Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Saudi Arabian Women Behind the Veil

Although it is more than a year old at this time, it still gives a good perspective on the lives and challenges of Saudi women from different social classes in the Kingdom.
I personally do not agree with some of the opening comments by the reporter but I found the series of interviews with Saudi women and men to be enlightening.

Saudi Arabia to enforce law for women-only lingerie shops

Riyadh backs campaign for women-only shop staff despite opposition from hardline clerics

Saudi women shopping
Saudi women have complained about men serving in lingerie and clothes shops. Riyadh will now enforce the women-only staff rule. Photograph: David Turnley/Corbis
Saudi Arabia will begin enforcing a law that allows only females to work in lingerie and apparel stores, despite disapproval from the country's top cleric.
The 2006 law banning men from working in female apparel and cosmetic stores has not been implemented up to now, partly because of view of hardliners in the religious establishment, who oppose the idea of women working where men and women congregate together.
Saudi women – tired of dealing with men when buying underwear – have boycotted lingerie stores to pressure owners to employ women. Law enforcement starts on Thursday.
The kingdom's religious police enforce Saudi Arabia's strict interpretation of Islam, which prohibits unrelated men and women from mingling. Women and men in Saudi Arabia remain highly segregated and are restricted in how they are allowed to mix in public.
The separation of men and women is not absolute. Women in Saudi Arabia hold high-level teaching positions in universities and work as engineers, doctors, nurses and a range of other posts.
The strict application of Islamic law forced an untenable situation in which women, often accompanied by uncomfortable male relatives, have to buy their intimate apparel from men behind the counter.
Over the past several weeks, some women have already begun working in the stores. Although the decision affects thousands of men who will lose their sales jobs, the labour ministry says that more than 28,000 women, many of them migrants, have already applied for the jobs.
Saudi's Arabia's most senior cleric, Sheikh Abdul-Aziz Al Sheikh, spoke out against the ministry's decision in a recent sermon, saying it contradicts Islamic law.
"The employment of women in stores that sell female apparel and a woman standing face to face with a man selling to him without modesty or shame can lead to wrongdoing, of which the burden of this will fall on the owners of the stores," he said, urging store owners to fear God and not to compromise on taboo matters.

Monday, February 27, 2012



THE study of languages is a fascinating and leisurely pastime. This is particularly evident with the Maori language or, to be precise, the Polynesian variant spoken by the tribes in New Zealand. Maori has no alphabet. All aspects of the language, including chants and songs have passed from generation to generation by recitation. Its teaching by tohungas or the learned men of ancient times, remind one of the methods once adopted by Sanskrit scholars in India to teach the dictionary of Amara Kosha to disciples.
Maoris, who were not necessarily the original inhabitants of New Zealand, came in the middle of the 14th century in large numbers. There were earlier migrations but they were not on a large scale. About A.D. 1350, certain canoes left Hawaiki for New Zealand. The present Maori tribes trace their ancestry to one of these famous canoes—Arawa, Tainui, Aotea, Takitimu, Horouta, Tokomaru, Kurahaupo and Mataatua. Between 1840 and 1896, the Maori population declined from 100,000 to 40,000. Since 1896, there has been a rapid increase.

The latest census of the population of Maoris or part Maoris was 140,000. Under the able guidance of some Maori leaders and the sympathetic administration of later Governments the Maoris recovered considerable ground and have gained for themselves a place in the social and political life of the country. The Nationalist party now in office is also interested to implement the progressive measures initiated by the late Mr Peter Fraser, then Labour Prime Minister.
I have neither the time nor the resources to undertake the study of comparative philology and could not do justice to any of the Oceanic languages. This paper, therefore, has its limitations, presumably coming within the definition of an essay by Dr Johnson.

It was only in the early 19th century that the missionaries who followed Europeans into the Pacific, tried to reduce the Polynesian language and its variants to European orthography. The nasal, glottal, labial and dental sounds or pronunciations, which could not be easily reduced to writing, presented problems in printing and there were numerous mistakes. This process began in Tahiti and was followed subsequently in Hawaii, Samoa and other islands.
The Maori variant of the Polynesian language is, with slight difference spoken throughout the Polynesian islands, and in certain Melanesian islands. The late Sir Peter Buck (Te Rangi Hiroa), the eminent Maori authority on the subject, traced the migration route from the West to include the Malayan archipelago. He called the tongue of this people the ‘Malayo-Polynesian language’.

The Malay language spoken ever since the migration of Indians and Chinese into Malaya has been subjected to the influence of Sanskrit, Prakit or Pali, Tamil, Telegu and other Dravidian languages and Bengali, in addition to the various forms of Chinese such as Cantonese, Mandarin and Fukinese. The Turkish, Arabic, Persian and Siamese languages have also left their imprints.

Then as far back as 200 B.C., Buddhist monks, under the patronage of the Emperor Asoka, travelled along the coasts of Burma, the Malay peninsula the gulf of Siam, and so reached China. They established their religion, and centres of learning in Burma, Malaya, Siam, Indonesia, and other coastal countries of Indo-China. 

Then Pallavas from the Coromandel coast of South India, founded Hindu settlements. In the 8th century Mahayana Buddhists from the Pala Kingdom of Bengal re-entered into Malaya. In the 7th century A.D. Sri Vijaya Empire was founded in Malaya, which had its capital in Palembang (Sumatra), and ruled over Malaya and Indonesia for six centuries. 

South Indian, or Dravidian culture, including the language, spread throughout the Malayan archipelago, including the eastern islands of Indonesia, the outskirts of Melanesia, and as far east as Indochina on the Asian mainland. The Pali and Sanskrit scripts were in vogue for writing, but the language used was Tamil. This type of writing is called ‘Granthi’.  

Granthi inscriptions are found in many parts of the Malayan archipelago, and, particularly at Nakon Sri Thammarat or Nagara, named after the hero of Mahabharata, the great Indian epic. Evidence of Hindu culture or Indian influence is noticeable in almost all places in South East Asia, and in Indonesia in particular. Hindu mythologies of Ramayana and Mahabharata were adopted in the Malay archipelago and contiguous countries then under the Sri Vijaya influence. Bali island, which is in the centre of the Indonesian group of islands, looks like a transplanted village from the South India, and almost all the inhabitants are Brahmins by faith.

Contemporaneously with the Sri Vijaya Empire at Palembang, the Hindu kingdom of Kamboja or Cambodia came into existence. Under the inspiring leadership of Shilandra Varma, Jaya Varma, and Raja Varma, the famous city of Angkor Thom and the temple of Angkor were built. Adjacent countries and islands were conquered, both in the military and cultural sense. The city and suburbs of Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat, housed one million people, and was the largest city in the world in the 13th century. Diplomatic mission was sent to China by these Hindu Emperors. 

The court of the Varma kings was known for its splendour and learning. This kingdom collapsed suddenly in the 14th century, due to the revolt of the Khemer slaves, and a change in the course of the river Mekhong. The public library which was set on fire was said to have burned for three days. The result of this sudden collapse was an unplanned dispersal of a large section of the people. 

This might possibly have caused a ripple in the western waters of Melanesia, which prompted the great migration of the Maoris to New Zealand in the 14th century. However, that point is remote from the present article.
Following the fall of the Sri Vijaya Empire in the 13th century, Malaya was ruled by the Chinese for 200 years. Unlike the ingratiating influence of the Buddhist and Hindu rulers, the Chinese pirates who wielded power, were aggressive, and introduced their methods of living, likewise their language. The penope of ‘Nan-yang’, or the southern province of China, as the Chinese preferred to call Malaya, did not take kindly to Chinese language and speech. The Chinese language died, though admittedly it left its influence on the Malay language.

The Malays, including the Javanese and other Indonesians, have accepted Buddhism, Brahminism, Islam and Christianity in turn, and have thereby enriched their own culture. Such religions and cultural influences have been at work for the last twenty-two centuries, and have, consequently, had their effect on the Malay customs and language. The original stock of words twenty-two centuries ago would have been very meagre indeed. In the absence of written records, it is almost impossible to trace the words which were free from the influence of other languages which flourished in the Malay archipelago for twenty-two centuries.

The original inhabitants of Malaya, like the Sakai or Senoi classed by some as Veddoid and Samong dwarfs belong to very ancient times, and have not been touched by Eastern or Western civilization. They have negrito characteristics such as thick lips, dark skin and curly hair. They are pygmies in size, and anthropologically quite different from the Polynesians. The poetical recitation of language, which is a significant feature of the Polynesian system of education, is not found among the inhabitants of Malaya, either of Negrito or Mongoloid strain, while that is not foreign to the ancient system of learning in India. The migration of the Malays from the adjoining province of Assam, Naga Hills and the Yunan province of China, took place between 2500 B.C. and 1500 B.C.

The above-mentioned facts, should, in my opinion, lead the philologists to seek for the root words of Malay and ‘Malayo-Polynesian languages’ in Sanskrit, Dravidian or Chinese sources. As the Chinese language did not take root in Malaya, the other two languages may prove to be more faithful, as they had longer time to leave their influence on the Malay language. If the Polynesian language is grouped with Malay, as it has been done by Buck, it would be worth-while to study the languages which lingered longer in Malaya and which influenced the Malays in their original home near Assam borders and contributed to the development.

The Polynesian Society which was founded in New Zealand in 1892 to further the scientific study of the history and native life of the peoples of the Polynesian islands, Melanesia, Micronesia, including the Maoris has done important work. The annals of this Society which contain a wealth of Maori material, are conspicuous for the lack of material on comparative philology relating to the Maori and Indian languages. This may be due to several reasons, two of which appeal to me as important. One is the concept that the Society is devoted to the study of subjects relating to ‘… Australasia, New Zealand, Melanesia, Micronesia and Malayasia, as well as Polynesia proper’. Secondly, no Indian scholar, with a good background of the Sanskrit and Dravidian languages, has come forward to contribute a paper. Another reason might well be lack of funds, which is often the case with some learned bodies, to give fellowships to study this question of languages.

The inspiration for this paper was provided by the fact that the material I studied on Polynesian linguistics, by Sidney H. Ray, Percy Smith, C. E. Fox and the two dictionaries by Tregear and Williams did not trace the root word of the Maori beyond Malay or Indonesian dialects.
It is my intention to outline in this paper some of the Maori words which sound like Kannada, one of the South Indian languages. I would counsel caution. The reader should not take these words to have any authoritative basis, or strain the imagination farther than I propose.

The Maori word that caught my imagination was rite, which means like in Maori and Kannada. The next one was mana, meaning prestige, authority, respect of power, in both the languages. 
Manawa-reka in Maori is used to denote pleasure or satisfied. In Kannada also it has a similar meaning. Maha means many and is used as a suffix to denote plurality. The Samoan form is mafa and the Tahitian is maha. The Hawaiian maua also means large or many. 

The Malay root is maha again. This simple word has the same meaning in Kannada, Sanskrit and some other languages of India in addition to whole of Pacific islands and Malaya. Hani in Kannada means distress or in trouble. In Maori it has the same meaning and also indicates spoilt. 

Hani with dental pronunciation in Kannada means drop of water or drizzle. In Hawaiian, hanini means spill the liquid. In Kannada we say anga to denote limb or part of the human body, and use the expression anganga for aspect. In Maori the same meanings hold good. 

Stars are called tara in Kannada. In Maori this word means a shaft of light, presumably from the same origin or root word. A place of landing or a harbour is called tauranga in Maori, and in Kannada, waves or ripples over a lake are called taranga. 

Power acquired by spiritual leaders or rishis by meditation or contemplation is called tapas in Kannada. In Maori, tapatapa, is a kind of curse, that the spiritual leaders or tohungas, could use on people. 

Amaru in Maori means a dignified aspect. In Kannada, amara, means dignified, angelic or immortal. Urupu in Maori and hurupu in Kannada have the same significance, namely to be inspired or to be brought to the point of doing anything. 

Tomorota in Maori is the equivalent of tamarasa in Kannada or Sanskrit, meaning emotion or strong feeling, or craving. 

To comb the hair, the Maoris say wani, which refers to hair in Kannada. 

A residence or house is called whare in Maori. Wat in Siamese which has been derived from wata or awasa of Sanskrit means a place or residence. 

Marae in Maori means the court yard or the meeting place. In Kannada marae means shade or protected place and manae is a house. 

Mata is mother in Kannada and matua in Maori means elders or parents. 

In Kannada we say paka for cooking and paka shastra for the art of cooking. Cooking or baking is called paka in Maori too. 
Kama is joy in Maori, and kamakama is joyous. Kama in Kannada is used to denote strong desire or sexual impulse. 
Kati in Maori and kadi in Kannada have the same meaning, namely to cut or bite. 
Wahine and mahile in Maori and Kannada refer to daughter or woman. 
Ngati in Maori is used to denote relatives or clan members. It means a cousin or relative in Kannada. In Maori a forking or branching place is called manga or tanga. The confluence or the meeting place of two rivers is called sangama in Kannada or Sanskrit. Sanga also means companionship or being together in Kannada. 

In Indonesian Malay, mari means to come, with the base or root word, gari or move. Gari or Gadi in Kannada and Sanskrit is a vehicle or motion.  
The word kuku in Indonesian Malay and the Marquesan variant of the Polynesian language, which is said to have kept its purity and has suffered the least from phonetic decay, refers to a dog. Kukka in Telugu, one of the Dravidian languages, means a dog. Kuri in Maori refers to a dog. 

Lastly the word horo-matua in Maori refers to a priest who guided the canoe from Hawaiki to New Zealand or to those who directed the canoes on their voyages. These priests had great knowledge of stars, astronomy and navigation science. If horo means astronomical science and matua means the elders or parents, I would like to know if horashastra or the astronomical science we refer to in Kannada has an allied meaning?

After the arrival of the Pakeha or Europeans in New Zealand some words commonly used in everyday life got into the Maori vocabulary. Buck lists the following: Tikera (tea-kettle), pata (pot), naihi (knife), paoka (fork), pureta (plate), tiriti (treaty), kooti (court), minita (minister), pihopa (bishop), teepu (table), and turn (stool).

It is possible to multiply the above list and enlarge the scope of the article, but that is not my intention. It would be worthwhile for either the Government of India or some patrons of learning, like the Maharaja of Mysore, or the Institute of Oriental Studies, to depute Sanskrit and Kannada scholars to study the comparative philology of Oceanic and Indian linguistics and the different Polynesian variants. 

I am convinced that such a study will provide a secondary history to the great problem of Indian migrations and Oceanic settlements of the early Indian voyagers. Such a research could also provide valuable data on the cultural history of India in the South East Asia and the Pacific Islands. 

The remains of a vessel, obviously of Eastern construction, from which was obtained a bell with an inscription in Tamil, had rusted under sand on the West Coast of the North Island of New Zealand for centuries, and has not been investigated sufficiently. This wreck might prove the existence of early links between India and New Zealand. Until research is completed on this subject, this must remain a matter for conjecture.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Secret £14million Bible in which 'Jesus predicts coming of Prophet Muhammad' unearthed in Turkey

  • Vatican 'wants to see' 1,500-year-old ancient script
  • Has been hidden by Turkish state for 12 years
  • Handwritten in gold-lettered Aramaic
A secret Bible in which Jesus is believed to predict the coming of the Prophet Muhammad to Earth has sparked serious interest from the Vatican.
Pope Benedict XVI is claimed to want to see the 1,500-year-old book, which many say is the Gospel of Barnabas, that has been hidden by the Turkish state for the last 12 years.
The £14million handwritten gold lettered tome, penned in Jesus' native Aramaic language, is said to contain his early teachings and a prediction of the Prophet's coming.
Secret Bible: The 1,500-year-old tome was is said to contain Jesus' early teachings and a prediction of the Prophet's coming
Secret Bible: The 1,500-year-old tome was is said to contain Jesus' early teachings and his prediction of the Prophet's coming
Ancient: The leather-bound text, written on animal hide, was discovered by Turkish police during an anti-smuggling operation in 2000
Ancient: The leather-bound text, written on animal hide, was discovered by Turkish police during an anti-smuggling operation in 2000
The leather-bound text, written on animal hide, was discovered by Turkish police during an anti-smuggling operation in 2000.
It was closely guarded until 2010, when it was finally handed over to the Ankara Ethnography Museum, and will soon be put back on public display following a minor restoration.
A photocopy of a single page from the handwritten ancient manuscript is thought to be worth £1.5million.
Turkish culture and tourism minister Ertugrul Gunay said the book could be an authentic version of the Gospel, which was suppressed by the Christian Church for its strong parallels with the Islamic view of Jesus.
He also said the Vatican had made an official request to see the scripture - a controversial text which Muslims claim is an addition to the original gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John.
In line with Islamic belief, the Gospel treats Jesus as a human being and not a God.
Serious interest: The Vatican, under Pope Benedict XVI, is said to want to see the recently re-discovered Bible
Serious interest: The Vatican, under Pope Benedict XVI, is said to want to see the recently re-discovered Bible
Historic: The £14million handwritten gold lettered tome is penned in Jesus' native Aramaic language
Historic: The £14million handwritten gold lettered tome is penned in Jesus' native Aramaic language
It rejects the ideas of the Holy Trinity and the Crucifixion and reveals that Jesus predicted the coming of the Prophet Muhammad.
In one version of the gospel, he is said to have told a priest: 'How shall the Messiah be called? Muhammad is his blessed name'.


Born in Cyprus as Joseph, Barnabas was an Early Christian later named an apostle.
His story appears in the Acts of the Apostles, and Paul mentions him in some of his epistles.
The date, place, and circumstances of his death are historically unverifiable.
But Christian tradition states that he was martyred at Salamis, Cyprus.
He is traditionally identified as the founder of the Cypriot Church, with his feast day on June 11.
And in another Jesus denied being the Messiah, claiming that he or she would be Ishmaelite, the term used for an Arab.
Despite the interest in the newly re-discovered book, some believe it is a fake and only dates back to the 16th century.
The oldest copies of the book date back to that time, and are written in Spanish and Italian.
Protestant pastor İhsan Özbek said it was unlikely to be authentic.
This is because St Barnabas lived in the first century and was one of the Apostles of Jesus, in contrast to this version which is said to come from the fifth or sixth century.
He told the Today Zaman newspaper: 'The copy in Ankara might have been written by one of the followers of St Barnabas.
'Since there is around 500 years in between St Barnabas and the writing of the Bible copy, Muslims may be disappointed to see that this copy does not include things they would like to see.
'It might have no relation with the content of the Gospel of Barnabas.'
Theology professor Ömer Faruk Harman said a scientific scan of the bible may be the only way to reveal how old it really is.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Old and Wise: What’s a year between friends?

I have just received this letter from a friend. Reworked it slightly in my style but the sentiment is much the same.
“I am going to be fifty. Soon. Soon enough. Far too soon. Sooner than you think. All too soon. Round the corner, rushing at me like a train in a James Bond movie, crushing youth into strawberry jam, that’s it brother, we are going downhill from here.
And I have been thinking where’s the hurry, back off a bit and postpone it by a year. I like the sound of forty-nine, there is something young and vigorous about it. At forty-something, there is still hope. You could get another job, have a kid (only kidding), go hiking without carting your daily medicines with you and not complain about an old college-day injury that throbs when the weather is cold.
Fifty has this watershed feel about it, like you have been shoved into another dimension and there is no going back. Fifty means, this is it, Clyde, better hit the road, you’ll never be a colt again, this is where when people tell you that you are only as young as you feel, what is age but something in the mind, they are actually visibly sorry for you and only trying not to hurt your feelings.
Fifty opens the floodgates on unsolicited advice. People telling you to slow down, ease up, stop playing Squash, be careful with the sugar and the salt and not too many late nights, cut the smoking, you are not getting any younger, you are fifty, like it was an indictment.
An age where you are supposed to suddenly stop indulging yourself in fun things because you are fifty, you know, it doesn’t look nice, act your age.
What is of most concern to me in this bleak and depressing state is this inclination in people to expect a celebration, a party, some sort of public recognition that you are whizzing past this milestone. Why would you want the world to know your cake is getting squishy? Why on earth would you want to set your depression to music? It is a sobering thought that if I was a game of bingo I would be way past halfway house. It is also a sobering thought that when Mozart was my age he had been dead for seventeen years.
And while on the subject of sobriety, this is the age when men especially begin to recall their past, dredging it up like an old shoe from the bottom of the lake. An age when you begin to preface your speech with ‘In my time’ and ‘When I was’ and ‘Way back when’... Since I loathe nostalgia I see little reason to share this thoroughly un-momentous occasion with anyone.
Seriously though, it is only my body that is hitting fifty. I am only twenty-two. And if we can postpone marriages, business deals and cricket matches I see a lot of precedent on postponing birthdays, especially these epoch-making ones.
You could take out a public notice, all nice and legal, like those people who are changing their names. I, Robbie Nath Jha hereby declare that henceforth I shall be rechristened Babblu Bhola Jha hear ye, hear ye.
I could cheerfully do the same. This is to inform you that I have decided to delay my fiftieth birthday by a year. Consequently you are advised to continue responding to me for all intents and purposes as a forty-niner until further notice.
This sort of deferred thing could catch on. Wedding anniversaries could go the same way. Let’s skip the silver, sweetheart and go straight for gold.
After all, what’s a year between friends.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

20 Years After his death: Sudir still throbs and inspires

Sudir still throbs and inspires

20 years after his death, the quintessential Malaysian performer continues to grip Malaysian entertainment
Wednesday, February 22, 2012 - 14:41
by Errol de Cruz
MAMMOTH: The Chow Kit Road ground-breaking concert. Pics courtesy of SUDIRMAN PRODUCTIONS
IT was a really hot night in mid-1985; hot in more ways than one. First, the weather was its usual balmy self, and to make that really trying, the "powers-that-be" at Universiti Kebangsaan Bangi (UKM) were making things impossible for Malaysian performer Sudirman Arshad.

The story goes that a quarter comprising ultras and Muslim fundamentalists, representatives of the student unions and academic staff , including the Dean of the Islamic faculty, were dead against his performing at the university.

For several days, Malaysian dailies were full of stories, some carrying threats that “if he dared to turn up, he would have acid thrown in his face”.

The concert that rocked UKM
The issue was eventually and firmly resolved by the then Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad who “didn’t want any fundamentalists derailing Malaysia’s modernisation programmes in any way”.

In the afternoon, the day before the controversial concert, I had spoken with iconic Malaysian promoter and Sudirman’s manager, Mike Bernie Chin, about the affair.

“The show will start on time,” Chin said. “If you want to know who Mike Bernie Chin is, be there.”

"Why? What are you planning for tomorrow?" I had asked. “I can’t tell you. You’ll print it!”

Well ahead of time, we turned up at UKM Bangi, accompanied by pixmen, and were quite shocked at what we saw.

Grouped near the entrance were a score or more hunched ‘Sudir lookalikes’, all in his by-then famous attire — dark trench coats, black fedoras and and jet-black shades. At a silent signal, they spread out and we wondered who the protesters would fling the promised acid at. Nice one, Mr Chin.

Minutes later, two police patrol cars sped in, lights flashing, sirens at full blast. The crowd rushed to catch Sudir emerge. But, ha-ha-ha, it was another decoy. The back seat was empty!

Remembering that the show would start sharp on time, we went into the hall to watch the band set up when, at the appointed time, the opening song began with Sudir in full voice — just oh-so-naturally leaving a seat in the audience (!) and swaggering on stage. The hall went wild.

In true daring, flamboyant fashion, sensational Malaysian singing lawyer Sudirman Arshad had taken fans by storm.

The entertainer, 31 at the time, was supported by thousands at this "UKM showdown" but did not exploit the issue and was careful not to provoke the much-chagrined ultras, choosing judiciously to dress himself in the Malaysian fl ag and sing “mainly Malaysian and folksy songs”.


Sudirman Arshad, born on May 25, 1954, was a first in many ways.

He was the first Malaysian to perform at the prestigious Paddock supper club at the old Hilton Hotel, the first to bag the Bintang RTM grand prize with an uptempo Broadway-styled cover of Liza Minnelli’s Cabaret/Hey Big Spender in 1973, the fi rst to have traffic-congested Chow Kit Road in KL closed for a mammoth concert in April 1986 and the first Malaysian to win the Asia Music Awards at famed Royal Albert Hall in London with One Thousand Million Smiles, composed by Michael Veerapen and Paul Ponnudorai, in 1989.


It all began in 1973, when Malaysians who were used to the usual gamut of instrumentalists, duos, trios, various other ensembles and wonderfully-voiced balladeers do their thing on the three-year-old Bintang RTM.

The nationwide competition had unearthed several talents, including Razak Rahman, Shagul Hamid, the Silhouttes, the HEW, Strange Brew, Suhaili Shamsuddin, the Nettos and Brian Jeremiah, when out of the blue this pint-sized lawyer turned up in top hat, tie and tails and blew viewers away with a super duper cover of the Minnelli medley, high-kicking choreography and all.

I’m sure that when they announced Sudirman the grand winner, many aspiring stars would have muttered: “Goodness! Now, we’ll all have to change our act!”

“But, that’s what Sudir was all about,” said Daniel Dharanee Kannan who took over the star’s management responsibilities from Mike Bernie.

“One of his last wishes was for a Malaysian talent platform like American Idol to be set up.”

“He thought ahead and planned for local talents to be discovered at a young age and groomed into international brands,” Kannan added.

Unfortunately, the singer died at the age of 39 before seeing such dreams come true. Sudirman was the quintessential Malaysian performer.

While many of his English covers were awesome, his rendition of local staples like Merisik Khabar, Milik Siapakah Gadis Ini and Salam Terakhir proved that this budak kampung from Temerloh, Pahang, was proud of his roots.


In August, 2008, Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, wife of the Malaysian prime minister paid him what would be the highest accolade ever when she said that the late singer could well be a 1Malaysia icon for his eff orts to popularise patriotic songs.

“His patriotism is evident as it often involves the presentation of a multiracial Malaysian society and religion,” Rosmah had said.

“Sudirman had started to create the spirit of 1Malaysia way back then,” she added at the TV3 screening of One Thousand Million Smiles in conjunction with that year’s Merdeka celebrations.

The recording had been done in Malacca on March 9, 1991, by Sudirman’s close friend and financier Virender Singh, whose family-owned Project Advisory and Management Services was behind the production of the carbonated canned drink Sudi, in Merlimau, Malacca.

Marketing executive Richie Ramesh remembers the early ‘90s well.
“We could sell Sudir’s shows for anything between RM10,000 and RM30,000 per show, and we sold up to five shows, every month,” he said, adding that a corporation called Sunrider that had featured Michael Jackson at one of its annual dinners, paid for Sudirman to perform in Hawaii not long before his untimely death.


“The last three years before he died were his heyday,” Ramesh said. “People would come to Merlimau with cash and cheques and carry away cartons of the canned drink.”

The same could be said for his eponymous line of apparel, a venture sponsored by businessman Albert Ong, an entire range of which was once purchased by Prince Sufri Bolkiah of Brunei.

The famous carbonated drink Sudi was much-written about in business magazines and TV programmes from Australia to Hong Kong.

Within six months, Sudi captured five per cent of the carbonated drink market, no mean feat competing against other famous colas. Later, Sudirman opened a franchise of Sudi Shoppe apparel and a Sudi restaurant.

Sudirman was also well known for his charity work and would invite veteran artistes to his shows and privately make them generous donations.

He donated to mosques, adopted an Indian boy from a poor family and was active in charity work via Papita, the Malaysian Singers Association.

At a press conference announcing his ground-breaking Chow Kit Road concert, he had said: “This show is for the unfortunate who have made the alleys of Chow Kit their home. Otherwise, they could never afford to catch my performances.”


His performances were the stuff of legend.
Joanne Ng (pic), his longest-reigning dance partner, said that there would be fi ve-hour rehearsals, five days a week, and Sudirman would always be there to encourage them.

“My fondest memories are the many hours in the dance studio, choreographing, because that’s when he was most relaxed and he loved to joke,” Ng said.

“He loved to challenge us to do things diff erently and we appreciated that we were regarded as more than just back-up dancers ... we were an integrated act and would often feature with him at photo shoots and television productions.”

The outfit in toto was called Glue (the backing band), Girls (the dancers) and Giggles (the backup singers).

“Sudir always gave more than 100% in the way he crafted his shows because he respected his audience and believed that they always deserved the best from him,” she added.

“Over and above all his local and international successes, Sudir never forgot that he was a budak kampung and ensured that his repertoire would cater to every segment of his audience,” she said.

“He sang from his heart and his sincerity was tangible. His show concepts and song choices often surprised us. His ideas and wit overfl owed. Putting together a new routine was when it was just us ... two dancers and the choreographer, no one else around ... lots of laughter, bouncing ideas off each other and enjoying little chats during breathers.”

“It was during one of these rehearsals (1985 or 86) he told me that an astrologer had predicted that he would be stricken with a very serious illness at the age of 36 or 37 which may prove to be a very tough hurdle and I remember not taking him very seriously, until I heard of his illness and death in 1992.”

Among his many awards was a datukhip by Pahang sultan Sultan Ahmad Shah in June 1999.

On July 17, 1991, Sudirman was admitted to the intensive care unit of KL’s Tawakkal Specialist Centre for four days, after collapsing at a concert in Butterworth.

He died at 4am on Feb 22, 1992, aged 37, at the home of his sister, Datin Rudiah, after a seven-month bout with pneumonia. He is buried near the graves of his parents -Arshad Hassan and Ramlah Dahlan (the first stateswoman in Pahang during the 1950s) — in Temerloh, Pahang.
Rest in Peace.


• Sudirman had 20 albums and 70 songs over a 16-year career. Not even silver screen legend P. Ramlee was as popular in Asia in his time as Sudirman was in his.

• In 1989, Sudirman was crowned best singer at the inaugural Asian Popular Music Awards at the Royal Albert Hall, beating more famous contemporaries Leslie Cheung (Hong Kong), Anita Sarawak (Singapore) and Kuh Ledesma (Philippines)

• His 1987 song Merisik Khabar topped the charts in Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei for two months.

• He recorded an album with successful British songwriters and producers Stock, Altken & Waterman.

• He was referred to by Wham manager Simon Napier-Bell, as an “institution of the Malaysian music industry”.

• His Chow Kit Road concert, 100,000-attendance, has never been replicated nor has a similar concert been organised since.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Kaizen way of life

The business principle that made Toyota a role model in the global market can be applied to your personal life. Here’s how you can work smart to make your life more meaningful

The unparalleled success of Toyota made “kaizen” a commonplace work principle. What you may not realise is that kaizen is a principle that can be applied to all aspects of life. Kaizen is about innovation in the workplace. In personal terms, kaizen means having an improvement mindset. “Kai” stands for change. “Zen” means to become good. Kaizen is the principle of continuous improvement.

Kaizen is so useful to us personally because for many of us, change is hard and the anxiety it provokes in us often causes us to fail. Instead of overwhelming ourselves with a perfect image of the person we want to be, practising kaizen means that we focus on the smallest things first, the surmountable changes we want to implement. We take the first step and mastering that small change gives us the impetus to continue with changes.
In Western business, change often means trying to envision an unknown situation and planning for it. With kaizen, companies make constant incremental improvements that allow them to deal with obstacles and circumstances as they arise.
At Toyota, every employee was encouraged to take note of several things that they noticed could be improved and given the power to implement changes. These small improvements aggregated in a way that led to major innovation and success.

This kind of philosophy can help all of us to personally improve. Instead of thinking about who you want to be ideally, if you make a small improvement in your life every day, you can revolutionise your life over time without drastic and momentous effort. Kaizen means working smarter, not working harder. It’s about implementing practices that make your life more efficient and less wasteful in terms of your energy and time. And that will leave you a happier person in the long run.
 This is the process of kaizen in a business organisation:
1 Standardise operation or activity
2 Measure the standardised operation
3 Gauge measurements against requirements
4 Innovate to meet new requirements and increase productivity
5 Standardise the new, improved operations
6 Continue cycle

And here is the process as it may be used personally:
1 Standardise routines
2 Set or review goals
3 Measure progress
4 Consider new ways to effectively achieve goals
5 Create a new habit
6 Start the process again
The kaizen process is a two-week cycle in business. In terms of personal development, creating a new habit may take 21-30 days.
So how do you implement personal kaizen? The first thing that is useful is a Time Map, a chart of the way you’d like to spend your time and a chart of the way you actually do spend your time.
Step 1: Make a list of areas of your life that are important to you. Examples include: family and friends, exercise and education, career and contributions, alone time and spirituality. You can make subcategories for each of these areas if you’d like too.
Step 2: Rank your list in terms of priority. What is truly most important to you? Don’t judge yourself by other people’s expectations, values or standards when you do this.
Step 3: Chart the way you spend your time every day for two weeks. Break your day up into hours and log what you do in that hour. Don’t just write: “work on reports” if you actually answered three phone calls and 10 emails during that time too.
Step 4: After two weeks, look over your log and measure how much time you’ve spent doing each activity. How much time did you spend on things that are important to you? Break it up into percentages.
Step 5: What you’ll also see here is how much time you spend doing random things in ineffective ways. Do you check email every 15 minutes instead of assigning two or three small-time increments of that? Do you forsake time alone doing something you really enjoy for that workout you feel you’re supposed to do? Take note.
Step 6: Look again at your list of important things and the chart of your true time. Keeping your priority list in mind, choose one small thing you can change in each area to improve your life. Pick the easiest change to implement — not the toughest. That’s another kaizen principle: pick the low-hanging fruit first.
Step 7: Craft a plan to implement the changes — what is it that you’re going to do differently or focus on and how.
Step 8: Commit and follow through. “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” wrote Tae Te Ching and it is eminently kaizen. Practise creating that new and positive habit for a month. That will make the next change you tackle so much easier.
Step 9: Keep a journal to track your progress. Those small successes can add up in terms of self-esteem, self-efficacy, motivation and actual transformation.
Step 10: Revisit and revise your charts and choose the next change.
Good luck!

Contemporary Muslims are in need of spirituality

As far as Islam is concerned, it must be noted that Arab and Muslim majority societies are seriously lacking in spirituality. There is not a deficit of “religion” but of spiritual life. It can be encountered among Islamists, as well as among secularists and ordinary citizens. Religion refers to the framework, to the structure of ritual, to the rights and obligations of believers and, as such, lies at the heart of social and political debate. In the classical Islamic tradition, framework, reference and practices can — like all religions and spiritual traditions — be best seen in the light of their relation to meaning (here, to the Divine), to a conception of life and death, to the life of the heart and mind. Contemporary Islamic discourse has, however, too often lost its substance, which is that of meaning, of understanding ultimate goals and the state of the heart. Increasingly, it has been reduced to reactivity, preoccupied with the moral protection of the faithful, based on the reiteration of norms, rituals and, above all, prohibitions. But spirituality is not faith without religion; it is the quest for meaning and peace of heart as the essence of religion. Viewed in this light, Muslim majority societies are profoundly bereft of serenity, coherence and peace. The time has come for a spiritual and religious emancipation.

The decline of Islamic civilisation, followed by colonialism, has left its mark, as has the experience of political and cultural resistance. The way in which religion, and the Islamic reference, are understood was gradually adapted to the requirements of resistance: for both traditional Muslim scholars (ulama) and Islamist movements (which often began with mystical aspirations) moral norms, rules pertaining to food, dress and strict observance of ritual have come increasingly to the fore as means of self-assertion, in direct proportion to the danger of cultural colonialism and alienation perceived and experienced in Arab societies. Caught up in political resistance, Islamist movements have gradually focused their attention on questions of a formal nature, setting aside the spiritual core of religious practice. Between the rhetoric of traditional religious authorities and institutions, and that of the Islamists, whether narrowly rigorous in outlook or hypnotized by political liberation, ordinary citizens are offered few answers to their spiritual pursuit of meaning, faith, the heart and peace.

A yawning void has opened up; mystical (Sufi) movements have re-emerged, some of them respectful of norms, some fraudulent, in what is often an approximate answer to popular aspirations. The Sufi movements or circles are diverse, and often provide a kind of exile from worldly affairs, in contrast to ritualistic traditionalism or to Islamist activism. Focus upon yourself, they urge; upon your heart and inner peace; stay far away from pointless social and political controversy. A specific feature of mystical circles is that they bring together — though in physically separate groups — educated elites in quest of meaning as well as ordinary citizens, including the poorest, who feel a need for reassurance that verges on superstition. Their teachings are, more often than not, general and idealistic, far removed from the complexities of reality; politically, they sometimes voice passive or explicit support for ruling regimes, even dictatorships.

Furthermore, a substantial number of Sufi circles yield to the double temptation of the cult of the personality of the shaikh or guide (murshid) and the infantilisation of the initiates (murîd): the latter may be highly educated, hold high rank in the social hierarchy, yet at the same time place their hearts, minds and even their lives in the hands of a guide who, it is claimed, represents the ultimate path to fulfillment. This culture of disempowerment strangely echoes the fashions of the day: a combination of withdrawal from the world and living in a kind of existential confusion between emotional outpouring (the spectacle of effusiveness towards and reverence for Sufi elders can be disturbing, disquieting and dangerous) and a demanding spiritual initiation. Such initiation should be liberating, open the door to autonomy through mastery of the ego and lead to coherence between the private and public life. But what emerge instead are parallel lives: a so-called Sufi spirituality allied to egocentric, greedy, self-interested and occasionally immoral social and political behavior. Arab elites and middle classes find such behavior to their advantage, as do socially fragile sectors of the population.

Between the overbearing ritualism of official religious institutions and the obsessive politicisation of Islamist leaders the thirst for meaning, which finds its expression in cultural and religious references, seeks for ways to express itself. Mysticism sometimes provides the solution. But careful thought should be given to the real-life impact of such phenomena as they relate to the crisis of spirituality and therefore of religion. In every case, the teachings propounded do not encourage the autonomy, well-being and confidence of human beings in their everyday individual and social lives. In their formalism and concentration upon norms, the traditional institutions that represent or teach Islam reproduce a double culture of prohibition and guilt. The religious reference is transformed into a mirror in which the believers are called upon to judge themselves for their own deficiencies: such rhetoric can generate nothing more than unease. The Islamist approach, which seeks to free society from foreign influence, has in the long run brought forth a culture of reaction, differentiation and frequently of judgment: who is a Muslim, what is Islamic legitimacy, etc. It sometimes casts itself as victim; even in the way it asserts itself against the opposition. Social and political activism prevails over spiritual considerations; the struggle for power has sometimes eclipsed the quest for meaning.
By way of response to this void, the majority of mystical movements and circles have called upon their initiates to direct their attention inwards, towards themselves, their hearts, their worship and their inner peace. Around them has arisen a culture of isolation, social and political passivity and loss of responsibility, as though spirituality were somehow necessarily opposed to action. Still, it must be noted that a large number of Sufi circles do speak out on social and political issues, and actually encourage their followers to speak out on social and political matters, and to become actively involved in society. Between the culture of prohibition and guilt and that of reaction and victimisation, between abandonment of responsibility and isolationism, what options remain  for the Arab world to reconcile itself to its cultural, religious and spiritual heritage? What must be done to propound a culture of well-being, autonomy and responsibility?

There is a need to rediscover and reclaim the spirituality that permeates Eastern cultures, and that lies at the heart of the Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions, a consideration that today’s social and political uprisings can ill afford to neglect. For there can be no viable democracy, no pluralism in any society without the well-being of individuals, the citizens and the religious communities.
Tariq Ramadan is professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies in the Faculty of Oriental Studies at Oxford University and a visiting professor at the Faculty of Islamic Studies in Qatar. He is the author of Islam and the Arab Awakening.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

'Emerging Arab Voices' - NADWA 1

Founded in Abu Dhabi in 2007, the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) is entering its sixth round this year. In 2009, the IPAF extended the activities of their remit and created a workshop, entitled “nadwa,” to recognize and support younger writers toward developing the future generation of authors, while highlighting the importance of translation of Arabic literature into other languages. The 2009 inaugural edition of “nadwa” produced a bilingual book, entitled “Emerging Arab Voices.” 

The book includes eight short stories and excerpts from novels-in-development. The aim of “nadwa” was to have a balanced representation of men and women from across the Arabic speaking world for a literary workshop. The result brought: Tunisian translator, writer and critic Kamel Riahi; Lebanese culture journalist and novelist Lana Abdel Rahman; Sudanese journalist and writer Mansour el-Sowaim; Egyptian journalist and novelist Mansoura Ez-Eldin from the Delta in Egypt; Saudi columnist Mohammed Hassan Alwan; Cairo-born, award-winning writer Mohammad Salah Al-Azab; Yemeni writer and professor of architecture Nadiah Al-Kokabany; and Emirati editor of Al-Ittihad newspaper Nasser al-Dhaheri.

The group spent 10 days on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi where they partook in writing, reading, critiquing and reviewing each other’s work. By 2011, “Emerging Arab Voices” was published, bringing together the stories that were produced in the workshop in Arabic, along with their English translation.

There is a thread that goes through all of the stories. On the most part, they similarly deal with ideas of nostalgia and the passing of time and generations. The stories are each filled with dimensions of personality and intrigue, both good and bad. While some of the stories eloquently express ideas that are clearly inspired by the authors’ hometowns, others do not reach expectations.

Tunisian writer, Kamel Riahi’s story, “The Gorilla” is so deeply allegorical that it is difficult to really capture a narrative, as it is poeticized to the point of incoherence. Unfortunately, the words seem to be haphazardly put together, like a collage of sentences and images that don’t allow the reader to constitute a coherent idea.

Award-winning Egyptian novelist Mohammad Salah Al-Azab’s inclusion is a chapter from a forthcoming novel. Entitled “Temporary Death,” the story conjures rather unsettling imagery. While some referred to his story as “daring” in the surreal mixture of an ageless child, a source of eternal youth and sexual desire, it is a peculiar story that is told in plain and uncomplicated terms. The end result is more strange than interesting.

Mansoura Ez-Eldin’s “Déjà Vu” attempts to capture an elusive moment of memory replay but doesn’t quite capture the reader’s imagination. The bewilderment expressed over this banal instant drowns it in disinterest.

On the other hand, Lana Abdel Rahman’s “Letters to Yann Andrea” is inspirational by the author’s demonstrated love for literature. Set in Beirut during the summer of 2006, the narrator writes letters to Yann, demonstrating a therapeutic thought process between her situation in war, ravaged surroundings and her curiosity about the loneliness of French writer, Marguerite Duras.
Nadia Al Kokabany writes about her city in “My Own Sana’a.” It is a beautifully written, soft and eloquent piece bringing together the romance of love and dreams to the personal nostalgia and separation from a historical home city.

Saudi columnist Mohammed Hassan Alwan’s extract for a forthcoming novel is entitled “The Beaver.” An internal relay of his own memories of his childhood is warm, heartfelt and smoothly written. He thinks of his sister and their fragile, cold relationship with their mother, giving it the tangible description of “paper affection.” The excerpt explores the gender roles of people within his family, particularly the women, contemplating them in his decision to move to the bigger city, Riyadh.

Among the intentions of the book is to encourage translations of Arabic literature into English. At present, only two to three percent of the English book market is made up of translations, so the shortage of Arabic books into English is something both ends of the process need to support. “Nadwa” and the IPAF’s initiative is a timely and necessary one that will hopefully serve as an influencing push for more people to look at this gap in cultural exchange between the Arabic and English speaking world.

Since the publishing of the 2009 “nadwa” stories in “Emerging Arab Voices,” two more workshops have taken place in Abu Dhabi. The results of the 2010 and 2011 “nadwa” workshops are currently under discussion and in development.

About the Prize

The International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) is an annual literary prize run with the support of the Booker Prize Foundation in London and funded by the Emirates Foundation in Abu Dhabi.
The Prize was launched in Abu Dhabi in April 2007 with an intention to address the limited international availability of high quality Arab fiction. The initiative was based on a suggestion by Egyptian publisher Ibrahim el Moalem and British publisher George Weidenfeld that a prize modelled on the successful Man Booker Prize would encourage recognition of high quality Arabic fiction, reward Arab writers and lead to increased international readership through translation. At its launch, Jonathan Taylor, the IPAF Chairman, said: “I believe that this Prize will reward and bring recognition and readership to outstanding writers in Arabic. I look forward to seeing more high-quality Arabic fiction being accessible to a wider world.”

The Prize is the first of its kind in the Arab world in its commitment to the independence, transparency and integrity of its selection process.

Each year a panel of five judges, made up of literary critics, writers and academics from the Arab world and beyond, is selected by the Board of Trustees. Publishers can submit three of their novels from the previous year. The Judges read all the novels submitted, usually in excess of 100 in total, and together decide a longlist, shortlist and winner. To ensure complete integrity, the names of the Judges are not revealed until the shortlist announcement. This integrity of the judging process is of fundamental importance for the Prize. The Judges can have no regard to external influences and opinions, nor to issues of nationality, religion, politics, gender or age.

On the Prize, Jonathan Taylor comments: “Impact is the essence of a successful literary prize. It needs to be discussed; argued about; criticised; and even sometimes praised! There may be lively disagreement about who is included and who is excluded from the longlist and the shortlist. And the eventual winner may provoke fierce debate as well as great acclaim.”

The winner announcement takes place in Abu Dhabi in March, when the shortlisted finalists each receive $10,000 US Dollars and the winner an additional $50,000 US Dollars. Authors can look forward to increased book sales both within the Arab world and internationally through translation

Shortlist 2012

The Unemployed

Nasser Iraq

The Unemployed tells the story of a young, educated Egyptian man from a middle-class family who, like so many others, is forced to look for work in Dubai due to the lack of opportunity in Cairo. In Dubai, he discovers an astonishing world filled with people of all nationalities and he experiences mixed treatment from his friends, relations and acquaintances. And then, just as he falls in love with an Egyptian girl, he finds himself imprisoned for the murder of a Russian prostitute…
Read More

Toy of Fire

Bashir Mufti

Toy of Fire is the story of a meeting between the novelist, Bashir Mufti, and a mysterious character called Rada Shawish, who presents Mufti with a manuscript containing his autobiography. Shawish’s goal in life has always been not to turn out like his father, who ran an underground cell in the seventies and committed suicide in the eighties. However, circumstances have driven him to follow in his father’s footsteps, resulting in him becoming a leading member of a secret group of his own.
Read More

The Vagrant

Jabbour Douaihy

The Vagrant provides a realistic, engaging portrayal of the Lebanese civil war through the eyes of a young man who finds himself uprooted by the conflict. The hero represents the crisis of the Lebanese individual imposed upon by a sectarian reality. We follow his struggle to belong as he faces unfamiliar situations and conflicts in a society that considers him an outsider.
Read More

The Druze of Belgrade

Rabee Jaber

After the 1860 civil war in Mount Lebanon, a number of fighters from the religious Druze community are forced into exile, travelling by sea to the fortress of Belgrade on the boundary of the Ottoman Empire.  In exchange for the freedom of a fellow fighter, they take with them a Christian man from Beirut called Hana Yaaqub; an unfortunate egg seller who happens to be sitting at the port. The Druze of Belgrade follows their adventures in the Balkans, as they struggle to stay alive.
Read More

The Women of al-Basatin

Habib Selmi

The Women of Al-Basatin is an intimate portrayal of the daily lives of a modest family living in the Al-Basatin district of Tunis in Tunisia. Through the stories of this small matriarchal environment, we observe the contradictions of the wider Tunisian society, exposing a world in flux between burdensome religious traditions and a troubled modernity.
Read More

Embrace on Brooklyn Bridge

Ezzedine Choukri Fishere

Embrace on Brooklyn Bridge is a novel about alienation in its various forms and senses: the hero who doesn’t belong; his second wife, torn between professional ambition and a desperation to give her husband the impression she belongs in his world; his son, with whom he has limited communication; his granddaughter, uncertain where she belongs, and his Egyptian friend, who discovers that neither his children nor his Cuban-American-Lebanese wife belong to his world. All these characters are linked by their relationship with the protagonist, who draws them together by inviting them to his granddaughter’s birthday party, at which he intends to convey some sad news.
Read More

The Case for Malaysia-Israel Relations: The Politics of Engagement

187 Chabad Mitzvah Tank in central Kuala Lumpur 
An unlikely street-roamer in central Kuala Lumpur, this Chabad-Lubavitch 'Mitzvah Tank' was seen in the city's busy Ampang quarter in March. Read more on Chabad's presence in Malaysia.

Malaysian primary sources and academic treatment of pre-1965 interaction with Israel is sadly lacking, and filling the void requires some recourse to the works of both Israeli and foreign political historians and former diplomats, most notably former Israeli representative to Malaya, Dr. Moshe Yegar, and Middle East specialist Professor Jacob Abadi. Accounts by Singaporean and Australian academics such as Dr. Shanti Nair, Professor Chandran Jeshurun and Professor Peter Boyce are also instrumental to coloring in the geopolitical backdrop against which Kuala Lumpur and Jerusalem directly and indirectly interacted during this period. The so-called 'second era' of Malaysian-Israeli relations (or lack thereof) encompassing 1965 (when Malaysia acceded to the Organization of the Islamic Conference) to 1981 (when Dr. Mahathir ascended to the Prime Ministership) is well covered by academics across the disciplinal spectrum - Malaysian, Israeli and foreign, and there exists an equally formidable body of literature and primary materiel on the 'third' and present era of bilateral interaction   . However, the variations between the   eclectic

Accounts of Malayan interaction with Israel at the ambassadorial level during the immediate post-independence period have been largely expunged from Malaysian and most Singaporean analyses of Kuala Lumpur's foreign policy, and there the only references to Israel's role in the admission of Malaya as the United Nations' 82nd member state can be found in the writings of Dr. Yegar and Prof. Abadi. Yet a 2009 publication of the journal of Malaya's maiden permanent representative to the UN, Tun Dr. Ismail Abdul Rahman, spanning his first year at the UN reveals that the author did periodically interact with his Israeli counterpart, then Abba Eban, and an excerpt in Dr. Ismail's entry relating to his being "lecture(d)" by his     presents a rare glimpse into the Malayan geopolitical mindset at the time: "My attempt to explain (to the Arab ambassadors) that my having social contact with the Ambassador of Israel did not necessarily mean that I support Israel in her quarrel with the Arab states, was brushed aside". 
That the Tunku may have been personally predisposed towards diplomatic relations with Israel is not     . In his seminal account of Malaysian foreign policy, Dr. Chandran Jeshurun writes that the Tunku adeptly perceived the contemporary geostrategic architecture of Malaya's South-East Asian hinterland and was motivated toward developing close relations with democracies outside the region by the region's volatile    and communism - and strengthening existing relations with the region's beleaguered democracies, including South Vietnam and the Philippines?  Malaya - neutral 
This account does not suggest any ideological orientation towards Israel on the part of Malaya's first politicians, the Tunku in particular. On the contrary, the Tunku remained deeply devoted to the perceived plight of the Palestinian people throughout his premiership and beyond. His stance however illustrates a pragmatism ,   The Tunku was curious about the nature of the Zionist movement and inquired his Israeli and Jewish interlocutors   . However, as the religious political opposition solidified its challenge to the Tunku's National Front and as the Malayan people became more conscious of events in the Middle East, the Tunku was forced to abandon    for the sake of political expediency.
In this special report, founder of the new Kuala Lumpur-based lobby group, the Caucus for Improvement of Malaysia-Israel Relations, puts forward the case on why Malaysia needs to establish relations with Israel and how it will benefit in doing so.

By Zarul Aiman

Zarul Aiman is a visiting student at Columbia University, New York. He was previously with the political section at the European Union Delegation in Malaysia, and is a founder of the Caucus for the Improvement of Malaysia-Israel Relations that advocates culturo-religious cooperation between Muslims and Jews through Malaysia-Israel engagement in economics, politics and social interaction.

“The Israeli commandos shot the activists point blank and even from the back, and this is an act of a coward that cannot be forgiven. These blatant acts occurred because the world gangsters, Israel, feel they are protected by a world power.”

- Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak on  
  Israel’s interception of the Gaza Flotilla, 
  June 2010.

A scathing indictment by any measure, it was not always like this. For in its formative years, independent Malaya (which attained independence in 1957 and subsequently became present-day Malaysia in 1963) and Israel shared a cordial, if furtively unofficial, relationship that came short of full diplomatic ties. As the 1960s progressed however, the exigencies of Southeast Asia’s geopolitical architecture presented by an openly hostile and pro-communist Indonesia to the south and west as well as a revanchist Philippines to the east compelled Malaysia’s leaders to look to ideologically-consonant and co-religionist monarchies in the Arab world for support and legitimacy – receipt of which expectedly came at the price of Malaysia’s sinful soirée with Israel. 

Yet, since Malaysia abnegated all direct contact with Israel in 1965, and notwithstanding its enduring antipathetic stance towards the Jewish state (particularly during the 1981-2003 premiership of Mahathir Mohamed), Malaysia has all but unequivocally ruled out all prospects for relations with Israel in categorical terms. From an Israeli perspective, this may indicate some discomfitingly opaque possibility for engagement at some unspecified point in the future, but it should not generate much surprise. On the contrary, whilst the constitution of Malaysia’s political arena makes routine excoriations against Israel an electorally expedient enterprise, a closer look at the kinds of forces that drive Malaysian politics reveals that it would not only be impertinent for Malaysia to categorically abjure all semblances of engagement with Israel, but even harmful to contemporary conceptions of Malaysian national security that have tended to encompass the welfare and security of the greater Muslim ummah.

Whither, Pragmatism?

Far from disregarding all accepted bounds of political reason, Malaysia’s 45 year-strong intransigence raises an interesting premise. By eschewing relations with Israel and by openly admonishing Israel for its perceived injustices towards the Palestinians, one could contend that Malaysia is sacrificing a considerable degree of foreign policy pragmatism in order to uphold a far loftier and urgent cause that transcends contrastingly bagatelle questions of Semitic-oriented preferences: the preservation of its Western-aligned pluralistic political fabric that champions secularism over fundamentalist theocratism and which derives its existential logic from such Euro-American concepts as constitutionalism, the rule of law and accountable government. If this argument holds any credence, then by doing the “dirty work” of erecting an antipathetic façade against Israel (and in a much more nuanced way, Israel’s political benefactors in the West), the ruling National Alliance government is effectively genuflecting the religiously conservative and outspokenly pro-Palestinian Muslim Malay majority, and hence removing from the professedly anti-secular Islamic opposition’s political arsenal a highly valuable and efficient electoral weapon: depiction (irrespective of accuracy) of the ruling coalition as both a client of Israel and an accommodationist to Zionist aspirations. There is no doubt that an ascendance to political prominence by the Islamic opposition (a feat that has largely eluded it since the inception of organized politics in Malaysia) will put tremendous pressure on the government to ratchet up its relatively benign and sporadic anti-Israel/-Zionist rhetoric from a level sufficiently and practicably serves its ad hoc political needs to a more pronounced policy of unequivocal anti-Semitism that encompasses a much broader scope of anti-Western posturing.

Presently, as a means of deflecting pugnacious charges of institutionalized anti-Semitism that threaten to scupper Malaysia’s much-vaunted aspirations of joining the rung of economically advanced nations by 2020, the National Alliance government moderates its stance towards Jewry in general, harnessing international media opportunities –often painstakingly– to portray itself as friends of ultra-orthodox, anti-Zionist Jewish congregations such as the charedi Jews (the Neturei Karta group being one such prominent embodiment) and personalities such as Professor Noam Chomsky. At the Peace in Palestine conference held in the Malaysian administrative capital, Putrajaya, in March 2005 for instance, there was a broad consensus among the six charedi academics and religious figures specially invited by the Malaysian government to represent the Jewish anti-Zionist lobby (including five Israeli nationals) that Zionism represented the singular root cause of the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian confrontation; the charge sufficiently cogent to warrant an endorsement of the conference's resolution calling for the selective boycott of and divestment from all forms of Israeli economic activity. Likewise, when a senior Malaysian government official made anti-Semitic remarks in October 2008, it was the unsavory prospect of the egregious remarks blotching Malaysia's image in the eyes of its foreign trade partners rather than any undesired domestic political implications that prompted Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi's administration to speedily sanction the official in a rare public display of dissociation by the government from the actions of one of its rank and file. Needless to say, the indeterminable nature in which official attitudes to Israel have shifted over the last few years – from one of unflinching, obstreperous opposition to a qualified albeit grudgingly silent acceptance of Israel's legal existence– has polarized members of Malaysian academia and ordinary Malaysians alike, opened an intellectual chasm in the popular Malaysian consciousness over questions of Israel's legal status as a nation-state (which is gaining greater acknowledgement as more Malaysians receive Western legal educations that align them with Westphalian notions of state sovereignty) vis-à-vis its moral legitimacy as an ethno-theological construct, and sparked once non-existent debates on Israel's place in an evolving Malaysian foreign policy.

Unremarkable as it may otherwise seem, the government's nuanced recognition of this 'legal-moral' debate betokens an incipient calculativeness in Malaysian foreign policymaking: a calculativeness that is consistent with the Malaysian foreign policy conceptions sketched by region experts such as Michael Leifer, Shanti Nair and Helen Nesadurai that locate political survivability at the center of most if not every foreign policy maneuver. Malaysia's foreign policymakers do not enjoy the luxury of being able to indulge in foreign policy experimentation and risk-taking, especially where such adventurism runs the risk of tarnishing the country's cherished Islamic identity. The leveling-out of the domestic political playing field since 1998 has accentuated the Israeli-Palestinian conflict's ideological significance for both sides of the political spectrum, and since 1998 Malaysia observers have been treated to a deft display of realpolitik by the country's political elite, the latter adeptly varying its anti-Israel tempo in rhythm with fluctuations in the electoral fortunes of the Islamic opposition – whilst leaving the door just sufficiently ajar to allow for intermittent and tacit exchanges between Kuala Lumpur and Jerusalem (the July 2009 meeting between the Malaysian and Israeli defense ministers in Paris was just one, though certainly not the first, such episode). Moreover, this is all happening against the backdrop of an unchanging official policy that conditions any form of bilateral engagement on a seismic shift in the Palestinian status quo that would sufficiently temper Malay opposition to a dialogue with Israel.

By this account, contrary to the views of skeptical Malaysia observers, pragmatism as a defining quality in Malaysian foreign policymaking did not tumble into a precipitous decline with the ouster of Israel's sole Malaysian representative in 1965, and can even be said to have flourished in the face of Mahathir's twin Islamic revivalism and Islamic internationalist policies in the 1980s and 1990s as well as the inertia years of the Badawi administration to remain very much extant today. How do we explain this pragmatism? One method involves the use of a closed causal model that preconditions any Malaysian engagement with Israel on the acceptance by the electorally dominant Malay Muslim community of Israel's legal and normative legitimacy, the attainment of a permanent and satisfactorily comprehensive outcome in Palestine being the sine qua non of this acceptance. In other words, so long as the Palestinians are seen to being accorded an objectively just settlement of their political and territorial grievances with Israel that is both durable and sufficiently comprehensive, this causal model presupposes that Malaysia's Malays will rationally conclude that Israel has expiated for what former Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami calls its "original sins", and would consequently be deserving (so to speak) of Malaysian diplomatic outreach. For the Malaysian government, this would be the popular mandate for it to commence direct and open dialogue with the Jewish state.

It's Hard Being Pragmatic

But as the realities of our arguably Westphalian era have demonstrated time and again, infallible pragmatism in foreign policymaking is an illusory enterprise and as useful as hypothetical models such as the aforementioned causal model may be in gauging the foreign policy responses of individual states as an amplification of national consensuses, such explanatory devices along with the assumptions that undergird them are far from watertight. Discrepancies within our own model present us with two particular challenges.

For one, what sort of "satisfactorily comprehensive outcome" are we talking about? Where should the attendant thresholds be set? Whilst the Malay race is unique in its religious homogeneity (the Malaysian constitution defines a Malay as, inter alia, an adherent of the Islamic faith), the inveterately religious constitution of the Malay psyche has in recent decades been subjected to a massive political conditioning exercise counter-waged by the two opposing political camps. This conditioning has, apart from ideologizing the otherwise apolitical Malay character, produced a tendency for varying individual interpretations of Islam to coexist with a political heterogeneity that itself is liable to religionization. Different cross-sections of Malay society across the economic spectrum harbor divergent perceptions of the Middle Eastern geopolitical reality, and differences in the value orientations of each cross-section's constituents in turn affect both the rationality of their responses to displays of Israeli continence as well as their pliability to the Malaysian government's own responses to Israeli wherewithal. Whilst a conceivable proportion of Western-educated, middle class and cosmopolitan Malays may see a 'post-Palestine' Israel as a potential reservoir of commercial and touristic opportunities (save for certain restrictively narrow exceptions, Malaysian law bars Malaysians from entering Israel) and are more likely to dissociate inherently private norms of spirituality from the corruptible temporal principles of secular politics, Malays who occupy the lower rungs of the economic order are just as likely to view Western democratic-capitalist culture and the globalization movement as dangerously antithetical to Islamic values, and are also more likely to oppose any efforts towards normalizing relations with Israel on the premise that it would betray God's perceived material favor towards Malaysia and abnegate on Malaysia's self-assigned obligations, formulated during the Mahathir era, to the greater global ummah that cut across secular notions of citizenship and sovereign territoriality.

The ensuing sensitivity surrounding the question of normalization has stymied the arguments of the pro-normalizationists and further buttressed the efforts of anti-normalizationists in preserving the status quo. Taking over the reins of government over a burgeoning civil society, the administration of Prime Minister Najib Razak (who assumed the premiership in April 2009) has promulgated sweeping intramural reforms within the governing coalition and prioritized outreach to the Malay intellectual class who had felt alienated by the conservative policies of Prime Minister Badawi and consequently re-aligned themselves with the with the ostensibly liberal agendas of the opposition coalition. But it embarks on this self-reinvigoration campaign in the knowledge that sacrificing any measure of support from its core, grassroots Malay working class constituency in order to appear more palatable to the Malay intellectual class bears neither short- nor long-term viability due to the immense electoral leverage wielded by the Malay working class. In the present Malaysian government we thus see a cautious balancer who is careful to avoid being seen as setting anything remotely resembling a tangible threshold of “satisfactoriness” that risks being rejected by anti-normalizationists and derided by the Islamic opposition on the one hand, and dismissed by unimpressed pro-normalizationsists as “too little too late” on the other. At best, it has purposively attempted to articulate the “comprehensive settlement” condition in oblique terms in a bid to appease pragmatists and those who see the present state of Malaysia-Israel relations as untenable.

Missed Opportunities

Whereas the period immediately following the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization witnessed a number of Muslim states take exploratory steps towards relations with Israel (the most prominent of course being Jordan in 1994), Malaysia opted to demur, its Deputy Foreign Minister stating in parliament in October 1995 that

Though Malaysia believes that the implementation of the peace treaty between Palestine and Israel is encouraging, however at this time Malaysia is not yet prepared to have official relations with Israel. Malaysia had even prior to this wished to see Israel fully implement all agreements made with the Palestinians before it can make any decisions on having relations with Israel.

It was against a backdrop of pervasive optimism emanating from the events in Oslo that Malaysia found itself confronted for the first time since the 1960s with the prospect of establishing relations with Israel. Unlike his Indonesian counterpart, Abdurrahman Wahid, who received Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in Jakarta in October 1993, Mahathir elected to buck the emerging trend of détente with Israel, choosing instead to underscore the centrality of the “comprehensive solution” condition to any Malaysian intervention. By relegating the Oslo Accords to an inchoate role in the process of complete disabusement of Palestinian indignity, the Mahathir administration managed to circumvent the politically inhospitable territory associated with reassessing the realities of Malaysia-Israel relations. Yet, as a series of positive Malaysian gestures interspersing the Oslo Accords and the 1997 financial crisis illustrate (ranging from an uncharacteristic tolerance of Rabin’s Singaporean and Indonesian visits in 1993 to Malaysia’s hosting of the Israeli national cricket squad in 1997), a different game was being played behind the scenes, with the Malaysian foreign policymaking apparatus testing the proverbial waters ahead of a possible dialogue with Israel that would take place within the secure contours of a burgeoning economy and political longevity of Mahathir’s National Alliance administration.

The end of Israel’s so-called liberal honeymoon and the accession of Benjamin Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party in 1996 dislocated any nascent Malaysian optimism for bilateral dialogue cultivated in the dying days of Israel’s Labor administration. Netanyahu’s paradigmatically opposite approach to Israeli-Palestinian interaction diminished Malaysian appetites for further experimentation and ushered in a renewed phase of perceptive dissonance that drove home the injunctions of anti-normalizationists. The 1997-8 Malaysian economic crisis fomented a perceptible nationalism that derived much of its rationale from an officially-endorsed vilification campaign against Jewish American financier George Soros and which (in)famously culminated in Mahathir’s polemical “Jews rule the world by proxy” address in 2003. Against this hostile backdrop, Malaysia again found itself confronted with the prospect of engaging Israel in the wake of Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip in August 2005. Just as in 1993, this Israeli gesture provided barely enough maneuvering space for several Muslim states, most notably Pakistan, to tease out avenues for improved relations with Israel. As in 1993, Malaysia remained impassive, Foreign Minister Syed Albar intimating more dismissively than in 1995 that “we shouldn’t simply consider that the problems in (the Palestinian territories) have been solved because of the Gaza pullout, which is a small step”. Israel’s attempt to use the Gaza disengagement as a foreign policy stimulant in Southeast Asia’s Islamic heartland appeared to fall on itself, its Malaysian interlocutors in particular finding themselves to have reached a point inhospitable to dialogue from which it was proving prohibitively difficult to extricate.

Outside Influences

The other problem, and one that goes some way to explaining the observed variance in Malaysian foreign policy attitudes, is that our causal model is not closed in reality. External players, influences and obligations are invariably at play, some of which may serve to detract –however inadvertently– Malaysian foreign policy from the pursuit of national interests undiluted by external imperatives. Some of these extraneous influences are readily discernable: the permeation of values rooted in Arab political culture and Islamic norms into Malaysia’s decision-making apparatus, Malaysia’s growing involvement in the global Islamic discourse and Kuala Lumpur’s desire to preserve its influence and prestige within multilateral fora such as the Organization of the Islamic Caucus (OIC), the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and the Developing 8 group of pioneering Islamic economies. In addition, there is Malaysia’s South-South and ‘Look East’ posturing that is arguably more reflective of the social justice and Third World activism of the Mahathir administration than of any narrower interests-based imperative.

In many senses, the permeation of moderate Islamic influences throughout the various streams of Malaysian public life should be viewed as a laudable phenomenon at best, and an innocuous development at the very least. The twin pressures on the establishment to embrace seemingly antithetical Islamic and Euro-American values has led it to construct a moderate and progressive Islamic ethos that co-opts technological innovation and pluralist ideas – the active promotion and exportation of which has portrayed Malaysia as a responsible, socially sustainable and ideologically neutral par excellence of progressive Islamic state. Nonetheless, expanded Malaysian identification with what Islamologists such as Bassam Tibi, Amr Sabet and Peter Mandaville term Islamist internationalism comes at a price; a disproportionate emphasis on an idealistic foreign policy that draws heavily from religion and other considerations exogenous to orthodox international political practice affects the strategic logic and efficacy of Malaysian foreign policy choices and potentially compromises Malaysia’s long-standing commitments to the universalist values of organizations such as ASEAN, the Commonwealth and even NAM – all in whom Malaysia can trace a long and illustrious membership.

Pragmatism at any Cost?

In the end then, for the necessary conditions permitting Malaysia-Israel engagement to arise, the divergence of our closed causal model from the empirical reality needs to be considerably narrowed. Essentially, two processes need to take place.

The first is a process of education. Recognizing that Malaysian foreign policy is overwhelmingly driven by domestic political currents, the Najib administration should make a purposeful attempt to rein in widespread preconceived perceptions of Judaism and even Zionism as being nefarious, anti-Islamic enterprises. Ideally, related initiatives should incorporate educational and awareness-building tools that will help engender the necessary perceptive rupture. This must be a holistic effort that identifies and reforms those underlying sources of Israelphobia that are grafted into social institutions: the national educational curriculum that caricatures Israel as the execrable dross left behind by retreating colonial powers, media orientations that are ideologically tilted against Israel’s oft-labeled “Zionist regime”, and censorship laws that are lax towards patently anti-Semitic publications and literature that explicitly endorses the militant methodologies employed by Hamas and Hezbollah. Unconstructive vilification of Israel on its own merits fails as a sustainable policy tool and actually does more harm by hardening hostile attitudes towards Jews and Israel to the detriment of a constructive Malaysian role in the Middle East peace process. The recent political clamor over the nuanced similarities between the Najib administration’s 1Malaysia program and former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak’s One Israel movement illustrates how even banal and adventitious allusions to the Israeli state can perpetuate inherently local socio-political rifts. To be sure, a shift in Malaysian attitudes will also be contingent on the kinds of signals emitted by Israel in its own dealings with the Palestinians, and whilst events such as the 2005 Gaza disengagement may strengthen the case for Malaysian entertainment of Israeli requests for relations, such pockets of opportunity are easily undermined by sudden turns of events. The interception in May 2010 of the Gaza-bound aid flotilla vessels Mavi Marmara and Rachel Corrie, the detention and subsequent expulsion of seventeen Malaysians and a violent backdrop of the loss of nine lives for the first time directly exposed Malaysians to Israel’s security machinery, and notwithstanding Israeli justifications of events, provided the impetus for mobilizing all outlets of Malaysian society across the ethnic compass against what was seen to be the most glaring illustration yet of Israeli iniquity.

The second is a process of policy reappraisal. The Malaysian government should re-conceptualize the political context in which it recognizes a nascent Palestinian state. Crucial to this is a recognition on the Najib administration’s part that the shifting realities of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship, distorted by the bifurcation of the Palestinian territories into two noncontiguous and politically fractious entities, have rendered previous Malaysian governments’ policies of activist opposition to Israel on behalf of a single Palestinian polity largely redundant. Malaysia’s policy of recognizing both the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas and the Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip conveniently avoids the opprobrium of having to endorse one Palestinian polity (along with its attendant civil structures) over the other, depoliticizes Malaysian interest in Palestinian affairs and allows Malaysian leaders the moral vantage of being able to claim representation of all Palestine. But the robust relationship with the Hamas administration that this state of affairs facilitates risks harming Malaysia’s relations with its moderate Arab partners and Western allies. Similarly, Malaysia’s monetary, humanitarian and technical assistance to non-partisan causes may appeal to ordinary Palestinians on both sides of the factional cleavage, but this approach is centered more on crisis alleviation than crisis resolution 

Malaysia needs to re-assess its policy, replacing its activist stance with a proactive approach that enables cooperation between Israel and a Muslim country such as itself in expanding Palestinian assistance beyond the limited parameters of humanitarian aid and into the unchartered realm of coordinated efforts in infrastructural improvement and capacity-building. Apertures of opportunity exist for Malaysian technical assistance in rationalizing Palestinian institutional bases and in eliminating rent-seeking, and until Palestine makes an internationally-mediated and peaceful transition to statehood Malaysia should explore every available avenue for an enhanced involvement in the Palestinian territories – including novel routes such as engagement with Israel. This way, Malaysia will not only be preserving its moderate, dynamic qualities for its own posterity, but will also be sharing the dividends of a similarly progressive diplomacy with the most important stakeholders of Middle East peace: Palestinians and Israelis, co-existing as two separate sovereign entities. Moreover, any fortuitous advances towards a Muslim-Jewish rapprochement that may result would come as a premium. Properly and rationally effected, a paradigm shift of the magnitude suggested above will invariably necessitate a re-evaluation of the embedded precepts and methodologies familiar to Malaysian policymakers, but I at least believe that the ground-breaking benefits to be had from this exercise make the short-term inconveniences that will incur a price well worth paying.

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