Friday, October 10, 2008

Mkini letter- Abolish ISA, the reform-killer

Collin Abraham Oct 9, 08 11:27am

It is well established that the Internal Security Act (ISA) should be abolished on grounds of violation of fundamental human and legal rights, enshrined for the legal and constitutional protection of Malaysians.

However, it is considered insufficient and indeed unrealistic, to call for its abolition purely on these grounds alone.For these basic rights to be effectively and meaningfully implemented through the apparatus of government and bureaucratic system, it is a necessary condition that avenues for social reforms should be facilitated and enhanced.The ISA, in being used by the government as an instrument to deny and suppress possibilities for reform, has laid the authorities open to the accusation that they have deliberately stifled social change to maintain the status quo in the interests of the ruling class We do not need to be reminded that even in a practising democracy, it is said that ‘all power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely’ .

Therefore, there is no question that on this basis alone - because it is essentially a reform-killer - the ISA must be abolished in toto.But there is also an equally important dimension to take into account - that the use of the ISA to block and suppress reform is inimical to the effective functioning of a multi-cultural society where reforms are inherently essential and fundamental to nation-building. Given the complex process of accommodating inter-ethnic and intra-ethnic interests that overlap and override social class and racial identities in such societies, it can be fatal to their maintenance and even survival if such permutations and combinations fail to be satisfactorily overcome. Indeed, some published works have drawn attention to situations in contemporary Malaysia where such accommodations have failed to achieve the desired objectives because of the use of the ISA.I have previously written about two important ‘cases’ as being particularly relevant.

I am grateful to (former de facto law minister) Zaid Ibrahim for including these situations in his Open Letter to the Prime Minister calling for the ISA to be abolished. By so doing, he has given credibility and indeed legitimacy to these situations in a manner that only he could give.

The two scenarios are the cases of Dr Burhanuddin Al-Helmi and that of certain leaders of the reform movement known as Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf). In both situations the ISA was used to detain them.Each situation essentially involved leaders calling for reform in the political economy and it is important to present the cases in some detail, as an analysis within a wider perspective of the ISA.

Dr Burhanuddin Al-Helmi

(Former premier) Dr Mahathir Mohamad wrote the lead foreword to my book ‘The Finest Hour: Malaysian - MCP Peace Accord in Perspective’. In it, he emphasised the defining and pivotal role played in the independence struggle by leaders of Islamic political parties such as Burhanuddin.

Mahathir recognised that these anti-colonial resistance movements were “unanimous that despite the negative impact that the immigrant communities had in working within the colonial economy against that of the indigenous economy, this was due to no fault of their own, and that therefore, the non-Malay should find a place in an independent free Malaya”.But more importantly Burhanuddin clearly argued that reforms were essential to forge a sense of common identity among Malayans if political independence was to be meaningfully achieved. Therefore the status of ‘non’ applying to any locals would be unacceptable. He accordingly called for a distinction to be made between bangsa (race) and kebangsaan (nationality) so that the citizenship status of ‘Melayu’ becomes jointly available to both Malays and non-Malays.

Burhanuddin’s call for such reforms for the “integrity of our national existence’ was unanimously endorsed by the Constitutional Commission comprising Putera and AMCJA (interestingly including Tan Cheng Lock representing the Chinese Chambers of Commerce).The calls for reform will be recognised in the forthcoming publication of my Malaysian Chapter of the World Wide Encyclopedia on Protest and Revolution by Blackwell (Oxford) in January.

Hindraf movement

In his ‘open letter’ Zaid also made the comment that the government had yet to provide any evidence that the detained leaders of Hindraf movement had anything to do with “terrorist activities”. On this basis, and considering the enourmous negative public concern over their continued detention, the government has opened itself to the charge that they are being held due to the widespread call for reform, particularly for the marginalised and powerless groups among low-income groups in all communities.However, it needs to be pointed out in no uncertain terms that the demand for such reforms is not new. There has been a consistent and significant amount of published material on the need for reforms that pre-date to at least the early 1960s.The problem is that neither the government nor its delegated agencies - such as the former ministry and department of national unity - seem to have given any attention to these well researched reports and recommendations because of their lack of capacity and capability to meaningfully implement these, let alone understand the meaning and significance for nation-building and national unity.It is not proposed to repeat details of some of the more important publications here for the simple reason that anyone seriously concerned and interested in calling for a review of the continued detention of the leaders with a view to their unconditional release had better do their home work before presenting the case to the prime minister.Zaid himself had made an excellent case on the meaning and significance of the Hindraf movement in his article entitled ‘Fresh Thinking Needed’ in his recent book titled ‘In Good Faith’. I have also attempted a holistic appraisal of the entire ‘Indian Question’ and Hindraf, with particular reference to the dire and urgent need for reforms in the books titled ‘Speaking Out: Insights into Contemporary Malaysian Issues’ (Utusan 2006) and ‘Speaking Out Loud For National Unity: Social Change and Nation-building in Contemporary Malaysia’ (Sird 2008).I believe that the titles of the topics covered especially in the Utusan publication will give readers an insight into the nature and extent of the problems, with suggestions and recommendations as to what might be done to hopefully overcome some of the problems.
The titles are:
- The Curtain Falls on the Malaysian

- Indian Estate Community: From Coolie Rubber Tapper-to-Squatter-to-Gangster

- Evacuation from the Estates: A Case for Urban Proletarianization?

- Indian-Malaysian ‘Gangsterism’: Reform the Estate Stucture

- New Thinking Vital to Create a Viable Plantation Sector

Relevant articles in the SIRD publication are;

- Uprising Against the System

- Not the Government- Help All Deprived Groups

- Open Letter to the Prime Minister

This is not the place to enter into a deliberation on the question of ‘predicting’ or ‘prescribing’ certain outcomes in social issues and problems. However, I am taking the liberty of suggesting that had the government should have given serious consideration to the plight of the marginalised low-income and powerless groups. Had it done so, the Hindraf movement would not have evolved the way it has.

DR COLLIN ABRAHAM holds a doctorate in race relations from Oxford. Initially a civil servant attached to the welfare ministry, he later undertook research projects with the rural development ministry and economic planning unit. He was seconded to Universiti Sains Malaysia as associate professor in sociology and, more recently, visiting fellow. He is currently pro-tem president of the Malaysian Association of Social Impact Assessors.

Mkini Letter -Hindraf has just causes to be aggrieved

Stephen Ng Oct 10, 08 5:23pm

I refer to the Malaysiakini report Hindraf-bashing 'politically motivated'.I am not a Hindraf activist nor am I condoning their actions over what was allegedly a commotion that they had caused during the festive celebration at the Putra World Trade Centre.However, as a fellow Malaysian struggling to understand why certain people behave in a certain manner, I can fully understand why they are an aggrieved lot.

It is reported that 27 Hindu temples, which are sacred to them, have been demolished over the years. In their opinion, the government has sidelined them, and unless they create some ‘noise’, no one would even pay attention to their plight.Five of their leaders are still under ISA detention. Muslims are told to forgive each other in the spirit of the Raya celebrations but as Deepavalli is round the corner, the families of the five Hindraf activists have to embrace the prospect of not being able to celebrate Deepavalli with these detainees.
Sadness will be turned into anger, and many observers like us would throw our arm around them and say, ‘Yes, we understand your predicament. We are with you, brothers!
’Politics aside, when the Hindraf supporters turned up at the prime minister’s open house, they had good intentions else, they would not have brought flowers and bring the daughter of one of the ISA detainees to present them to Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.No matter how good their intentions are, a slight provocation may have caused some of them to lash out; hence, the commotion which is what we see happening.

For Umno Youth Selangor to call for stern action against the Hindraf supporters, it is again a show of arrogance and intolerance. It is this same attitude that has distanced Umno from the majority of Malaysians, as seen from the last political tsunami. Just as the Hari Raya celebrations are important to any Muslim, the demolition of Hindu temples has indeed caused grievances to the Indian community in the past.
It is time that the government solve this issue by approving proper land for non-Muslim religious groups as what the Selangor government has done recently. Without this, it is no point of talking about respecting each other’s religion. If the Pakatan state government can immediately remedy this situation, what more at the federal level. The issues should be dealt with more care and tact.


Mkini- Hindraf Raya visit: 'Stop whining' said Charles Santiago

Oct 8, 08 11:47am

DAP parliamentarian Charles Santiago today called on political leaders to stop whining about Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) leaders and supporters being present at the premier’s Hari Raya open house last week.

The opposition politician also found it amusing that Abdullah Ahmad Badawi - who holds the top job in the country - is disappointed that a group of people approached him to request for the release of the Internal Security Act (ISA) detainees during the open house."But when the prime minister laments that Hindraf supporters failed to shake hands and extend Hari Raya greetings to him and his cabinet colleagues, he sounds downright pathetic."Abdullah needs to understand that the action of Hindraf activists is part of the democratic process. He must also be educated that the chanting of slogans by Hindraf supporters is all about the freedom of expression, which is in short supply in Malaysia," he said in a statement today.

Santiago also took a swipe at MIC president S Samy Vellu who expressed concerned that the activists had undermined his efforts to secure the release of the ISA-detained Hindraf leaders."Instead of being an apologist for Abdullah and his government, Samy Vellu should gather enough courage to demand for the repeal of the ISA which allows for indefinite detention without trial, following the examples of MCA, Gerakan and the PPP," he said.

'Not an Indian issue'

Human Resources Minister and MIC secretary-general deputy minister Dr S Subramaniam had also irked the Klang MP by saying that the presence of Hindraf members at the open house went against Indian culture."This is an absolutely ridiculous assertion, more so as it comes from a smart man like Subramaniam. Since when does fighting for basic rights and liberties violate any culture?" he asked.

Santiago then turned his attention to independent MP Ibrahim Ali, who had threatened to protest over the Hindraf visit."Maybe he does not realise that resorting to the ancient tactic of racial politics has no place in Malaysia anymore."I urge Ibrahim to stop seeing the detention of Hindraf leaders as an Indian issue but a Malaysian one and request Muslim groups not to regard the attendance of Hindraf members at the open house as a sign of disrespect to Muslims," he said."

Let's not start twisting the real issues and fashion them to instigate racial problems in the country. The ISA is way off its expiry date and redundant in a modern democracy. "But the ruling government uses it as an easy tool to create a climate of fear and head off threats to its leadership," he added.


Mkini- Revoke Utusan's permit, PM urged

Oct 10, 08 4:15pm

Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) leader P Waythamoorthy has written to premier Abdullah Ahmad Abdullah to complain that Umno-owned daily

Utusan Malaysia has been “inciting hatred” against Indian Malaysians.And he has demanded that the annual publishing and printing permit of the Malay-language daily should be revoked, using ministerial powers in the Printing and Publications Act 1984.

Waythamoorthy, who is living in London in self-imposed exile, was reacting strongly to a series of articles in the newspaper since a group of Hindraf supporters made their presence felt during the ministerial Hari Raya ‘open house’ on Oct 1.
Abdullah has since reprimanded the group for being noisy and causing “a lot of unhappiness” among guests by allegedly demanding the abolition of the Internal Security Act (ISA) and release of detainees including five of the movement’s leaders.Utusan and private television station TV3 have been singled out by the movement’s supporters as having been unfair in their coverage of the event and subsequent comments by Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar among others.“Utusan Malaysia has been doing this for years and (it) is the main stumbling block to racial unity, racial integration, co-existence and a peaceful and harmonious Malaysia,”

Waythamoorthy alleged in his letter, a copy of which was made available to Malaysiakini.“It is plain and obvious that Hindraf’s (attendance at) the prime minister’s Hari Raya open house… is a case of making a mountain out of an ant [sic] hill… “Utusan is trying to incite Malay Muslim hatred for Indians. (It) is threatening the Indian minority with violence by the Malay Muslim majority or setting the tone for the same.”He also claimed that the newspaper is carrying out a vendetta against Hindraf in order to “divert attention from Umno’s leadership tussle”. “
The headlines, front page stories, editorials, articles and letters indicate incitement of racial and religious sentiments against the Indians, when all we asked for was the release of all the detainees and for the ISA to be abolished,” he said.

Nevertheless, Waythamoorthy said the daily’s efforts to portray Hindraf in negative light will not succeed as the majority of the Muslims understand “the genuine reason” for the Hari Raya visit.He noted that Indian Malaysian minority groups are fighting for their rights, equality and equal opportunities in a peaceful manner.

'Broadcast the footage'
Waythamoorthy said that, on Sept 22, “a sincere request to visit the prime minister” had been submitted to his office and that the secretary assured that there was no objection to the visit.“More than 500 supporters attended the function but less than 50 were allowed to greet the prime minister. We went there with sincere intentions in the spirit of forgiveness and to appeal to the premier to release all ISA detainees.
“TV3 and Utusan purposely exacerbated racial sentiments…if the allegations are true why (isn’t TV3) brave enough to play the video clip that supposedly showed Hindraf supporters behaving insolently?”“We challenge (TV3) to show their video recording to prove their allegations or seek forgiveness from the people of Malaysia for straining our unity.”Hindraf, he said, has strong evidence to show that the premier, his deputy and many others were “smiling widely” and “accepted greetings” from the supporters.

“Hindraf took the (opportunity) to appeal for (the release of) all ISA detainees inclusive of those accused of extremism and terrorism,” he added.“There are only five of our detainees but many more Muslim children, Muslim wives and Muslim parents who celebrated Hari Raya without their parents, spouses and children.”

The Hindraf 5, arrested on Dec 13 last year, are among some 80 detainees being held for at least two years without trial at the Kamunting detention camp in Perak. The ISA provides for the detention order to be renewed indefinitely.
When contacted, an editorial assistant from Utusan refused to comment, instead asking for a written request. No one from TV3 however could be contacted for comment.

Police record information
In a related development, blogger P Surind Raj said he had reported, as requested, to the Jalan Dang Wangi police station this afternoon where he was asked about the conduct of the Hindraf supporters at the ‘open house’.
“The police officer, Sydney Clyde Jeremiah, said the information is to assist with investigation into the incident,” said Surind.He also said lawyers Amarjit Sidhu and Haris Ibrahim had been similarly questioned today.“We were basically asked simple questions like whether we saw them (Hindraf) and whether there was any commotion,” said Surind.Surind said he had gone to the event as an individual, even though he was wearing a T-shirt with a ‘Free RPK’ slogan, in reference to blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin who has been detained for two years under the ISA.