(Kuala Lumpur, Wednesday):
UMNO Youth Exco
member, Affendi Zahari, the first speaker of the forum, said nothing has changed
since the terrorist attacks of September 11 in New York and Washington last
I do not agree. I can
just give one change – before
September 11 last year, the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad was
persona non grata to the White
house unable even to get an invitation for tea and
a tete-a-tete with the US President but after September 11, Mahathir is
quite comfortable in the White House and can even claim parentage for the US
It was exactly one year ago this time that the terrorist
attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York was perpetrated, claiming over
3,000 innocent lives from over 81 countries, including Malaysia.
Has the world become safer 12 months after September 11?
On the first anniversary of September 11, the United States government
has gone on a high terrorist alert, raising from yellow, indicating an
“elevated” risk to orange, showing a “high’ risk – the second highest
of its five-stage alert.
The US Vice President was gone into a secret hole and jets
are patrolling the skies above New York and Washington with anti-aircraft
missiles deployed around Washington.
Having failed to catch Osama bin Laden, Bush is now going
after Saddam Hussein. Instead of “draining the swamp to clear the
mosquitoes”, Bush’s increasingly unilateralist actions in defiance of
international opinion and international law will only result in the
multiplication of “swamps” and more “mosquitoes”.
In going after Saddam Hussein, Bush will end up producing more Osama bin
Twelve months after September 11, the world has become a
more dangerous and not a safer place, as the root causes of terrorism –
political and economic despair and hopelessness – have not been addressed, and
the Ground Zero in New York has now been joined by Ground Zero in Jenin in
September 11 has wrought profound political
changes world-wide, exploited by incumbent governments as justification
for an array of undemocratic and
repressive laws and measures which would have been intolerable to their citizens
before the terrorist attacks.
Malaysia is no exception.
The September 11 terrorist attacks have stunted the possibilities of
reform and democratization which were on the cards after the 1999 general
Before September 11 last year, demands and pressures by
Malaysians for reform, democratization and good governance
were reaching a high point. The government was on the defensive on its
arsenal of draconian laws. The Home Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi
was not so truculent in the defense of the Internal Security Act and the
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Dr. Rais Yatim spoke of a
review of the ISA, and even Suhakam stood up
against the Internal Security Act as violation of human rights and called
for the immediate release of the reformasi
activists. There were hopes that
there would be far-reaching changes in the system of justice with greater
respect for the just rule of law with
the surprise appointment of the new head
of the judiciary.
But all these came to nought after September 11, with the
government taking the offensive with high-handed and arbitrary governance,
exploiting the people’s concerns about security and fears of terrorism and
extremism – which replaced
concerns about reform, democratization and good governance as their first
order of priorities.
This is reflected in the truculent speech of Mahathir at
the recent Suhakam conference, declaring that there can never be absolute
freedom because such liberty will
lead to anarchy – when no one had ever asked for “absolute freedom”; the
revisionist stand of Suhakam on the ISA, conceding that the government should be
left to decide whether security should precede human rights and the meaningless
Federal Court judgment last Friday purportedly releasing Mohd Ezam, Tian Chua,
Saari Sungib and Hishammudin Rais from ISA detention.
I have here the judgment of the Chief Justice, Tun Mohamad
Dzaiddin Abdullah last Friday, where he declared in his conclusion:
“Accordingly, I would allow these appeals and issue the writ of habeas corpus for the appellants to be set at liberty and be released.”
But the reformasi four were never “set at liberty”,
because of the ridiculous and unacceptable distinction that the Federal Court
had quashed the police detention under Section 73 of the ISA, but not the
Minister’s detention under Section 8 – when there is only one preventive
detention and the Minister’s detention cannot stand when the earlier police
detention is unlawful and tainted by mala fide.
On Sunday, Mahathir decried the “arrogance of power” of
the United States, but he failed to take the same medicine which he
prescribed to the West – that the answer to the problems of the world
“did not lie in confrontation, force or a war to end all wars, but in justice
and fair play, sensitivity and a willingness to admit mistakes, and in banishing
the idea that any one race had a monopoly of the right values, systems and
solutions to all human ailments”.
After September 11, the
“arrogance of power” of the Mahathir government in dealing with the problems
of Malaysia, whether in his unilateral
“929” declaration that Malaysia
is an Islamic state, going against the 45-year 1957 Merdeka Constitution, the
social contract and the 1963 Malaysia Agreement, or in the recent controversy
over the use English to teach mathematics and science in primary schools from
Std. One, have become even more palpable and forbidding.
Yesterday, for instance,
the Education Minister Tan Sri Musa Mohamad gave a parliamentary reply to
the DAP Secretary-General Kerk Kim Hock, citing four studies which he said
supported the government’s policy to use English to teach mathematics and
science in primary schools, when all these four studies are about the effects of
bilingual education and the academic performance of ethnic and linguistic
minorities like Greeks and Spanish-speaking Mexicans trying to master
English in the United States – which can have no bearing on the performance of
Malay students in national primary schools, where Bahasa Malaysia is the
mainstream medium of instruction.
If these four studies are to be quoted, it is in support of
the preservation and development of mother-tongue education, whether Chinese or
Tamil primary schools in multi-racial Malaysia and the
opposition to the use of English to teach mathematics and science from
Std. One for national, Chinese and Tamil primary schools.
But the “arrogance of power” of the Barisan Nasional
government after September 11 have become so serious that no one seems to bother
whether the government has got the right studies to back up new policy changes
The lesson to be drawn here is that there must be a full
realization of the changed political perceptions and concerns of the people
after September 11 if reform, democratization and good governance are to remain
high on the people’s order of priorities, in particular in Year Two of post
September 11 – when the next general election is likely to be held.
The third speaker,
Professor Dr. Syed Hussein Alattas
said the traumatic September 11 events brought out the common bond and unity of
Tonight’s forum is represented by the Barisan Nasional, the Barisan Alternative and the DAP.
Whatever our political differences, there are areas of commonality for
all political parties for the simple reason that we are all
Malaysians. The question is whether we can build on this commonality,
while maintaining our differences.
I would like to put forward the serious proposal that all
political parties, whether Barisan Nasional, Barisan Alternative or the DAP,
should try to build on the commonality of democracy in Malaysia.
Nobody wants “absolute freedom” but the time has come
for a Royal Commission of Inquiry on Democracy, to arrest the undemocratic
developments of the past few decades and achieve a national consensus on a
roadmap and timeline on the the progressive democratization of all aspects of
national life – as I do not believe there is any political party whether in
government or opposition which could publicly oppose a programme of
democratization in Malaysia.
The second speaker, Dr. Dzulkifli Ahmad, the head of PAS
Research, urged understanding for PAS
aspirations to build a new polity and human civilization through Islam within
the mechanics of democracy and Malaysia’s plural society.
DAP fully supports the 45-year constitutional “social
contract” that Islam is the official religion of multi-racial, multi-religious
Malaysia and will continue to work with Islamic and other forces in the cause of
justice, freedom, democracy and good governance.
We do not see, however, how PAS Islamic state, where
non-Muslims are reduced to second-class citizenship status unable to take part
in major policy decision-making process, could be compatible with democracy and political pluralism in
In his recent
clarification of media reports
quoting him as saying that
non-Muslims would have no part to
play in policy-making in an Islamic State,
Acting PAS President, Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang said he
saw no reason why a non-Muslim could not have a say in policy-making on
general issues such as housing and transportation.
Such a clarification in fact confirmed a second-class citizenship status for non-Muslims in the PAS Islamic state, which cannot be acceptable whether from democratic principles or in the light of Malaysia’s plural characteristics.