Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Of rajas and sufis

Wough, this week has been quite a week (apart from the fact that I have to cook and wash dishes after my domestic help of 3 years left and the new temporary helper was possibly a psycho)

After I had done my household chores (there's a lump in my throat as I type this), I sat glued to watch a prog on the National Geographic.I was waiting for the prog On Becoming a King about the present Agong, Sultan Mirzan of Tganu.I'm glad I did.He reminds me of the late Sultan Selangor (who I met and salam hormat masa b'day garden party dia kat Istana Negara when he was Agong)yang berjiwa rakyat.When Tuanku Mirzan spoke of his culture shock when he first studied abroad, I thought..geez..I could relate to him too!(that he sounded like one of us).He played football with the kampong kids,he went down to visit the tukang kayu without much protocol,etc etc.How timely that he's the Agong when we are about to celebrate our 50th year Merdeka.Daulat Tuanku!

Lepas tu last night I got to see the sufis from Konya, Turkey.They came to perform at UM City Branch (organised by the Turkish International Sch) I had missed similar performances (perhaps by a diff group) when they were at Cornell (I had to attend my Dept's would be rude to leave them for whirling dervishes and sufi musicians!)

The funny thing is I almost didn't make it this time too.Nik was away.I could not go on my own (kawasan tu gelap and bekas tempat askar Jepun bunuh orang?)When Nik came back, it took a while to persuade him.That he was tired, that he had no interest, that he'd rather watch football..haiyo...but my wifey charm got the better of him.Ha ha (the deal was I'd iron his shirt!) so off we went.It was very, very pleasant and mesmerising,tak pening pulak budak tu berpusing2 dan tak jatuh pulak topi of having yin and yan in life! Simply incredible.One of these days, I'd like to try whirling like that. :)

The music was better than the dance (the troupe just got back from Jakarta and will be flying back to Istanbul very early the following day..the dancers looked particularly tired)

I woke up energised this morning.Anything sufi would do that to me.Entah mengapa.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Of Nobel Laureate for Peace and Muslim men

If I had been quiet, it's because I had been busy.Last week was another exciting week.
First there was the 'Contemporary Muslim Women' conference at Renaissance (in which there were more men than women).I guess it's because in Islam, we don't believe in the gender divide but I have my reservations of what happened at the conference (or what DIDN'T happen).There's nothing wrong with the men flooding a women's conference but I thought just becos' it was a conference on Muslim women, there was no reason for the guys NOT to talk about men's role in assisting women achieve their fullest potential.Instead we still heard from some (I said SOME cos' there were so many supportive and nice men at the conference who bombarded other men who were of other 'odd' persuasions) men who believed women could not lead and be leaders (even some women were saying this as well.I almost fainted.Isn't this 2007?I thought the ummah had gone past this issue?)

Anyway, I loved making contacts with fellow women academics from Africa, the Gulf and Australia and Europe.That's the best of any conference.We women will get together and think of an action-oriented event soon.I hope.

But I still can't get over meeting in person 2006 Nobel Laureate for Peace, Prof Yunus of Grameen Bank fame.Oh wow..he had this very kind look and was always smiling.I shook hands with him when I got to be in the welcoming line along with the rest of the IIUM team.I felt like NOT wanting to wash my hand after that .Ha ha.

Whatever criticisms his critics have of him and the Grameen Bank, they would have done them out of jealousy cos' they could not do what he did/does.Here's a saint who could have chosen to teach in ivy league unis of the world but chooses to live among the poor to improve the conditions of his people.Not only is he kind to women, but he is also kind to the environment (using solar energy to supply electricity and recycling animal waste to produce gas for cooking) Oh wow, he should be cloned!

For so much excitement,my video cam failed on me.Satu gambar pun takda with Prof Yunus!

On dangers of globalisation:

Norwegian Nobel Committee Chairman Ole Danbolt Mjoes called microcredit “a liberating force” for women and Muslims, many of whom have traditionally shunned interest-charging institutions.

“All too often, we speak one-sidedly about how much the Muslim part of the world has to learn from the West,” said Prof. Danbolt Mjoes. “Where microcredit is concerned, the opposite is true: the West has learned from Yunus, from Bangladesh, and from the Muslim part of the world.”

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

Monday, August 13, 2007

Raja Dr. Nazrin's keynote

Challenges and prospects for nation-building: A lesson for the young and bright

Keynote address by the Raja Muda of Perak, Raja Dr Nazrin Shah, at the
first annual Student Leaders Summit 2007 -- "Celebrating 50 Years of
Nationhood" -- on Aug 5, 2007, at Nikko Hotel, Kuala Lumpur.

I am delighted to be here this morning to deliver the keynote address
at this Summit, dedicated as it is to Youth. All of you in this room
are the creme de la creme of the young generation -- those fortunate
enough and intelligent enough to benefit from the best education. You
are the future leaders of this nation.

This morning, I want to talk to you about the challenges and prospects
for nation-building. Nation-building refers to the structuring of a
country, with the help of state power, to ensure a strong national
identity that is viable in the long run. It is predicated on national
unity and is a topic of utmost importance to all of us, not least the
younger generation. Fifty years of the national relay race has been
run. Soon the baton will be handed to those of you who will run the
next lap. The Malaysia familiar to most, if not all, of you is the
modern prosperous nation with its increasingly urban population and
robust middle class; not the poor and predominantly agricultural
society of 50 years ago. When Malaysia gained independence, we were
on a par with countries like Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Ghana,
Morocco and Senegal in terms of per capita income. Today we have far
surpassed these countries in economic growth and human development.

However, it is important to be aware that this was a far-fetched
vision 50 years ago. The first Merdeka generation, almost overnight,
found themselves tasked with an onerous job when Malaysia gained
independence. The country was born against the backdrop of a virulent
communist insurgency. Poverty was widespread, particularly in the
rural areas. There was very little sense of unity and national
identity. The states that made up the federation were only loosely
integrated. Many people regarded themselves primarily as natives of
their state rather than as nationals of Malaya. The enlargement of
Malaya into Malaysia in 1963 was vigorously opposed by our neighbours,
leading to confrontation with Indonesia. After the traumatic events of
1969, many predicted the imminent disintegration of Malaysian society.

That we have been able to forge a successful nation without resorting
to the rule of the gun makes us something of an oddity in a region of
coups, civil strife and people power. This has been due in large part
to wise leadership, the innate good sense of the Malaysian people --
and a bit of luck. Today, the nine Sultanates, two Straits Settlements
and the two states in Borneo have united in a tangible way despite
historical separation and physical distance. Development policies and
communication channels have managed to fuse together the myriad
religions and ethnic groups and forged a sense of belonging and shared

Malaysia is one of the very few countries with a diverse mix of race
and religion that have been able to do this. Our peace momentum is
also demonstrated on the international arena. Malaysia played a
seminal role in the creation Asean and its enlargement from six
members to 10, then Asean plus 3. It still has a lead role in the
first moves towards a regional architecture, particularly the East
Asian Summit

Our group culture is very distinct from the individualism of the west.
We participate actively in one another's cultural and lifestyle
choices. We celebrate festivities together, we learn and speak one
another's languages, we wear each other's traditional costumes, we
appreciate different arts and types of music. A chat over teh tarik is
an example of a typically Malaysian pastime that all races and ages
take delight in.

However, every coin has two sides. Let us not be naive in thinking it
is all a rosy picture. There is still much room for improvement.
Interaction between the ethnic groups, to the extent that it exists,
remains more of an urban phenomenon. In recent years, ethnic identities
appear to have become more explicit. In some instances, what divides
us has become more emphasised than what unites us.

When the New Economic Policy (NEP) was established, it was to address
the problem of economic function being identified along the lines of
ethnicity, and the problem of widespread poverty. All quarters of
society came to an agreement that in order for nation-building to
proceed, certain sacrifices had to be made to help the underperforming
groups. But it was not a case where one party was to benefit at
another's expense. Distribution was to take place within the context
of a growing economy. It was meant to be a situation of give-and-take
that would result in economic growth shared by all segments of society.

Today, the give-and-take attitude seems to have dissipated. Malaysians
are exhibiting signs of polarisation along ethnic and religious lines.
Some groups bear grudges against what is perceived as preferential
treatment. Others regard preferential treatment as an indisputable

Moreover, the impasse at the global level between Islam and non-Islam
affects even a moderate country like Malaysia. Matters of faith are
topics of immense controversy. They provoke overzealousness and
coercive action, and drive Malaysians further and further away from
each other. Our diversity was meant to be our unique asset. The
Federal Constitution and the Rukun Negara institutionalised living
together in peaceful, harmonious co-existence. Yet years after
Merdeka, we are still grappling with concerns about unity.

So what are the challenges to nation-building that we need to face
head on? To me, the challenges are many, but the one that stands out
is the need to balance change with continuity. The current phase of
nation-building should be in tune with the temper of the times to
reflect the new realities of the modern world. We are facing a
globalised environment where excellence and meritocracy are the rule
of the game.

Opportunities in the global world reward those with ability,
regardless of colour or creed. A multi-ethnic country like ours has to
be especially watchful. In the absence of a strong national identity,
we are prone to polarisation and competition along ethno-religious
lines. Therefore, a most expert balancing act is required to maintain
socio-political stability while not losing out on global competitiveness.

As I have said elsewhere, to ensure sustained success at
nation-building, Malaysians of all races, religions, and geographic
locations need to believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that they have a
place under the Malaysian sun. Only when each citizen believes that he
or she has a common home, is presented common opportunities, given due
recognition and is working towards a common destiny, will he or she
make the sacrifices needed for the long haul.

Managing change is not easy and nation-building does not occur
naturally in any society, let alone a pluralistic one. Allow me to
suggest three essentials for effective and sustained nation-building.

The first is the Rule of Law and the inviolability of the constitution.
The constitution is the supreme law of the country which guarantees
fundamental liberties to every citizen. A cleverly crafted document,
it clearly provides for adequate checks and balances against excesses
through the separation of powers between the executive, legislative
and judicial branches -- with each protected from encroachment by
the other.

It has often been said that many a misunderstanding may be avoided
if the principles embodied in the constitution are adhered to
strictly.Upholding the Rule of Law is paramount. In this connection,
I can do no better than to quote the words of Baroness Helena Kennedy QC,
a leading jurist, when she delivered the Sultan Azlan Shah Law Lecture
in Kuala Lumpur last month:

"Law is the bedrock of a nation; it tells us who we are, what we
value. It regulates our human relationships one to the other and
our relationships as citizens with the state. Law is cultural. It
comes out of the deep wellsprings of history and experience within
a country...

"The rule of law is one of the tools we use in our stumbling progress
towards civilising the human condition: a structure of law, with
proper methods and independent judges, before whom even a government
must be answerable. It is the only restraint upon the tendency of
power to debase its holders. As we know, power is delighful and
absolute power is absolutely delighfful.

"We must be the protectors of those who are vulnerable to abuse. We
have to stand up and be counted. We have to protect the things that
make our nations great..."

The second element necessary in nation-building is economic and social
justice for all. All groups in society, regardless of ethnic group,
religion or gender, must participate in making decisions that affect
their lives and livelihood. They must have a voice and a place in all
sectors. They must carry equal responsibilities in making society
work. The people we work and play with, the friendships we make, must
never be constrained by ethnicity. Preconceptions, parochialism and
chauvinism can be eradicated if we interact actively with others of a
different ethnic group or religion -- even if it is just one teacher,
one man or one schoolmate. In many areas, this is absent and it must

The third requisite to nation-building is good governance and a
thriving civil society. Institutions of governance must demonstrate
and generate norms and behaviour that are fundamentally efficient,
productive and just. Only those who are capable, responsible and
scrupulously honest should be allowed to serve in positions of
leadership. Those who are inefficient, incompetent and, most
importantly, corrupt should be held in absolute contempt. There must
also be concrete anti-corruption measures and management practices
based on efficiency, transparency and accountability. It is also very
important that we have leaders who are earnest in maintaining unity,
never resorting to religious or ethnic posturing to further their
political careers at the expense of peace and security. Should they
fail in this respect, they must be held accountable and answerable
before the law.

What can you do to help promote national unity? I'm going to assume
you are still at an age when you are still idealistic -- that you wish
to improve the human condition. That you are patriotic. That you
believe in friendship and peace. That you would rather build than
destroy. You are in the best position to tenaciously forge this
nation. Let me suggest a few ways how you can contribute towards
Malaysia's continued success at nation-building.

First, get a copy of the Federal Constitution and familiarise
yourselves with it. The constitution is the supreme law of the land.
It guarantees the rights of every Malaysian. As such, the integrity of
that document must be protected.

Second, study the nation's history, particularly the lives and works
of past leaders who have sacrificed so much for this country. One such
leader is Tun Dr Ismail. He was an exemplary Malaysian. He envisaged a
Malaysia for all without colour lines, without ethnic borders and
without any one group feeling a sense of inferiority. He recognised
the importance of open-mindedness in addressing day-to-day issues and
problems; the importance of listening and learning from others,
particularly from those who are more advanced. He strongly believed in
the principle of life-long learning, visiting other lands and adopting
best practices without losing our core values and our identity as a
nation. He had the interest of the nation at heart and went beyond the
call of duty in the service of his nation. He put his country above
himself and served till the very last day of his life. The leadership,
sincerity, sacrifices and integrity of Tun Dr Ismail and other leaders
of his generation should serve to inspire the next generation of leaders.

Third, you must take personal ownership over the wellbeing of the
country. Do not succumb to indifference and apathy. Hold on to your
ideals. Do not give way to cynicism and opportunism. Believe that you
can make a difference. Channel your energies in a constructive manner
to bring about positive changes around you.

Fourth, participate actively in community service that is geared
towards promoting interaction between communities. Volunteer your
spare time and energy to work with Malaysians from other walks of life
and ethnic groups.

Fifth, be prepared to serve your country to the best of your ability.
All of you represent the valuable future human capital this country
needs. The outside world knows the value of our best brains, which is
why they set out to attract our people, creating a brain drain for us.
Do not exacerbate the problem of the brain drain. Also, do not be
averse to building a career in public service. I believe all of us
have some innate desire to serve. Always think nation first.

More than anything, Malaysia needs a future generation of leaders with
unquestionable integrity. In countries where specialised expertise and
technical know-how are lacking, they can be imported from elsewhere.
But integrity, by definition, is something that cannot be bought or
hired. You and the quality of leadership you provide are the key to
continued peace and harmony in Malaysia. At a time when new powers
like China and India are rising, we cannot afford to lose our harmony
dividend. It is the anchor of this nation.

The Merdeka generation after a tough climb managed to make it to base
camp. The summit lies ahead and I can guarantee you that it will be an
arduous climb. But it can also be exhilarating. It will need climbers
who are skilled, courageous, confident and above all, steadfast. To
face the challenges ahead, you need a bedrock faith in what you and
our country stand for. I wish all of you the very best in your future.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The latest

Go to this link