Friday, July 6, 2012

From Valhalla to Labyrinth

Cowboys 'n Injuns, Yankees 'n VCs

An iconic photo of an arbitrary execution of a Viet Cong
by a South Vietnamese Police Chief

    Those who grew up in the '60s would recall iconic photos of 'ugly' Viet Cong, the Arch Enemy of US Democracy & Capitalist Economy, by Life magazine. The world was either black or white during the Cold War - B&W newspapers, B&W photos, B&W TV screen, Smart Cowboys vs Stupid Injuns, Slick Bond vs Clumsy Russian Agents, Angelic Yankees vs Evil VCs, Us vs Them ... you get the drift. 
    I wasn't acquainted with the term 'proxy war' but able to grasp the meanings of the concept of Iron or Bamboo Curtain and the Domino Effect. The Americans were the Good Guys and those behind them Curtains were Evil Incarnate. Thus, we must fight the Russians and the Chinese to stop Indochina (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia) and Southeast Asia from falling into their clutches. 
    Not unlike Afghanistan since the late 70s, 'Nam was the site of real ideological warfare between the Russian Communists and the American Capitalists from 1956-1975. USSR (United Soviet Socialist Republic) and PRC (People's Republic of China) supplied weapons to the Independence Movement led by Ho Chi Minh, a multi-lingual comrade who was educated in France and work-travelled throughout Europe.
    Historically, Vietnam was dominated by the Hans and was thus part of China for about a 1,000 years (111BC-905AD) which explained the 25 percent of Vietnamese having Chinese bloodline. She enjoyed intermittent autonomy from 905 until 1887, when the French Indochina was officially established. 
      The Japanese Invasion in 1940 sparked the fire of Independence Struggle led by Nguyễn Ái Quốc, now known as Ho Chi Minh. He arrived in northern Vietnam to form the Viet Minh Front (League for the Independence of Vietnam) in 1941. The Việt Minh Front was supposed to be an umbrella group for all parties fighting for Vietnam's independence, but was dominated by the Communist Party. The Việt Minh had a modest armed force and during the war worked with the American Office of Strategic Services to collect intelligence on the Japanese. Other non-Communist Vietnamese parties also joined the Việt Minh and established armed forces with backing from the Kuomintang. 
    Vietnam was liberated during a power vacuum in August 1945 when the Japanese was defeated by the Allies. By September 1945, Hồ Chí Minh declared Vietnam independent under the new name of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRVN) and held the position of Chairman (Chủ Tịch). Communist rule was cut short, however, by nationalist Chinese and British occupation forces whose presence tended to support the Communist Party's political opponents. 
    In 1946, Vietnam had its first National Assembly election (won by the Viet Minh in central and northern Vietnam) and drafted its first constitution. Meanwhile, the French tried to regain power by force, the Cochinchinese formed a separate Republic, the Communist and non-Communist forces fought each other, the Stalinists purged the Trotskyists, and various religious sects and resistance groups had their own militias. In the end, the Communists suppressed all non-Communist parties but failed to secure a peace pact with France.
    The First Indochina War was fought between the Viet Minh and France from late 1946 to 1954, when France finally surrendered to the Vietnamese forces. The 1954 Geneva Conference left Vietnam a divided nation, with Ho Chi Minh's communist government ruling the North from Hanoi and the US-backed Ngo Dinh Diem's regime ruled the South from Saigon (renamed Ho Chi Minh City in 1975).
    The Second Indochina War was popularly known as the Vietnam War (1954-1975). When it ended, the Viet Cong and the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) forces from the North were able to unify North and South Vietnam under Communist rule. The USSR-supported insurgents squashed the US-backed Army of the Republic of Vietnam's attempt at maintaining South Vietnamese independence. In spite of the military might of the US forces (504,000 during the height of the Tet Offensive in 1968), they had to admit defeat in 1973. 
    The 1973 Paris Agreement, which officially ended the War by calling for free elections in the South and peaceful reunification, was not abided by the North. Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, was captured by the Communists and the South Vietnamese Army surrendered on April 30, 1975. In 1976, the government of united Vietnam renamed Saigon Ho Chi Minh City, in honor of the revolutionary leader who died in September 1969. The Vietnamese government in 1995 estimated that 4,000,000 Vietnamese civilians on both sides died in the war. Overall figures for North Vietnamese civilian dead range from 50,000 to 2,000,000.
   Vietnam War: Major Battles.Vietnam War: Major Battles. This map shows the locations of major battles and other actions during the Vietnam War (1957-1975), as well as major United States military bases. The war was fought mainly in North and South Vietnam. Troops also battled in Laos and Cambodia, and U.S. pilots flew missions from bases in Thailand. In the war, U.S. and South Vietnamese forces fought against Communist-trained South Vietnamese rebels and North Vietnamese troops.
An American soldier and a Vietnamese 
child two days before the Fall of Saigon in 1975 

Another iconic photo of Vietnamese children fleeing Napalm dropped by the Yankees

The US Evacuation during the Fall of Saigon to the Viet Cong guerillas in 1975

Move Aside, Miss Saigon

An Orientalist view of a Vietnamese lady in Miss Saigon, the popular Broadway Musical.
An alternative image of Vietnamese females as freedom fighters. 
Vietnam Cu Chi Tunnels
The intricate labyrinth of tunnels which served as the 'underground' base of the Viet Cong and villager fighters during the Vietnam War
    Perhaps I didn't patronise the right places, hence I didn't get to meet a real life version of a soppy Miss Saigon (which I caught on stage in Sydney in 1996). Some of the female store owners/operators at the Viet Valhalla of Cho Ben Thanh may be dressed in skimpy shorts and see-through chiffon tops but they were all tough cookies. They may have smiling faces and lilting voices but they were no-nonsense negotiators.
    I witnessed the same seriousness in Erra, the tourist guide who accompanied us to the Cu Chi Tunnels. This petite damsel from the Mekong Delta was visibly peeved by the lack of enthusiasm about her country's history among the Malaysians on board the tour bus. However, she persisted in recounting the story of the Cu Chi Tunnels when a few of us politely feigned interest about the topic.

The Cu Chi Tunnels    

    This maze of tunnels was first dug by the French-fighting Viet Minh troops beneath a French planter's estate in 1948 to escape from exploding bombs. The Viet Cong guerillas later used these tunnels as an underground dwelling units and hiding places during combat, as well as vital communication and supply routes for food and weapon caches. Dug entirely by hand, the tunnels at one time measured more than 120 miles, stretching from the Cambodian border to the outskirts of what was then Saigon.
    This rudimentary network of tunnels is undoubtedly the pivotal factor in the Viet Cong's victory over the US forces, in spite of their more advanced warfare and weapons. Countless attempts to destroy the tunnels failed and the American GIs finally capitulated and withdrew. Thus, the tunnels are a symbol of national pride to the Vietnamese.
     The tour of Cu Chi’s main site (Ben Dinh tunnel) began with a grainy black-and-white film which charted the history of events during the Vietnam War and gave a brief background on the tunnels. The tour followed a short looping path past recreated tunnel sites which were built into the ground, with canvas tops to illustrate how life was carried out underground. In the simulated kitchen, guides showed how smoke was diverted through mini-tunnels to escape far from the real tunnel itself.
Vietnam Cu Chi TunnelsThe slim and fit Vietnamese  demonstrates how his predecessors were able to hide and ambush pot-bellied, beer-guzzling American GIs
Vietnam Cu Chi TunnelsOnce the lid covered the opening, it's undetectable.
Vietnam Cu Chi TunnelsLife in the tunnels was very harsh. The tunnels were extremely narrow to prevent big sized American GIs from exploring them. The openings were camouflaged by leaves. Visitors can navigate their way through three levels of tunnels ranging from 150 to 650 feet in length. These tunnels have been widened to accommodate western tourists but they are not recommended for those who are claustrophobic, asthmatic or suffering from back or knee pains.
Above ground, you'll find mock ups of spiked contraptions hidden under trap doors in the jungle floor, craters left by bombs dropped from B-52s, abandoned U.S. tanks and models of North Vietnamese soldiers and Viet Cong guerrillas. Those who want to try their hands at shooting the AK-47s and M-16s at the shooting range may do so at USD1.50 per bullet.
Half day Cu Chi Tunnels tours are offered daily from 7am to 5pm. Admission charge costs about USD5. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Halal Food in HCMC

Costly but worth every dong!

Many Malaysian tourists, enticed by ASTRO travelogue Rasa Halal Orient hosted by one of the AF winners Farrah, would be familiar with the names of Halal restaurants like VN HALAL, Halal Saigon, Satay House and Kedai Shamsudin even before they depart for Vietnam.


VN. HALAL serves both Vietnamese and Malaysian dishes
On our first night at HCMC, we were taken to VN HALAL just around the corner from our hotel by Alex, our friendly local guide. The ambiance was quite cosy, with a spiral staircase and an open elevator to deliver food from the first to the ground floor as conversation pieces.
We discovered that these were indeed necessary distractions since the service was at a snail's pace. I had downed two tall glasses of delicious Vietnamese iced coffee and iced chocolate drink before our shared kampong, salted fish and patprik fried rice, all reasonably tasty, was served. While we savoured our dinner, we spotted a Mat Salleh who almost dozed off at his table while waiting for his order!
More reviews on VN HALAL:

Halal Saigon

Address: 31 Dong Du Street (just across the Saigon Central Mosque), District 1, Ho Chi Minh City.  
On our second day, we had both lunch and dinner at Halal Saigon, directly opposite the Saigon Central Mosque or Masjid ar-Rahman and diagonally opposite the Sheraton. The blood red facade led us to a tastefully decorated interior, with sephia-toned photos on the dark grey walls and chic black-and-white lampshades to match the ceiling.     
Halal food in Saigon 001
This brightly painted restaurant is run
 by a dynamic lady, who's also passionate 
about her pharmaceutical plant
Halal food in Saigon 002
The black and white floor tiles complement 
the blood red furniture and wall on the left 
as well as the grey ceiling and wall on the right    
Halal food in Saigon 003
The sephia-toned photos did not diminish 
the elegance of the interior decor
    The food was delicious and the service efficient, with the Malaysian lady owner herself serving the customers when it's crowded in the evening. I had Vietnamese spring rolls for lunch and yam shrimp soup for dinner, which was delightfully different.
    More on Halal Saigon:

Satay House

Address: 307/25 Nguyen Van Troi St
Phu Nhuan Ward, HCM City

On my third day, I joined a tour group to the Cuchi Tunnels. On the way back to the hotel, the tour bus stopped by an up scale neighbourhood, where we were greeted by the yellow signboard above the Balinese gate which led into the Satay House. 

As soon as we enter the colonial style house, we were confronted with a blown-up photo of the owner with Maria Tunku Sabri, the host of the popular TV3 program, Jalan-jalan Cari Makan (JJMC). 
Since lunch was pre-ordered by the super efficient local guide Erra, it was served as soon as we freshened ourselves with the sanitised wipes provided. The 'asam pedas', 'daging masak kicap', 'sambal belacan' and other dishes deserved a rating of 4/5. The chef and owner themselves made sure that the meal was agreeable to the patrons. On the way out, we stopped to admire a smaller photo of Tun Raha (PM Najib Razak's mother)  on the left wall.   
Kedai Shamsudin
Address: 445 Le Hong Phong St., Ward.2, District 10, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Tel : +84.8.6271-7494

Just before we checked out of the hotel, we had packed 'nasi campur' from Kedai Shamsudin.
From the conventional taste of the 'ayam masak kicap', 'sambal belacan' and 'ulam-ulaman', I surmised that the menu suited the Malay palate just fine.

Hajjah Basiroh

This little makeshift alfresco diner is located right across the street from our hotel.  It's placed in front of a shop selling 'telekung' and 'baju kurung'. The Poh (Vietnamese noodle) was refreshingly light and the iced coffee was a good deal at RM3. Very convenient for situations when your group leader and members left you in the lurch. Do be extra patient though with the pesky peddlers and starving mothers with infants in their arms hanging around the stall. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

Cho Ben Thanh is the new Geylang Emporium

Can't Buy My Love - How Advertising Changes The Way We Think and Feel


Updated 4/7/2012Can't Buy My Love - How Advertising Changes The Way We Think and Feel

“Cumulatively they create a climate of cynicism and alienation that is poisonous to relationships. Many people end up feeling romantic about material objects yet deeply cynical about other human beings. In a society in which one of two marriages ends in divorce, we are offered constancy through our products. As one ad says, “Some people need only one man. Or one woman. Or one watch.” Okay, so we can’t be monogamous – at least we can be faithful to our watches. Because of the pervasiveness of this kind of advertising, we learn from childhood that it is safer to make a commitment to a product than to a person, far easier to be loyal to a brand.”
Jean Kilbourne
As-salam, just returned home from Vietnam last night. 
The main entrance to Cho Ben Thanh
If the Emporium at Geylang Serai (GS) was the hub for Malaysian, Bruneian and Indonesian shopaholics in the 1960s, the focus has now shifted to Cho Ben Thanh in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). 
But, of course, there was that temporary relief in the Jakarta-Bandung trips before they (aspiring entrepreneurs, travel agent wannabes and fixated housewives with husbands and children in tow) arrive in droves to HCMC, mostly via Air Asia. 
Most of them put up at two or three star hotels with Vietnamese sounding names which line the filthy, narrow lanes leading to their new found Valhalla.
One of the lanes leading to Ben Thanh

Like addicts, they came primarily for the 'fix' from ruthless bargaining with beleaguered retailers, who pushed their wares in the congested market lots during the day and equally crammed stalls on Pan Chu Trinh Street at night. 
The crowd swarm in 
as soon as the gates open at 8am

Both pushers and addicts are out to get the best deal from their brief, or sometimes protracted, transactions. There's hardly compassion lost on both sides, just the adrenalin rush from intense bargaining and a 'high' from purchasing or disposing of coveted items at the most favourable prices. 
To help push sales, the desperate retailers were more than eager to pick up Malay from their regular patrons. Hence, calls of "Kakak, kakak, abang, abang, murah, murah" would be ringing in your ears long after you walked out of the marketplace. 
When night falls, both sellers and buyers thronged
 the night market outside

The Viet Valhalla

No shopper worth her salt would waste time
 on the figure at the roundabout 
facing the front entrance of Ben Thanh

The front entrance of Ben Thanh Market faces Quach Thi Trang Square, where the statue of Nguyen Han on his horse grace its area. Its rear faces Le Thanh Ton Street.  On its right is Phan Chu Trinh Street and on its left, Phan Boi Chau Street. There are four gates which serve as sirens to lure in the shoppers.  
On all its four sides, countless fix and mobile counters offer all sorts of stuff, from coconut juice to iPad covers. 
Inside, theMarket is choked with all kinds of commodities under the Vietnamese sun, from textiles to 'knock-off' handbags, shoes and clothings, souvenirs, nuts and candies, local hawker food, fresh fruit and vegetables. 
The entrance facing Phan Boi Chau Street 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Just Once

Red Flag Over Tor Tor

Just once, can't the belligerant Kumpulan Bendera Indonesia understand that before the Feringgis, the Brits, the Dutch, the Espanols and the Yankees colonised the Malay Archipelago, we were a seamless region which shared similar culture and custom?
Now, why should the Mandailings in the Peninsula be denied of their legitimate claims to their fore fathers' cultural practices?
Plus, aren't cultures supposed to be dynamic and fluid, not static or fixed to a particular time and space?
At the end of the day, it boils down to a sad case of sibling envy. 
As the high achiever Adik, no matter how much Malaysia helps and accommodates her less fortunate Abang, Big Brother will always fault her.    
Update: Foreign Ministry Summons Indonesian Envoy
Girls performing the Tor Tor at Gombak 

I'm smart, I'm cool, look at me people

Just once, can the 'Uber Libs' Bangsar Gen Y not be so condescending towards people from lesser 'burbs than 'Chelsea'?
My son and I were 'immersing' ourselves in 'high' culture at the Annexe Gallery's Art for Grabs and KL Alternative Book Fest yesterday when we got a rude shock.
Rude is precisely the word when a so-called writer of children's book taunted and provoked him with 'ugly' remarks. And to think that all these artist 'fartists' claim to be the most PC of Malaysians. Surely they're above bearing grudges and being 'haters' like the common folks? 
Anyway, I didn't stay long enough to make contrarian remarks at their 'Aiyo Wat La?! Awards', "an event to recognise the most politically incorrect remarks uttered in public every year", or Yin Shao Loong and UNSCIENTIFIC MALAYSIA's discussion on "ideas of race in Peninsular Malaysia". 
Just a final note though to adik-adik Hipsters: Just b'cos Aunty dah pakai jilbab, tak bermakna Aunty tak tau mana silap fahaman Syiah, atau mana kelemahan analisis Marx dan sistem Sosialisme ya ....
Art For Grabs 2012 + KL Alternative Bookfest

Friday, June 22, 2012

End of Semester Blast

As-salamualaikum wbt.
Ma'af saya mengirimkan lagu 'sempoi', bukan ayat al-Quran atau hadith pada pagi Juma'at yang mulia ini.
But in the spirit of intergenerational camaraderie, I'd like to dedicate this song to my Gen Y students, whom I've taught for the last 12 weeks or so.
There's something about being around pleasant young people that makes me feel alive.
I wish them all the best in their final exams, which starts next week.
And if they're registered first time voters, I hope they'll cast their votes wisely in the next GE. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Pemimpin Islam Menzalimi Umat Islam?  
Maha Suci Allah yang telah menjalankan hambaNya (Muhammad) pada malam hari dari Masjid Al-Haraam (di Makkah) ke Masjid Al-Aqsa (di Palestin), yang Kami berkati sekelilingnya, untuk memperlihatkan kepadanya tanda-tanda (kekuasaan dan kebesaran) Kami. Sesungguhnya Allah jualah yang Maha Mendengar, lagi Maha Mengetahui.
Dalam suasana hening mengingati peristiwa Israa' Mi'raj, terkedu saya mendengar tazkirah selepas subuh yang menyatakan bahawa pemimpin Islam sendiri, dan bukannya campurtangan asing atau kuasa besar, yang menzalimi umat Islam.
Justeru, para jemaah diseru agar membela rakyat yang ditindas pemimpin-pemimpin diktator, baik di Mesir, Libya, Syria mahupun di mana jua.
Tidak disangkal bahawa penindasan rakyat oleh pemimpin yang gila kuasa dan tamak haloba wajib ditentang, namun hujah ini agak keterlaluan jika digunakan untuk konteks Malaysia.
Sebagai seorang Muslimah yang berkecuali, saya mengandaikan bahawa peranan alim ulamak ialah untuk memupuk perpaduan di kalangan umat Islam dengan mengesyorkan penyelesaian-penyelesaian yang mantap bagi merapatkan jurang antara pemerintah dan pembangkang.
Bagaimanapun, saya dapati bukan sahaja ustaz dan da'i yang agak keras menghukum sesama Muslimin daripada menyalahkan Musyrikin, namun di kalangan ibu bapa juga turut mengambil pendirian 'anti-establishment' persis anak-anak Gen X/Y.
Terkejut juga saya tatkala mendengar luahan seorang bapa yang beranggapan bahawa orang Melayu lebih kejam daripada orang Yahudi kerana mengasari saudara sebangsa.        
Bila dihadapkan dengan seruan dan anggapan seumpama itu, lantas ingatan saya melayang kepada teori Spiral of Silence oleh Noelle-Neumann, yang mengatakan bahawa kita cenderung mendiamkan diri bila bimbang yang pendapat kita akan menentang arus. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Kelaziman atau 'Kezaliman Majoriti'?

Apakah pandangan generasi muda "over-rated'?
Menyambung bicara tentang cabaran urus tadbir dan batas-batas demokrasi, saya ingin menyingkap semula pengalaman saya bersama Gen Y* di sebuah IPTS yang diasaskan oleh rakan kongsi BN tapi 90% pelajarnya dikatakan penyokong parti pembangkang**.
    Sebagai manifestasi rasa tak puas hati terhadap agensi atau institusi yang ada kaitan dengan BN, ada pelajar yang memberitahu bahawa mereka sanggup mengisi minyak di stesen Shell daripada di Petronas, yang mereka tak percaya pada penguatkuasa undang-undang (dan juga pensyarah) Melayu, dan sering menyamakan kekangan ke atas kebebasan bersuara di Malaysia dengan di Zimbabwe***.
    Isu ini membawa kepada persoalan tentang pembentukan pendapat awam yang dianggap lazim tapi sebenarnya 'zalim' terhadap pihak-pihak yang dituduh melulu tanpa bukti yang kukuh.
    Usaha memenangi hati dan minda Gen Y yang dikatakan akan membentuk 40 peratus daripada jumlah pengundi dalam PR13 ini memang memerlukan strategi yang inovatif. ****
Satu rencana menarik tentang tanggapan negatif terhadap setiap generasi selepas 'Baby Boomers' (1945-1965).
A Politics for Generation X
Today's young adults may be the most politically disengaged in American history. The author explains why, and puts forth a new political agenda that just might galvanize his generation


Secara ringkas, apakah Gen X dan Y di Malaysia menepati stereotaip di AS, yakni "pemalas, sinis, suka mengeluh, tak ada arah tujuan, tak pernah puas hati" (slackers, cynics, whiners, drifters, malcontents). Atau apakah kebanyakan mereka "aktif merebut peluang" (go-getters who are just doing it—but their way)?
Antara fakta yang membimbangkan tentang amalan dan orientasi politik belia Amerika ialah:
  • Gen X kurang terlibat dalam politik dan sivik, mempamerkan kurang kepercayaan dan keyakinan sosial terhadap pemerintah, kurang kesetiaan pada negara mahupun parti politik dan lebih materialistik daripada generasi sebelumnya
Keadaan ini kelihatan berbeza dengan di Malaysia jika digunakan penglibatan komunikasi dalam talian dan demonstrasi jalanan sebagai ukuran. Apakah pilihanraya yang bersih dan adil, kebebasan maklumat (FoI) dan pemansuhan PTPTN isu-isu penting bagi generasi muda negara ini? Apakah sebenarnya agenda politik mereka?
    Secara rambang berdasarkan interaksi saya dengan para pelajar di IPTA khusus untuk kaum pribumi, ada yang condong pada pandangan ahli keluarga dan rakan-rakan sementara ada yang bersikap 'tidak apa' (apathetic). Pun begitu, satu kajian terperinci perlu dilakukan untuk menentukan peratusan pengundi belia 'atas pagar' yang tidak dapat ditelah pendirian mereka - sama ada mudah terpengaruh secara emosi atau berupaya membuat pilihan rasional. Ataupun telah hilang kepercayaan pada mana-mana parti atau ahli politik seperti gejala di bawah?
    Gary Ruskin, an Xer who directs the Congressional Accountability Project, a public-policy group in     Washington, D.C., puts it this way: "Republicans and Democrats have become one and the same—they are both corrupt at the core and behave like children who are more interested in fighting with each other than in getting anything accomplished."
    Apakah belia di Malaysia juga seperti di AS - lebih cenderung pada calon bebas, berdasarkan prestasi dan isu yang diperjuangkan, contohnya YB Wee Choo Keong? Atau Gen X di sini mempunyai tafsiran kewarganegaraan dan identiti nasional mereka sendiri? Yang jelas, mereka lebih materialistik dan individualistik, kurang percaya pada sesama warga negara, institusi negara dan wakil-wakil rakyat. Kecenderungan individualisme dan materialisme yang saling berkaitan, seperti yang dinyatakan oleh Alexis de Tocqueville, boleh mengasingkan satu sama lain, melemahkan ikatan masyarakat yang memberi makna dan kekuatan pada fahaman identiti nasional dan kebaikan bersama.
Explanation X
Televisyen, pentadbiran 1980an dan 1990an (era Mahathir, jika di Malaysia), keruntuhan institusi keluarga dan skandal-skandal yang berterusan dikatakan antara punca mengapa Gen X kurang pendidikan sivik, acuh tak acuh, sinis, bersikap negatif terhadap politik dan sektor awam.
Pun begitu, keadaan ekonomi yang tidak stabil (kemelesetan ekonomi 1990an dan seterusnya) dianggap punca yang lebih tepat yang mendorong mereka bersifat kebendaan dan mementingkan diri sendiri.  
Apakah ada calon dalam sistem politik Malaysia yang dapat memberi kepimpinan berkaitan isu-isu yang menghantui Gen X, umpamanya fiskal, sosial, dan alam sekitar?
Atau mereka hanya nampak ahli-ahli politik yang mementingkan undi dan jawatan sehingga sanggup menggadaikan prinsip masing-masing?
Lantaran itu, apakah mungkin mereka 'tune out' daripada membuat pilihan?
Illustration by Seymour Chwast

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Demokrasi Global: Penjajahan Semula? (Global Democracy equals Recolonisation?)

Dante “Klink” Ang 2nd (left), president and CEO of The Manila Times, talks with former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahatir Mohamed at the Neo-Centennial Keynote Lecture at the University of Santo Tomas on Monday. PHOTO BY RENE DILAN
Menyambung bicara tentang tugas dan tanggungjawab pemerintah, dan juga rakyat, untuk mengekalkan sistem tadbir urus yang teguh dan sihat, saya ingin memetik ucapan Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad sewaktu beliau dianugerahkan ijazah kehormat oleh Universiti Santo Tomas di Manila (11/6/2012).
    “We applaud democracy as the best system of governance ever devised by man, but democracy works only when the people understand the limitations of democracy” 
    “When people think only of the freedoms of democracy and know nothing of the implied responsibilities, democracy will not bring the goodness that it promises” 
    “Instead, it will result only in instability, and instability will not permit development to take place and the people to enjoy the benefits of freedom and rights that democracy promises.”
    Ucapan yang disampaikan di ibu kota negara yang berbangga dengan sistem demokrasi meskipun gagal membebaskan majoriti rakyatnya dari perangkap kemiskinan mencetuskan persetujuan dan percanggahan pendapat. 
    Ada yang bersetuju peri pentingnya pemimpin yang tegas dan cekap, namun masih ramai yang serik dengan pemerintahan ala diktator Ferdinand Marcos (1965-1986). Empat belas tahun (1972-1986) di bawah undang-undang tentera telah menjerumuskan Filipina dari kedudukan kedua selepas Jepun dari segi pertumbuhan ekonomi kepada status "sick man of Asia".
    Justeru, di manakah silapnya sistem demokrasi yang gagal memulihkan kedudukan ekonomi Filipina setelah lebih 25 tahun diamalkan?
    Dr M juga mengajukan soalan yang mengingatkan saya kepada kebimbingan Alexis de Tocqueville tentang 'tyranny of the majority' yang kemungkinan jahil tentang batas-batas pemerintahan demokrasi (tafsiran saya):     
    “Why has democracy not delivered the good life we had expected of it?” 
    “Simply put, it is impossible for the people to rule themselves. There are too many of them and they cannot agree on anything.
    “Government of the people, by the people and for the people will result in a stalemate, in no government at all, in anarchy.”
Lantaran, apakah yang perlu dilakukan? 
    “So what do we do?” 
    “Do we accept the failures of democracy, or do we make some adjustments and sacrifice some of the liberalism of democracy so we may extract something from the system?”
    With all due respect to the great statesman, I find that when people talk about democracy, particularly liberal democracy of the American brand, it appears to be a 'given'. As if there are no counter-factuals or viable alternatives. And that's precisely why I tossed in terms such as the Philosopher King and the Caliphate in the previous posting.
    Menurut Plato, ahli falsafah merupakan pemerintah yang terbaik dalam menerajui 'bahtera negara' (the ship of state).
    "[A] true pilot must of necessity pay attention to the seasons, the heavens, the stars, the winds, and everything proper to the craft if he is really to rule a ship" (The Republic, 6.488d).
    Bagaimanapun, gagasan yang dikemukakan Plato itu dikritik oleh Karl Popper kerana dituduh membawa kepada kebangkitan totalitarianisme pada abad ke20, dengan impian 'kejuruteraan sosial' (cth: DEB) dan 'idealisme', yang dikesan terus kepada Stalin dan Hitler. 
    Ayatollah Khomeini juga dikatakan mendapat ilham dari visi Plato tentang Raja Pendita tatkala berada di Qom pada 1920-an bilamana beliau didakwa menyerapkan unsur-unsur Republik Islam pada gagasan Plato itu.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Bagi mereka yang berminat untuk mengikuti kritikan tentang sistem demokrasi, sila baca makalah berikut:
Why Democracy is Wrong
Definition of democracy:
"What exactly is democracy? We must not identify democracy with majority rule. Democracy has complex demands, which certainly include voting and respect for election results, but it also requires the protection of liberties and freedoms, respect for legal entitlements, and the guaranteeing of free discussion and uncensored distribution of news and fair comment. Even elections can be deeply defective if they occur without the different sides getting an adequate opportunity to present their respective cases, or without the electorate enjoying the freedom to obtain news and to consider the views of the competing protagonists. Democracy is a demanding system, and not just a mechanical condition (like majority rule) taken in isolation."
Democracy as a Universal Value, Amartya Sen, Journal of Democracy. (US Congress publication).

Antara hujah-hujah yang boleh dipertimbangkan ialah seperti disenaraikan di bawah:
1.Inequality and democracy
Testable propositions: inequality
Several testable propositions are available for the hypothesis of structural reinforcement of inequality in democracies:
  • in all democratic states there is inequality of wealth and income
  • inequality of wealth and income has not declined permanently in any democratic state
  • in democracies stable over more than one generation, inequality of wealth increases
  • in democracies stable over more than one generation, inequality of income increases
The first proposition is more or less self-evident: the inequality is there. The fact that democracy is rarely investigated as a causal factor is itself a political choice. Most sociologists are democrats: they are not likely to blame democracy for inequality.

Testable propositions: global inequality
In terms of inequality, it seems that a planet is better off without any democracies. Historically, the rise of democracies coincided with a period of unprecedented global inequality. Supporters of the democratic peace theory imply causal relations from this kind of simple correlation ("if there is no war, then democracy caused the peace"). Similar conclusions can be drawn in connection with these testable propositions, such as these about inequality...
  • absolute global inequality between states, as the gap between the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in the poorest and the richest state, is greater since modern democracies emerged
  • relative inequality between states, as the ratio of per capita GDP in the richest and poorest states, is greater since modern democracies emerged
  • statistical measures of 'national-income' inequality will show a greater coefficient of inter-state inequality in the period of democracies (about the last 150 years) than before it
  • inter-state inequalities of this kind are greater between democracies and non-democracies, than within the group of democracies, or the group of non-democracies
Testing some of these would be difficult: historical economic data is limited. But it would be very surprising if they are not true - for the simple reason that the democratic countries are the rich countries.

2. The conservatism of democratic culture
Unless we assume that liberalism represents the final truth about human beings, we cannot indiscriminately condemn societies that do not conform to it.
Bhikhu Parekh (1993). The cultural particularity of liberal democracy, in David Held (ed.) Prospects for Democracy: North, South, East, West Cambridge: Polity. (p. 169).

Testable propositions...The idea of increasing political conformity and uniformity is difficult to operationalise, but these propositions could be investigated...
  • in democracies, the range of political ideas (in the manifestos of parties elected to parliament) shrinks.
  • in democracies, the difference in stated aims between major parties (those with more than 5% of the vote) also shrinks
  • democracy inhibits the formation of major new political parties (fusions of existing parties excepted): the chance that, in any 10-year period, a completely new party will gain more than 5% of the vote, is small.
  • democracy inhibits the formation of major new political-ideological groups of parties (comparable to the green parties in western Europe, the only such example in the last generation)
3.The myth of moral superiority of democracy
Let me sum up the past two hundred years of democratic history. The intertwined histories of democratic legitimations, social movement activism and institutional changes generated, in some of the world's states, a significant democratization of the institutions of government. Despite antidemocratic countertrends, the long run direction of change in some of the states was a democratization of state power.
testable propositions
If democratisation was categorised historically on the analogy with colonial conquests, these hypotheses could be researched...

  • of the states which have made a transition from non-democracy to democracy since 1939, most have done so following a military intervention by democratic powers.
  • past military intervention by a democratic power, rather than any traditional explanation such as economic development, is the best predictor that a country will be a democracy.
  • of the military interventions since 1900 with the stated purpose of imposing a political system on a state, the majority (if not all) were to impose or restore democracy

  • 4. The constitution of the demos
    Testable propositions: fortress democracy
    The combination of the nation state and global inequality has created a historically unique pattern of 'islands' of wealth co-existing with oceans of poverty. The island metaphor is not entirely accurate, since most rich countries border on other rich countries. They are not in fact surrounded by extreme poverty - it is generally further away from their borders. Mexico, for instance, is no longer a poor country: the poorest immigrants at the Rio Grande come from its southern neighbours. Similarly, most illegal immigrants who cross the Strait of Gibraltar come from sub-Saharan Africa, not from Morocco itself. 
        However the island metaphor is accurate at global level: those who are born in a rich society will live in a rich society, those who are born amid extreme poverty will die there also. The outward transfer of wealth is minimal: development aid is less than 0,5% of GDP in rich countries, and the percentage is falling. The inward transfer of population is minimal. Never before has it been cheaper to travel from one continent to another, never before has the gap in incomes been greater, but migration into the rich western democracies is deliberately kept at a low level. This is what is historically unique, and it does seem to be specific to democracies, in the form suggested by these propositions
    • high-income democracies admit less immigrants than the few high-income non-democracies (such as the United Arab Emirates)
    • the countries which have historically spent the highest proportion of GDP on immigration control are democracies
    • most countries which have installed electronic surveillance at their borders, in order to limit immigration, are democracies
    • in democracies, economic growth produces no corresponding rise in development aid
    • the highest absolute gaps in GNP per capita, for pairs of states, are between democracies and non-democracies
    • the 'privilege' of immigration into a rich democracy is granted disproportionately to those who already come from a rich country. For any specific high-income democracy, the poorest countries have the lowest immigration rates into that democracy, taking account of the relative populations of the two countries.
    • high-income non-democracies are more likely than high-income democracies to accept immigrants from poor or very poor countries
    • the more democratic a country is, the lower the percentage of refugees among its population

Monday, June 11, 2012

Cabaran Tadbir Urus, Zuhud dan Melukut

DYTM Raja Nazrin Shah 
Setelah sekian lama menghilang dari litar persidangan dan yang sewaktu dengannya, Alhamdulillah saya diberi kesempatan menghadiri Siri Syarahan Razak anjuran Razak School of Government (RSOG) di Mandarin Oriental, KL, pagi ini.
Syarahan berjudul The Challenges of Governance in Contemporary Malaysia dibentangkan oleh DYTM Raja Dr Nazrin Shah, Raja Muda Perak Darul Ridzuan.
Anda boleh baca tentang liputan syarahan itu di pautan-pautan berikut:
Secara ringkas, Raja Nazrin merumuskan bahawa dua cabaran utama yang dihadapi dalam mentadbir urus negara kini ialah (i) polarisasi kaum/etnik dan (ii) perangkap pendapatan pertengahan.
Penyelesaian yang disyorkan untuk cabaran pertama ialah kerjasama dan tolak ansur. Sementara jalan keluar untuk cabaran kedua ialah keberanian dan imaginasi untuk menggubal dasar dan melaksanakan pembaharuan.
Titahnya, dalam konteks cabaran semasa, sistem raja berperlembagaan memainkan peranan penting mempastikan perjalanan demokrasi yang sihat dan sebagai alat penyatuan rakyat yang berlawanan tuntutan.

Dari Raja Pendita ke Sistem Khalifah  

Saya tak pasti sama ada Raja Pendita terjemahan yang tepat bagi istilah 'Philosopher King' menurut Utopia Plato, namun saya teruja untuk mengulas Sistem Khalifah terutama di bawah pemerintahan Saidina Umar Ibn Khattab (634-644). 
Hasrat ini saya pendamkan sejak saya membaca novel sejarah yang ditulis oleh Abdul Latip Talib hampir setahun lalu. Saidina Umar memang terkenal sebagai 'singa' kerana sifatnya yang garang dan berani sehingga berazam untuk membunuh Rasulullah saw yang dianggap menggugat kepercayaan turun menurun. Namun, api amarahnya dapat disejukkan oleh alunan ayat al-Quran yang dibaca oleh adik perempuannya yang terlebih dahulu memeluk Islam.  
Bagaimanapun, yang paling saya kagumi ialah sifat zuhud Nabi Muhammad saw dan sahabat-sahabat baginda yang dilantik menjadi khalifah. Rasulullah saw dikatakan menghembuskan nafasnya yang terakhir sedang ia berbaring di atas pelepah pohon kurma. Baginda juga enggan memanjakan anak perempuannya Fatimah az-Zahra yang meminta ayahandanya mendapatkan khidmat khadam untuk membantunya melakukan kerja-kerja rumah. 
Diceritakan dalam buku ini bahawa Saidina Umar ra telah bergilir-gilir dengan pembantunya menunggangi dan memegang tali kuda dari Makkah ke satu wilayah Rom yang telah ditawan tentera Islam (mungkin Syria atau Turki). Bila hampir dengan tempat yang dituju, beliau telah melempar kerikil ke arah wakil-wakil Islam yang kelihatan berpakaian mewah sedangkan beliau sendiri masih berpakaian seperti sebelum menjadi khalifah.
Yang paling melekat di benak saya ialah bagaimana beliau meronda setiap ceruk bandar Madinah untuk memastikan bahawa tiada penduduk yang tidur dengan perut kosong. Pada suatu malam, beliau telah menjemput suatu keluarga miskin makan di rumahnya. Beliau sendiri yang menyediakan roti untuk dihidangkan kepada tetamu. Begitu juga, beliau telah melamar seorang gadis untuk dijadikan menantu kerana kejujuran gadis itu pada saat dia dan ibunya menghadapi kesempitan hidup. 
Memanglah sekarang ini telah ada pembahagian tugas di mana agensi tertentu bertanggungjawab mempastikan tiada rakyat yang miskin dan lapar. Dan sifat zuhud yang diamalkan Rasulullah saw mungkin dianggap tidak sesuai dengan keadaan semasa. Mungkin juga ada yang mempertikaikan bahawa lebih baik kaya raya daripada papa kedana sebab harta boleh diinfaqkan sedangkan menadah tangan meminta sedekah bukanlah tabiat yang digalakkan Islam. Wallahu'alam.
Bacaan seterusnya tentang:           

Pemerintahan Saidina Umar

1. Pembaharuan Dalam Bidang Pentadbiran
a) Membentuk Majlis Syura
Khalifah Umar telah membentuk satu Majlis Syura yang merupakan lembaga atau majlis perunding yang tertinggi. Ianya terbahagi kepada dua iaitu Majlis Syura Tertinggi dan majlis Syura Am.
Anggota Majlis Syura Tertinggi terdiri daripada Uthman b. Affan, Ali b. Abi Talib, Zaid b. Tsabit, Abdul Rahman b. Auf, Saad b. Abi Waqas dan Muaz b. Jabal. Semua pekara yang melibatkan masalah politik, keselamatan dan sosial negara akan dibincangkan bersama dalam majlis tersebut. Majlis Syura ini juga bertanggungjawab menentukan dasar negara dalam soal pemerintahan dalaman dan hubungan luar.
Melalui amalan sistem syura, Khalifah Umar dapat mengetahui apa-apa permasalahan yang berlaku kepada dalam semua segi. Beliau juga membuka peluang dan kebebasan yang seluas-luasnya kepada semua orang untuk mengemukakan fikiran dan pendapat mereka demi kebaikan dan keadilan Islam. Sehingga beliau menggangap semua manusia yang tidak mahu memberikan pendapat adalah manusia yang tidak berfaedah.
b) Membahagikan Wilayah-Wilayah Islam
Perkembangan Islam yang semakin luas dengan pembukaan negara-negara Islam yang baru telah memerlukan pentadbir bagi menguruskan sesebuah negara. Dengan perluasan kuasa ini, Khalifah Umar telah membahagikan kerajaan Islam yang semakin luas kepada beberapa wilayah demi menjaga kelicinan pentadbiran Islam. Umar meletakkan beberapa orang pegawai untuk menjalankan pentadbiran. Mereka yang dilantik hendaklah datang ke Mekah pada tiap-tiap tahun selepas menunaikan haji untuk membuat laporan. Khalifah Umar dikatakan berkebolehan dalam memilih pegawai-pegawai yang cekap bagi melicinkan pentadbiran, sebagai contohnya Muawiyah b. Abu Sufian, Amru b. al-Ash, Mughirah b. Syu’bah dan Zaid b. Sumyah.
Sebelum seorang Gabenor itu dilantik, mereka haruslah mengisytiharkan harta mereka bagi mengelakkan dari menerima rasuah. Inilah syarat yang dikenakan oleh Khalifah Umar Al-Khattab bagi menjamin keadilan dan kesucian Islam.
c) Memperbaharui undang-undang pentadbiran tanah
Perluasan kuasa Islam menuntut kepada Khalifah Umar untuk melakukan pembaharuan terhadap sistem tanah. Di Mesir, Syria, dan Iraq misalnya, segala tanah-tanah awam menjadi milik kerajaan tempatan dan segala hasil dari tanah tersebut akan digunakan untuk membiayai kemudahan-kemudahan awam negara itu juga. Khalifah Umar menetapkan tanah-tanah yang dimiliki penduduknya tidak akan dirampas tetapi ianya akan dikenakan cukai.
Tentera atau umat Islam dari negara lain tidak dibenarkan mengambil tanah dari negara jajahan kecuali melalui pembelian. Ini berbeza dengan amalan-amalan sebelumnya dimana tanah-tanah akan dibahagikan kepada tentera yang menyertai peperangan.

2. Pembaharuan dalam bidang ekonomi
Banyak pembaharuan yang dilakukan oleh Umar bagi mengagihkan pendapatan kepada rakyat dan juga negara mengikut kehendak Islam. Kadar dan sistem cukai telah diubah. Cukai yang dikenakan mengikut jenis tanaman yang ditanam. Syarat-syarat yang menyusahkan rakyat dan tidak adil akan dihapuskan. Beliau juga sering bertanyakan kepada golongan-golongan Dzimmi (orang bukan Islam) untuk mengetahui samada cukai yang dikenakan membebankan mereka. Inilah langkah yang dilakukan oleh Umar sebelum pekara ini diperbaharui. Kesemua ini menyebabkan pungutan cukai menjadi cekap dan perbendaharan negara bertambah.
Beliau juga turut memajukan sistem pertanian dengan membuka tanah-tanah baru dan juga mengadakan projek pengairan, yang mana ianya telah dilaksanakan di Mesir dan Iraq bagi menambahkan lagi hasil pertanian.

3. Pembaharuan Dalam Bidang Sosial
a) Melakukan polisi baru untuk golongan Dzimmi
Khalifah Umar telah mengadakan cukai tanah dan juga jizyah kepada golongan ini. Cukai ini adalah berpatutan kerana rendah kadarnya dan tidak menyusahkan mereka. Pernah suatu kali khalifah Umar memanggil 10 orang Dzimmi dari Kufah dan 10 orang Dzimmi dari Basyrah supaya mereka bersumpah, bahawa cukai yang dikenakan ke atas mereka tidak membebankan.
Taraf dan hak awam diberikan sama rata seperti apa yang dinikmati oleh orang Islam. Golongan Dzimmi yang masih menentang Islam akan dibuang atau dihalau keluar negara. Harta mereka tidak akan dirampas, malah harta mereka yang tidak dapat dipindahkan seperti ladang akan dibayar ganti rugi oleh kerajaan Islam.
b) Memperbaharui taraf kedudukan hamba
Golongan hamba pada masa itu telah diberikan hak kepentingan sosial dan taraf yang baik. Hamba tidak lagi dihina dan ditindas, mereka boleh hidup bebas seperti orang-orang biasa, kecuali yang benar-benar menentang Islam dalam peperangan. Umar menetapkan bahawa hamba perempuan yang menjadi ibu tidak boleh dijual sewenang-wenangnya seperti hamba-hamba lain. Begitu juga dengan hamba yang berkeluarga tidak boleh dipisahkan dari keluarga mereka.
Taraf golongan hamba juga disamakan dengan tuannya dalam apa-apa hal tertentu, pegawai-pegawai yang tidak menghormati dan menjaga hal kebajikan hamba akan dikenakan tindakan oleh Khalifah Umar. Sebagai contoh, Umar pernah melucutkan jawatan seorang pegawainya yang tidak menziarahi pekerjanya yang sakit.
c) Mengalakkan kegiatan keilmuan dan pelajaran
Pelbagai langkah telah dilakukan oleh Khalifah Umar untuk mengembangkan pelajaran al-Quran. Beliau menyediakan guru-guru bagi mengajar pelbagai ilmu berhubung dengan keilmuan dan dihantar ke serata tempat bagi yang memerlukan serta diberi gaji yang lumayan. Sekolah-sekolah ditubuhkan di masjid-masjid bagi diajar pelajaran Islam di seluruh wilayah Islam. Umat Islam diwajibkan menghafal surah-surah tertentu di dalam al-Quran bagi menghuraikan prinsip-prinsip utama ajaran Islam seperti surah al-Baqarah, an-Nisa, al-Maidah dan sebagainya. Golongan ini akan diberikan pelbagai ganjaran sebagai satu usaha untuk menggalakkan menghafal kandungan al-Quran.

4. Pembaharuan Dalam Bidang Ekonomi
a) Memajukan sistem pertanian
Khalifah Umar telah mewujudkan terusan bagi memajukan sistem pertanian yang mana terusan tersebut seperti Terusan Amirul Mukminin yang menghubungkan Sungai Nil dengan Laut Merah sepanjang 69 batu dari bandar Fustat. Di Iraq pula beliau telah membina Empangan Abu Musa yang menyambungkan Sungai Dujlah (Tigres) dengan bandar Basrah.
Tanah juga telah dikajiselidik bagi menempatkan tanaman-tanaman yang bermutu. Rakyat juga digalakkan untuk membuka tanah-tanah baru bagi memperbanyakkan hasil pertanian. Tanah yang tidak dikerjakan akan ditarik balik sekiranya tidak terdapat hasil pertanian di dalamnya. Begitu juga beliau telah mengadakan sistem cukai bagi menambahkan pendapatan negara.
Saidina Umar wafat pada tahun 644 setelah ditikam enam kali bertubi-tubi oleh seorang hamba tawanan Majusi Parsi, Abu Lu'lu'ah atau Fairuz, yang berdendam kerana kekalahan kaumnya. Waktu itu, Umar sedang mengimamkan jema'ah di Masjid al-Nabawi di Madinah. Beliau meninggal dunia dua hari kemudian dan dikebumikan di sebelah makam Nabi Muhammad s.a.w. dan makam Saidina Abu Bakar.
(Disuaikan daripada

* Satu lagi makalah menarik tentang Saidina Umar ra:
Effective Governance in the Era of Caliphate 'Umar Ibn Al-Khattab (634-644)
oleh Sharifah Hayaati Syed Ismail Al-Qudsy & Asmak Ab Rahman