Sunday, 31 May 2015

Bad Politics And Boatloads Of Refugees

A little bird tells me (okay, it was the Rakyat Times) that Tash Aw of The Harmony Silk Factory (I have actually read the book) fame, has waded into the huge conundrum of what to do with the Rohingya refugees.

To be fair, he makes some really good points about Malaysia stepping up to its role as ASEAN chair and using its economic power to deal with Myanmar.

After all, Malaysia has $1.65 billion worth of trade deals with Myanmar. That is no small amount.

It turns out that Myanmar also has gas, and Petronas is the principal foreign partner (yes, Malaysia unfailingly perks up at the mention of oil and gas) in the Yetagun offshore gas field.

For obvious reasons, Malaysia would have to think twice about upsetting Myanmar.

So like everyone else, I was rather surprised when the Foreign Minister, Anifah Aman, actually met up with his Myanmarese counterpart and "asked for a guarantee from the Myanmar government to help in tackling the crisis while also stressing on the importance of Myanmar identifying and resolving the main cause of the problem."

That is progress because it tackles the root of the problem at this point: Myanmar.

Myanmar has categorically marginalised the Rohingya people. And bloody Aung San Suu Kyi has not said a damn thing about it; so much for her Nobel Peace Prize. Pooh.

One point that Myanmar repeatedly makes is that Rohingya are not inherently citizens of Myanmar. The accusation is that they are economic migrants from Bangladesh.

Assuming that this is true, this would force us to shift our attention to Bangladesh.

Now Bangladesh is a whole new can of worms.

I presume that at one point in time, it was part of India - back in those days when borders were superfluous and people moved about as they wished.

Then the British showed up, and after a prolonged battle for independence, India became a sovereign nation, resulting in many Muslims moving up to Pakistan.

Bangladesh was considered East Pakistan, before it finally seceded from Pakistan.

The governance of Bangladesh has always been pathetic. Like India, there has been assassinations, but the power has always been a game of musical chairs between the Zia dynasty, the Sheikh dynasty and the military.

Actually, it's been more of a wrestling match than game of musical chairs. But I digress.

All three groups are useless. The Sheikh governance particularly springs to mind, because in 2011, they tried to remove Muhammad Yunus from Grameen Bank.

Photo: Shahidul Alam, New York Times

I confess that I always sound like a teenage groupie whenever I talk about Grameen Bank and its founder Muhammad Yunus.

This is because this economics doctorate-holder from Vanderbilt University in the US, who works as a professor in Bangladesh's Chittagong University, has managed to do what most governments could not.

He pioneered micro-credit in Bangladesh - basically lending money to classes of people formerly underserved: the poor, women, illiterate, and unemployed people.

Grameen Bank is founded on the principle that loans are better than charity to interrupt poverty: they offer people the opportunity to take initiatives in business or agriculture, which provide earnings and enable them to pay off the debt.

The bank is founded on the belief that people have endless potential, and unleashing their creativity and initiative helps them end poverty.

I confess that I am incredulous when I read that most of the loans are repaid.

The. Loans. Are. Repaid.

And these are poor people!

Another thing that he did, that would never come under the purview of a modern, impersonal bank, is that he created social rules for those taking credit from his bank.

These include: educating the children, community hygiene, and even against accepting dowry!

Yes, I was very impressed.

But good things never last. Someone always shows up and spoils the fun. This was the Sheikh Hasina administration, who took advantage of "non-compliance" in Bangladeshi banking regulations to get rid of him.

I was in high school when Muhammad Yunus was bestowed the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his outstanding work. I remember reading about him.

Greed and jealousy of the incompetent Bangladeshi government, however, fomented within those 5 years to shut him out.

Muhammad Yunus and his bank could have done much more to improve the lives of the common Bangladeshi. Perhaps this would have reduced the number of refugees trying to flee Bangladesh.

Ironically, this is the story of two Nobel Prize winners.

One who was forced into silence, and one who remains silent of her own accord.

Malaysia’s Duty to the Rohingyas - New York Times

Friday, 29 May 2015

Seeking But Finding The Unexpected

A lot of them come to seek jobs in Malaysia. After all, Malaysia has a huge need for low-skilled labour.

Apparently only 30 to 40% of them were Rohingya; the rest of them were Bangladeshis seeking their fortune.

They never found it.

Unfortunately, many of them met their ends at transitory migrant camps at the border between Malaysia and Thailand. These were suspected human trafficking camps, about 139 of them.

My nationality - and the consequent opportunities that it brings - are an accident of birth and not of my choosing, but it does make me stop and wonder how misfortunate some groups of people can be.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Making Soulful Documentaries And Winning At Cannes

A few years ago, I wrote about a classmate, who was making waves in the Malaysian film-making scene.

Today, she is still making waves - but her playground is now the globe.

It's not just that the film was made on a minuscule budget.

It's not that her film has been screened at the Woodstock Film Festival.

It's not just that her film won the best student documentary award at Cannes, one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world.

It's that she manages to find a truly inspirational story, puts some thought into depicting it, injects some soul into it along the way, and makes us all very proud of her.

If you would like to watch the screening of The Game Changer on Friday, May 29 at 8:00PM, the details are all HERE.

For more information about Indrani Kopal and her documentaries, you may find the following links helpful:

Malaysia’s Indrani Kopal bags a big win at Cannes - Free Malaysia Today

Malaysia’s Indrani Kopal wins at Cannes - The Establishment Post

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Malaysian Leadership

I don't know how many of you are regular readers of Zaid Ibrahim's blog, called ZaidGeist (which I find to be a genuinely funny play on the word Zeitgeist), but a few days ago, there was a rather interesting and insightful piece about Najib, Muhyiddin and the Loony Tun.

Only recently, I heard the Loony Tun complain about Najib breaking his promise to build the crooked bridge. It appears that the damned crooked bridge is the bane and downfall of every Malaysian politician.

Zaid Ibrahim is convinced that UMNO president and Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Najib Razak is about to be replaced by his enemies in the party.

Go here to read why.

Friday, 15 May 2015

What Do We Do With The Rohingya?

I confess that this is the first time I am making a concerted effort to find out where the Rohingya people of Myanmar actually come from.

Given the proximity of the state of Rakhine with Bangladesh, it explains why the Rohingya share similar features and a common religion with the Bangladeshis.

More dismally, Myanmar and Bangladesh seem to share oppressive governments and religious extremism, which is why both groups of people are fleeing their countries.

Unfortunately, Malaysia does not welcome them. "We won't let any foreign boats come in," Tan Kok Kwee, first admiral of Malaysia's maritime enforcement agency said Tuesday. Unless they're not seaworthy and sinking, he added, the navy will provide "provisions and send them away."

It's not that Malaysia has ever been nice to refugees. Kuala Lumpur has refused to sign the treaty at the United Nations Refugee Convention and has a record of mistreating refugees.

Amnesty International Australia's refugee co-ordinator, Graham Thom, once said, "If you're looking for a country in the region that has some of the harshest policies towards refugees and asylum-seekers, then you couldn't really go past Malaysia."

It's rather harsh, very embarrassing, but unfortunately closer to the truth than anything.

I found it strange, because Malaysia very calmly deported a bunch of Uighurs back to China, where they would inevitably face the wrath of the Chinese government.

It goes to show that when it comes to the 'Muslim brotherhood', refugees don't make the cut. All those protests against atrocities in Palestine must have been just grandstanding. Love from a distance.

Lest you think I am a saintly soul for sympathising with the refugees, allow me to disabuse you of that notion.

In the heat of the moment, I wrote a nasty open letter to the refugees. I was unhappy about the thought of them being used as voters by the BN government.

But in my more sane moments, I have considered the predicament of refugees in greater depth. I acknowledge that refugees do not become refugees on a whim. It is usually desolate conditions that drive them to that situation.

And while we may have our own personal interests and families to take care of, what are we, and what have we become?

Can we claim to be successful, when our behaviour is akin to miserable, self-centred turf-lords?

The measure of a nation's success is how we treat the poor, regardless whether they are our citizens or not. Have we failed?

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Figment Of The Imagination

A month ago, the Malaysian government publicised the arrest of 17 for alleged terrorist attack plot in Kuala Lumpur.

Rather conveniently, this was just after the proposal of a counterterrorism law that would reintroduce indefinite detention without trial or judicial review, and violate due process rights - all in the name of preventing terrorism.

Prevention of Terrorism Act 2015 was eventually passed into law.

You may remember it because our idiot Opposition MPs did not bother to show up and oppose it.

So where are those 17 alleged terrorists?

Do they really exist or are they a figment of the government's imagination - merely created to breed fear and apprehension?

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Wear Black Today!

Last Friday, many major cities around the world organised their May Day protests and executed it.

Kuala Lumpur is no stranger to protests, even despite the consequences.

And yet, thousands braved the warnings; 29 people were arrested and many political leaders were summoned by the police for questioning.

The BN government must be deluded to think that heavy-handedness is going to work. If anything, it strengthens people's resolve and breeds more discontent with the government.

As the political analysts quoted by Malaysian Insider say, "Although the rally will unlikely change Putrajaya’s decision on GST, anger over rising inflation could snowball and threaten the ruling Barisan Nasional in the next general election."

And today, the 5th of May marks two years since the last elections, where Pakatan Rakyat had, in reality, won the majority of the votes.

However, very dirty gerrymandering ensured that despite being rejected by the people, Barisan Nasional managed to bulldoze its way into Putrajaya yet again.

In commemoration, Bersih 2.0 has called upon citizens to wear black.

The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections 2.0 (Bersih 2.0) launches “Ops Hitam 505” (Operation Black 505) on May 5, 2015 (Tuesday), the second anniversary of Najib Razak being retained in power as a minority government by the Election Commission despite the rejection of 53% of electorate.

We appeal to all Malaysians to wear black or to put on black ribbons or cloths on their vehicles, buildings or personal belongings on May 5, 2015, as a sign of rejection of the arrogant provocation by the Najib Minority Government in the arrest, detention and harassment of the leaders and participants of the May Day rallies in Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu.

To repression, the Rakyat must reply with resistance. Otherwise, the Rakyat will have tougher days to come under the tyranny of the Najib Minority Government, the Police and the EC.

“Ops Hitam 505”, other than being a sign of solidarity with the victims of Police’s witchhunt, is also representing three demands of the Rakyat:

(a) Repeal of GST;

(b) Elimination of all frauds and manipulation especially malapportionment and gerrymandering in constituency redelineation in Sarawak, Sabah and the Peninsula so that there will be no more minority governments;

(c) Establishment of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) to end abuse and politicizing of police power.

We hope all Malaysians will show a sea of black in every corner of Malaysia, especially Permatang Pauh and Rompin, where the voters can make their stand with ballot papers, to reject GST, dirty elections and police state.

Wear black today!