level it was characterized by a profound dehumanization. The individual, resigned to a passive existence, developed a feeling of helplessness and vulnerability, the consequence of a condition of permanent insecurity, servility, and ignorance.

The Dhimmi Syndrome: The Psychological Degradation of the Oppressed

I was psychologically traumatized recently. Don’t get me wrong. I am not talking about being hit by a mid-life crisis. Instead the reason for my distress came from UMNO politicians asserting that Malaysia should be ruled by a pivotal race (Malays). It is apparent that such sentiments are gaining ascendancy among Muslim/Malay activists, given how statements about Ketuanan Melayu dan Islam (Supremacy of Malays and Islam) are increasingly being declared publicly and unapologetically in the media.

However, the modern world no longer finds acceptable any talk of racial and religious supremacy – not after the appalling consequences of supremacist ideologies in recent history. Continue reading “The Dhimmi Syndrome: The Psychological Degradation of the Oppressed”

Separation between Religious and State Institutions (Part 2)

“One prominent model of separation is that of the secular state, sometimes called “strict separation�? between church and state. In this model, the public sphere is strictly secular in nature: laws are based on secular premises, government programs and activities are strictly secular in nature, and religion is deemed to be irrelevant to determination of the citizens’ civil obligations.

This approach tends to be animated by fear of religious divisiveness, religious warfare, sectarianism, and intolerance. The hope is to domesticate religion by privatizing it.

Separation between Religious and State Institutions (Part 2)

I begin with some observations by Nancy Rosenblum:

“One prominent model of separation is that of the secular state, sometimes called “strict separation” between church and state. In this model, the public sphere is strictly secular in nature: laws are based on secular premises, government programs and activities are strictly secular in nature, and religion is deemed to be irrelevant to determination of the citizens’ civil obligations.

This approach tends to be animated by fear of religious divisiveness, religious warfare, sectarianism, and intolerance. The hope is to domesticate religion by privatizing it. For some, disestablishmentarianism and privatization are the first steps toward reducing attachments to sectarian religion and fostering assimilation and secularization. If religion is understood as largely superstitious, propped up by the force of the state, then disestablishment of religion and the spread of enlightened reason should cause religion to wither away, without the need for coercion. Continue reading “Separation between Religious and State Institutions (Part 2)”

Separation between Religious and State Institutions (Part 1)

It is granted that religion (this includes all religions and not just Islam) is an integrated worldview and way of life. As such, practicing religion entails engagement with social life. It is futile, if not wrong to dichotomize these two spheres of human activities.

When we talk about separation between Church/Mosque and State, we are not suggesting a dichotomy between religion and society as spheres of human activity. We are suggesting the need to separate religious institutions from state institutions. We are calling for institutional separation. The separation is necessary both to protect state authorities from exploiting religion for their own political agenda and to prevent religious authorities from exploiting the state apparatus for their own (sectarian) religious agenda.

Separation between Religious and State Institutions (Part 1)

The qualified-secular status of the Malaysian Federal Constitution is been challenged in current debates on religion and society. Some Muslim activists reject the provision for the separation between state and religion since it does not grant due recognition to Islam as the religion of the majority.

It is granted that religion (this includes all religions and not just Islam) is an integrated worldview and way of life. As such, practicing religion entails engagement with social life. It is futile, if not wrong to dichotomize these two spheres of human activities.

When we talk about separation between Church/Mosque and State, we are not suggesting a dichotomy between religion and society as spheres of human activity. We are suggesting the need to separate religious institutions from state institutions. We are calling for institutional separation. The separation is necessary both to protect state authorities from exploiting religion for their own political agenda and to prevent religious authorities from exploiting the state apparatus for their own (sectarian) religious agenda.

Muslim activists who reject the call for separation argue that it is the duty of the government to enjoin virtue and prevent vice. I refer to the excellent study by Prof. Lamin Sanneh from Yale University on Shariah in Nigeria, Note the caution regarding the hazards to democratic justice that flow from the attempt to bring together (confuse) religious and state institutions. Continue reading “Separation between Religious and State Institutions (Part 1)”

Debunking Multiculturalism and Secularism – A Rejoinder

I have been honored to receive two replies to my article “Multiculturalism – How Can it be Wrong?�? published in the STAR (25/08/2006), which was in fact a response to an an earlier article “Debunking Multiculturalism” written by Md Asham Ahmad from IKIM (STAR 22/08/06).

Due to the constraint of time, I shall presently only give a brief response to a few issues raised by Md Asham Ahmad and Marzuki Mohamad in their responses to my article.

Debunking Multiculturalism and Secularism – A Rejoinder
By Ng Kam Weng

I have been honored to receive two replies to my article “Multiculturalism – How Can it be Wrong?” published in the STAR (25/08/2006), which was in fact a response to an an earlier article “Debunking Multiculturalism” written by Md Asham Ahmad from IKIM (STAR 22/08/06).

Due to the constraint of time, I shall presently only give a brief response to a few issues raised by Md Asham Ahmad and Marzuki Mohamad in their responses to my article. However, in the long term I think it is more fruitful to offer in-depth reflections of the issues related to multiculturalism and politics of recognition. Hence, I shall in due time, post papers such as: Imagined communities and invention of politics in Malaysia; Islamic institutions in British Malaya; Modern social contract theories and consent in politics; Myths and realities of secularization and Christianity; multi-cultural citizenship; the social-legal contract of 1957 and 1963 with excerpts from original documents, etc.

Let me now address some of the issues raised by Mazuki Mohamad and Md Asham Ahmad respectively. Continue reading “Debunking Multiculturalism and Secularism – A Rejoinder”

Cultural Relativism and Universal Values

Maybe scholars debating on the subject of cultural relativism in splendid isolation in the university could benefit from the work done by colleagues who have taken the trouble to collect data from field works. For this reason, I offer below some of the insights on culture taken from scholars from a generation earlier. Presumably, they spoke with authenticity given their vast experience of first hand encounters with other cultures.

Cultural Relativism and Universal Values

Cultural Relativism may be the reigning paradigm in public discourse today. Nevertheless, the paradigm is assumed rather than argued for. Debates on cultural relativism tend to remain at the level of abstract discourse that are strangely devoid of evidence collected from empirical or comparative studies of diverse cultures.

Perhaps, writers today find it hard to compare cultures in a globalized world when there is so much inter-penetration of cultures. In contrast, anthropologists up to the 1970s were able to study ‘primitive’ cultures without having to shift through the ground evidence to clear away foreign influence. I have in mind works like Claude Levi-Strauss on Structural Anthropology, Cliffore Geertz on Javanese Religion, E.E. Evans-Pritchard on Witchcraft, Oracles, and Magic among the Azande.

It is also easier for scholars to debate on cultural relativism in seminar rooms than to immerse themselves for a period of time in a foreign culture to see for themselves if indeed cultures are really that relative.

Maybe scholars debating in splendid isolation in the university could benefit from the work done by colleagues who have taken the trouble to collect data from field works. For this reason, I offer below some of the insights on culture taken from scholars from a generation earlier. Presumably, they spoke with authenticity given their vast experience of first hand encounters with other cultures. Continue reading “Cultural Relativism and Universal Values”

Multi-Culturalism – How Can it be Wrong?

These must be worrying times for Malaysian citizens if an official from IKIM, a government think-tank dedicated to the task of disseminating Islam as a tolerant religion, can come out with an article entitled “Debunking Multiculturalism�? that appeared in the STAR (22/08/06).

This article is written in response to an article published in the STAR on Tuesday 22 August 2006. See “Debunking Multiculturalism” by Md Asham Ahmad from IKIM (Institute of Islamic Understanding). The article is also available in the official website of IKIM

HOW CAN MULTICULTURALISM BE WRONG?

These must be worrying times for Malaysian citizens if an official from IKIM, a government think-tank dedicated to the task of disseminating Islam as a tolerant religion, can come out with an article entitled “Debunking Multiculturalism” that appeared in the STAR (22/08/06).

Credit must be given to the writer, Md Asham Ahmad, for his forthrightness in arguing that Islam – rather than multiculturalism – be the framework for social policy in Malaysia. Nevertheless, it is evident that the writer’s forthrightness is not accompanied by accurate facts, given his skewed reading of Christian history. Continue reading “Multi-Culturalism – How Can it be Wrong?”

Book Review:Hitler’s Willing Executioners by Daniel J. Goldhagen

The Holocaust has become a symbol of absolute evil among Western historians. This is because the Holocaust was perpetrated by what was arguably the most technologically and culturally advanced country of Europe at that time. That Germany then could systematically execute six million innocent and helpless Jews is both horrifying and incomprehensible. To be sure, scholars researching this episode have made considerable progress with increasing access to hitherto forbidden archives. We now know in great details the whole machinery of death deployed by the Third Reich that implemented the program of genocide. It is strange though, that despite all these new details, scholars are not any nearer in agreeing on an explanation for the causes of the genocide.

BOOK REVIEW: HITLER’S WILLING EXECUTIONERS
AUTHOR: DANIEL J. GOLDHAGEN

The Holocaust has become a symbol of absolute evil among Western historians. This is because the Holocaust was perpetrated by what was arguably the most technologically and culturally advanced country of Europe at that time. That Germany then could systematically execute six million innocent and helpless Jews is both horrifying and incomprehensible. To be sure, scholars researching this episode have made considerable progress with increasing access to hitherto forbidden archives. We now know in great details the whole machinery of death deployed by the Third Reich that implemented the program of genocide. It is strange though, that despite all these new details, scholars are not any nearer in agreeing on an explanation for the causes of the genocide. Continue reading “Book Review:Hitler’s Willing Executioners by Daniel J. Goldhagen”

Examining the Fabric of Moral Values

It has become fashionable to talk of moral renewal through “Asian values�?. However, the term “values�? suggests things personal and subjective, traits which are too light-weight to address the brute facts of the outer world and cruel dilemmas of life.

The challenge is to demonstrate in a concrete manner how Asian values can enrich human relationships in contemporary society. In our eagerness to develop concrete models of moral society, we may be tempted to rely exclusively on an idealized Asian moral heritage. Anyway, why not consider a concrete model from outside Asian society? Choosing a “contrast society�? may prove instructive and enlightening.

Review: Gertrude Himmelfarb. The De-Moralization of Society. Vintage Book

Ng Kam Weng

It has become fashionable to talk of moral renewal through “Asian values”. However, the term “values” suggests things personal and subjective, traits which are too light-weight to address the brute facts of the outer world and cruel dilemmas of life.

The challenge is to demonstrate in a concrete manner how Asian values can enrich human relationships in contemporary society. In our eagerness to develop concrete models of moral society, we may be tempted to rely exclusively on an idealized Asian moral heritage. Anyway, why not consider a concrete model from outside Asian society? Choosing a “contrast society” may prove instructive and enlightening.

Gertrude Himmelfarb shares our concerns, as evidenced by her scathing critique of the decay of contemporary Western morality. It is precisely her concerns that make the book The De-moralization of Society engaging, if not acerbic reading. Continue reading “Examining the Fabric of Moral Values”

Review: The Chinese in Malaysia

It is undeniable that the Chinese community contributed much towards the development of Malaysia. There is, however, a lack of scholarly studies on the Chinese community as a whole. In the absence of such documentation, it is tempting for some people to downplay and even ignore the contribution of the early Chinese community which helped Malaysia attain the status of a modern state. The need for Chinese scholars to present accurate historical facts that demonstrate how the Chinese community contributed towards nation building has become especially urgent. Such studies will also help contemporary Chinese to appreciate afresh the exemplary virtues left by their forebears such as economic prudence, perseverance and concern for communal welfare.

THE CHINESE IN MALAYSIA

Editors: Drs. Lee Kam Hing & Tan Chee Beng (OUP 2000)

Reviewed by Dr. Ng Kam Weng

It is undeniable that the Chinese community contributed much towards the development of Malaysia. There is, however, a lack of scholarly studies on the Chinese community as a whole. In the absence of such documentation, it is tempting for some people to downplay and even ignore the contribution of the early Chinese community which helped Malaysia attain the status of a modern state. The need for Chinese scholars to present accurate historical facts that demonstrate how the Chinese community contributed towards nation building has become especially urgent. Such studies will also help contemporary Chinese to appreciate afresh the exemplary virtues left by their forebears such as economic prudence, perseverance and concern for communal welfare.

In this regard, the new publication from Oxford University Press, The Chinese In Malaysia, should be viewed as a landmark in studies of Malaysian Chinese. For the first time, we have a team of local Chinese scholars pooling their expertise to provide a historically informed study which directly addresses issues confronting the Chinese community in Malaysia. Continue reading “Review: The Chinese in Malaysia”