Saturday, April 30, 2011

Politics and magic

Ordinarily, politics is roughly defined and understood as the determination of power for decision making and the distribution of values in society. Hence politics is also perceived as the process of choosing or selecting leaders. In this regard therefore, the political domain is very much part of the natural world, anchored in the pragmatic domain of living.

What is magic as commonly understood and believed in from primordial time till today? Magic refers to a belief system and a general world view. Magic has its own ways of perceiving nature, the world and life. It has its own structure of mind, certain characteristic ways of functioning or 'thinking'. Basically magic operates on principles 'off' the natural world, oblivious of scientific or objective facts, always referring to the 'supernatural', 'invisible', extra-logical world ( not in the religious sense but in forces such as ghosts, demons, witches, black magic etc.) Basically magic is incapable of objectifying the world, seeing things naturally or scientifically. Hence facts matter little to it, for the mind is bent upon brushing facts aside in preference for some other arbitrary and unverified explanation. For example, when a road accident happens, magical thinking is not interested in the facts of the case, such as the conditions of the road, the vehicle, the actual circumstances or material facts leading to the accidents, but instinctively turns to the notions that the location is haunted or jinxed, divine retribution befalling the victims, or that someone had effected black magic or witchcraft on the casualties.

Given the above, politics and magic would appear to be structurally different, the one very much anchored in the natural world, the domain of facts (though it can be disputatious), while magic is off the natural world and oblivious, or at least indifferent, to facts and empirical evidences. But are politics and magic all that different, at least in our Malaysian context? Observing the development of some of the major issues today and the various political responses of the public, I do not think the distinction between magic and politics is all that clear. It would seem that there are strong parallels, structurally speaking, between magic and politics.

Where political responses run along the structure of magic, we note the type of unshakeable conviction or illogical faith which runs counter to all manner of hard evidences or empirical facts. No measure of rational or logical discourse, scientific facts, technological arsenal like biometric, photographic and forensic scrutiny can make a dent on such outlook concerning matters which otherwise would be easily resolved by these approaches. Hence it is rather futile to appeal to such inclined members of the public on the basis of rational, empirical or scientific discourse. This phenomenon has led to the frustration of a great many who presume that politics simply runs on the basis of the rational, logic and the scientific, judging by the discourse on the internet. They soon discover that whatever evidences they advance, there will always be groups who have no use for such evidences, who instead will look for some anonymous, mysterious forces behind the facts, in an arbitrary fashion with no regards to the chain of cause and effects, or requirement of meaningful discourse pertaining to the matter.

What needs to be understood is this. It is not really a question of having enough or more evidences, but more the question of the nature and value of evidence itself. To those magically inclined in politics, they are not looking for evidences to establish the truth or the fact of a case, but merely to feed their emotion, faith and conviction. Hence anything that shakes or threatens their stand would be readily set aside, in favour of more satisfying elements which feed and reinforce their unshakeable belief. Instead of giving due consideration to the hard evidences, the magically structured would rather look for mysterious forces behind the evidences, very much like magical beliefs looking for wizards and witches whenever confronted by misfortune or life adversities. It is an integral aspect of magical culture to look for sinister forces lurking in the dark, working evil on individuals or groups in the society concerned. In short the idea of conspiracy in an all-embracing manner in disregard of natural or rational evidences is a basic element in the structure of magic.

Rational politics and magic run on different premises and appeal to different idea of ‘evidence’ and ‘truth’. Confusing the discourse of one for the other is to fail in distinguishing between differences of opinion and the difference between two diagonally opposed mental structure altogether. These two different minds or mental structures run parallel in politics, but will never ever have a meeting point anywhere. For this is the truth concerning magic. If indeed magical beliefs can be persuaded otherwise by rational discourse and hard evidences, both sharing the same premises in discourse, sharing the same idea of truth and measure of contradiction, magic would have disappeared long ago. Magic have survived for thousands of years, and will survive for thousands more, simply because it is a belief or faith which is impervious to the evidences of rationality and the objective world, and runs on its own premises or ‘logic’ (illogical or irrational to those outside of it)

Thursday, April 21, 2011


The Star 21 April 2011 reports a rather interesting development in the Royal Commission of Inquiry on the death of Teoh Beng Hock. The gists of the report include: 'the business man told..his company WSK Services used bumiputra companies as fronts to facilitate claims for projects and programmes carried out in the Seri Kembangan constituency'; businessman acknowledges that 'the bumiputra companies received between five and 10% of the contract sum as payment'; he admitted 'most of the contracts to carry out small projects and programmes in the constituency were awarded to the company'; he disclosed 'Teoh was the conduit between him (businessman) and Seri Kembangan state assemblyman Ean Yong Hian Wah with regards to discussions related to pricing of projects in the constituency''. As we know Teoh was Ean Yong's political aide.

Now this is very serious, raising many questions concerning the DAP's integrity. The DAP gained much ground in the last General Election riding the anti-Dasar Ekonomi Baru or the New Economic Policy. The much maligned aspect of the DEB was of course its so-called 'affirmative action' perceived as favouring the Malays or bumiputras, and discriminating against the non-bumiputras. One of the earliest act of the PR Penang State Goverment upon coming to power was declaring that it would not adhere or implement the DEB or NEP, sparking much political controversies. Now it is rather ironic, going by the disclosure in the RCI, that the PR Selangor state goverment would seem to be practicing a principle of the DEB, that is giving consideration to bumiputra companies in the award of projects.

It is even more ironic, if we reflect on some of the main causes of the failure of the DEB to restructure the economy meaningfully or justly ( we won't go into the issues over the policy aspects of DEB here) One of the main cause was certainly the farming out of business licences, contracts, tenders etc to non -Malays by bumiputras who then become 'sleeping partners' in the classic 'Ali-Baba' practice, or even the earlier ' Pembesar-Kapitan Cina' tradition. It is rather significant to note that the DAP seems to pay homage to this practice. Hence the DAP seems to be caught in not only 'implementing' the DEB, which it denounces as a major platform, but also its abuses of the past, which corrupted and sabotaged it. So plain speaking: what's this about! The DAP has a lot of explaining to do!

It is even more mind boggling, bordering on comedy, if we add to all this the fact that the BN has abrogated the DEP and ushered in the NEM, with much fanfare and political fireworks. Will the BN , like the DAP, make a distinction between pronouncement and practice, between 'policy'and ' implementation'? Will it also revert to the croony- ridden practice of the past?

Coming back to the RCI and the DAP, the disclosure raises many questions. In the first place, is it true?If so, is it a case of the corruption of an individual assemblyman, or is it 'systemic'? Is it a deviation of one, or a party mechanism, an institutionalisation of a practice, a tradition in the making, so to speak? If it is a case of an individual's corruption, the DAP would have to come clean in appropriate measure. Silence would be construed by the public as conspiracy or complicity.

The disclosure also prompts some reflection on our part. What with all the slogans and rhetoric in our politics! I hope it is not simply in obeisance to the imperative of power for the sole purpose of getting a piece of the action in corruption, regardless of public pronouncements and solemn promises. It is meaningless to the public if politics merely come to mean a change of syndicate commanding corruption and its beneficiaries. Politics would then degenerate into the quest for power and the monopoly to dip into the till at the expense of the public!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Anugerah atau Anu-ghairah? ( Saint or Sensous? )

Thought I would have a quiet weekend and forget for awhile (at least for the weekend) so many matters troubling our nation, what with a second death under mysterious circumstances concerning MACC, corruption cases (the arrests and court cases are good news, auguring well for our nation, but as indications of the prevalence of corruption they are most disturbing) involving the Immigration and the Customs, the Bible or religious issues, and many many other ethnic relation, issues portentous of serious conflicts in our nation. But no! way of shutting them out. It's all over in the news, as they say there is no escaping them. Might as well make some notes and impressions.

There is now this 'quest for truth',the identity of a man in a now infamous video clipping. If anyone can have the copyright or even just the physical master copy, he could make millions. It is that hot! But then we all know, that is not to be, right..given the circumstances. The circumstances and the development of the issue is as interesting, instructive as it is baffling in its twist and turn. As I had argued in an earlier posting, perspectives would greatly differ depending on how we defined the video basically, pornography or political document. As it turned out, even this basic starting point is not as simple or clear cut. Like everything else in our Malaysian politics, the lines are drawn by partisan views or political divides. The development is clear now, the opposition would define it as pornography, while for the establishment it is a political document on the action of a political leader , caught in 'the act'.

The basic definition held by the opposition, crying foul of 'porno', allowed it to use the law against those behind the video (away from the one 'in' the video), and to check the circulation of the video, or even public discussion of it, in short to will the video out of public consciousness, all under 'production', 'posession', 'disemination' under the law. This would make it much easier for categorical denial of the content. How is the public to judge then? What will come through is just plain, pure denial, appealing to faith or dogmatism, with no recourse to materials for verification or authentication. Of course this opens the way to the usual political stand simply based on ' he is not capable of such act', 'out of character' or ' yet another conspiracy'. Such faith has been somewhat dented lately when the 'abridged version' of the video had been circulated or publicised, taking care of the 'pornograhic' character of the document, omitting ' the act' as such, merely showing the build up, the preparation before the act proper. While disappointing many interested in 'the act', those interested in identification have enough to go by, towel or no towel.

But still the opposition remains steadfast in its charge of 'porno', denial of identity of main cast, with a political counter charge of the usual 'conspiracy'. The position taken, like all other issues, may be summed up in the maxim ' your word against mine' and ' your words are however lacking credibility, legitimacy or moral authority'. Hence if the public expects 'truth' in the form of admission or confession, or acknowledgement of facts, they are somewhat naive, I have to say. Given its basic formula, this is never forthcoming of the opposition.Even if there had been four live witnesses to the issue, it will be maintained that 'somehow' the person is 'not him'. Hence the public should reconsider its notion of truth, or their expectation of it, in this case. With or without RCI, their basic 'formula' will not change, neither would be 'the truth' entertained.

What about the BN or the establishment? Initially it was caught by 'porno' argument. Now it has wised up to the distinction of 'porno' and 'political'. It is on the counter charge. Minister Hishamuddin as custodian of the integrity of the police force is suing those crying 'conspiracy'. Minister Nazri Aziz is pushing for RCI, regretfully for the wrong reason to the effect: ' since they deny the truth, and blame the BN, the BN has to defend itself'. Now this would have the effect of making the issue of RCI a partisan one, a BN initiative or 'project', and an interested one. Wouldn't this feeding or playing into the hand of the opposition? Wouldn't it gives credibility to the accusation that the proposed RCI is 'politically motivated'? There are so many, much more credible reasons from the national perspective for so constituting an RCI, but the BN seems to be too 'BN centric ' to see or advance them. What about the rational of public accountability, national security, public interests, public right to know, and many more?

The issue is clearly taking a partisan view, hence the notion of truth, and the nature of the quest for it, expressed in the debate between 'anugerah' and 'anu-ghairah'. How will it end? Will the aura and near-saint cult survived the BN endeavor to transform 'anugerah' into 'anu-ghairah'? Will the RCI be instituted and will it change anything? I guess we the public will have to keep an open mind and see if indeed Truth will prevail!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Bibles: Stamping out the holy and the devil must pay!

We all know how sensitive religious issues can be within the context of our multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-­religious nation. Although in terms of abstraction and conceptual analysis we can differentiate between these categories, in reality they are part and parcel of one reality of our daily lives simultaneously. This is especially so within the context of our Malaysian nation where racial, cultural and religious denomination greatly coincide or overlap. Hence it is seldom the case where a particular issue is exclusively 'racial', 'cultural' or 'religious', with no wider implications beyond the immediate and particular definition of the situation, spilling over into the general complex of the racial, the cultural and the religious.

I realise I am merely stating 'the obvious', which however needs restating, given the discourse even among our politicians or public figures on important and touchy matters. For example, take the usual polemics of politicians themselves on various occasions, consciously or unconsciously stirring controversies: 'Are you Malay (Indian or Chinese) first, or Malaysians first?'; ' Are you Muslim( Christian, Buddhist, Hindu) first, or Malay, Indian, Chinese or others) first?; 'Are you of your faith (whatever), ethnicity (whatever) first, or your political party (whatever)?

This'obvious' multi-dimensional aspect of our nation, can work out to be indeed a blessing or a dangerous curse, depending on our wisdom, tack and sensitivity of  the collective life. Our stand on issues can readily either integrate or unravel the nation, as they normally affect deeply our innermost sentiments or feelings. One unfortunate effect of this is that someone with a Machiavellian outlook has a powerful tool at his disposal. Any medium he chooses, be it 'ethnic', 'racial', 'religious', 'linguistic', 'party line', can easily amplify right across the board into other areas of life as well.

I read with interest and concern a news item in the Star, 1 April 2011, carrying the caption ' The Gideons not ready to collect ''stamped' Bibles'. The facts are as follows: 30,000 copies of the Bibles are awaiting collection in Kucing. The importer the Gideon says it has not decided the course of action and would inform donors and Church leaders in Sarawak when it decides. The terms of their deliberation suggest strong identification, sympathy and cross referencing with the experience of the Bible Society of Malaysia in Peninsula Malaysia over another batch of imported Bibles in bahasa Malaysia

The facts are as follows: Last Wednesday, the Bible Society of Malaysia (BMS) collected 5,100 copies of the Bible in bahasa Malaysia, previously impounded by the Malaysian government.BMS collected the copies for the reason; ' to prevent the possibility of further acts of desecration or disrespect being committed against the holy books of the Christians by the ministry and its officers'. Here the BMS is referring to the ministry's act of stamping and serialising the copies. Well, is it an act of 'desecrating' or being ' disrespectful' towards 'the holy book of the Christians? I think it is somewhat overstating it.

It was the ministry's way of giving effect to the spirit of the law. The court had decided that Christians have the right to the use of 'Allah' internally, within their circle, under the principle of the right to practice their own religion( a court appeal is pending). From the ministry's point of view, I suppose, stamping and serialising serves the purpose of identifying copies and ensuring its legitimate area of circulation. The act of stamping and serialising does not go into the content and message of the Bible to be deemed 'desecrating' or 'disrespecting the holy book of Christians'. The holy or divine message of the scriptures had not been diminished or stamped out in any way.

Now the BMS had decided not to sell the stamped and serialised copies but instead 'to preserve them as museum pieces'. Is it figuratively speaking when BMS speaks of 'museum pieces'? Figuratively or otherwise, BMS intention of polemicizing or politicising the matter is clear. It has every intention to exploit the 'defaced copies' in some manner to incite religious sentiments, turning an administrative act into the mark of the devil, 'desecrating, defacing the holy book'.

Now there is the question of who should pay? The Home Minister Hishamuddin and Minister Idris Jala have made efforts to get 'Christian donors' and 'friends' to pay for the stamped and serialised copies (deemed 'desecrated' and ' defaced' by BMS) BMS has rejected these offers in strong terms: 'BMS wishes to make its stand clear that we will only accept a cheque from the Home Ministry and will not accept any money from so called “Christian donors”.Now all of this makes it interesting, though intriguing. Why should the government try to pay for the copies? Is it pang of guilt? Does the Home-Ministry feel it has wronged? Does it regret its action? If in the affirmative, it should of course resort to some restitution of cost, not otherwise.

BMS's stand raises questions too. Obviously BMS is not concerned about money, otherwise it should matter little what is the source of payment. BMS meant payment to be a symbolic act, an admission of guilt, hence it can only accept payment from the Ministry. This is holding to its charge that the copies had been desecrated and defaced, hence the devil should pay.Hence we are back to the earlier question. Does the Home Ministry feel it has done wrong? If so, it should pay and not get someone else to pick the tab, which will make it even more intriguing: how are we to interpret this from the responsibility or accountability point  of view?

The latest response of the government with regards to the whole Bible issue seems to suggest that the goverment assume full responsibility for the act of impounding, stamping and serialising, perceived by organisations the like of BMS as 'desecration' and 'defacement'. This is indicated in the policy to allow the free import and printing of Bibles in all languages, including in bahasa Malaysia. In Sabah and Sarawak, the importation and printing of Bibles are allowed without the necessity of any form of categorisation or serialisation.In Peninsula Malaysia Bibles in bahasa Malaysia need to be categorised as Christian publication, with a clear sign of the cross on the cover. Some elements of an admission of guilt are also indicated on the part of the goverment in the strongly worded instructions issued to officials on procedures concerning Bibles. But the clearest form of admission of guilt and apology is expressed in Minister Idris Jala's imploration for Christians to forgive the goverment over the action, whom he says are not perfect, as all human beings are only 'beautifully imperfect'.    

It is instructive to reflect over the whole incident.I am confident that the issue is by no means entirely resolved, going by the tendencies and sentiments of parties  in the whole incident. For now I can only say, let us not lose sight of both the secular and the divine in our lives, and let us vigilantly keep the devil of bigotry at bay at all times!