Monday, August 16, 2010

News Report on "Liberal Positions on Terrorism" workshop, 7th August 2010


The International Academy for Leadership (IAF) replication workshop on “Liberal Positions on Terrorism”, on 7th August 2010, at Lanson Place Ambassador Row, Kuala Lumpur, was organized by FAN Malaysia, an alumni network of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation. The facilitator, Dr. Joyce Lee shared her liberalism knowledge gained in Germany in May 2010 with the participants. The co-facilitator, Ng Yeen Seen, is also the chairlady of FAN Malaysia.

The workshop offered participants an opportunity to understand and to refresh their knowledge of the basics of liberalism, at the same time, to discuss important issues in Malaysia and in all places, including in Palestine, as well as to suggest the possible liberal solutions.

“Liberal Posistions on Terrorism” participants and facilitators
The replication workshop focused on the following topics:
• The basics of liberalism and some of the similarities and differences it shares with conservatism and socialism
• Concerns of liberalism: (1) rule of law, (2) racial and religious tolerance and (3) a fair and equal society

The beginning of the workshop was a PowerPoint presentation on the basics of classical liberalism, conservatism and socialism. Against this background, liberalism knowledge enhancement was the prelude to a World Café session and a DVD study session.

During the World Café session, participants were requested to discuss why are (1) rule of law, (2) racial and religious tolerance, and (3) a fair and equal society important in Malaysia.

Issues Affecting Freedom in Malaysia

Rule of law

Participants agreed that the most important problems related to “Rule of Law” in Malaysia was doubtful interpretation of “Federal Constitution”, many laws came into force in a duplicity and ambiguity process, and where selective prosecutions were carried out by unaccountable Attorney General. This is due to no clear separation of power between Judiciary, Parliament and Executive Body (government). Some participants wanted the amended constitutions to be taught in school together with Bill of Rights, so that every citizen knows their rights from young. Also, they didn’t want monarchy to meddle in the political upheaval, for example, Pakatan Rakyat state government which was elected by the people and formed in 1998 in Perak was overthrown by a coup with involvement of royal family. This was why they called for a Republic to limit the discretionary power of monarchy. They also requested Malaysia to ratify treaties and practices according to the United Nations Convention, to tailor-made all of them to suit the local context. They wanted the legal system to be affordable to commoners in case citizen wants to sue the government - way to encourage every citizen to be interested and to be involved in legal issues.

The proposed solutions including to teach young politicians about liberalism, to elect more liberal-minded Members of Parliament, direct election for Prime Minister with maximum 2 terms of tenure, change of the existing ruling government, change of the electoral system to proportional representative system, change of the election laws by having a fair and responsible Election Commission Malaysia. Also, no intervention of “an invisible hand” behind the judiciary with political agenda was emphasized.

Racial and religious tolerance

The focus of “Racial and Religious Tolerance” working group started with Malaysian history of multi-racial that bringing about political sensitivity. They went on by saying everybody love peace and harmony, especially at the beginning when Malaysia gained its independence in 1957. However, as the country progressed, there was political manipulation with laws that stopping every citizen from openly discussing “sensitive issues”, for example, 13 May riots and failure of the Malaysian New Economy Policy (NEP). NEP is a controversial socio-economic restructuring affirmative action program launched in 1971 to give Malay/Bumiputra privileges in company shares, business licenses, university admissions, and discounts on purchases of vehicles or real estate and etc. A participant said NEP has been bastardized by the political elites and has created a society with very little evolvement from its post-independence state – a dying society.

The Malaysian judicial system encompasses civil court and Sharia court. The function of Sharia court is mainly to handle legal matters related to Islam and Muslim family issues. However, some participants argued that the overlapping and sometimes competing jurisdiction, as well as different judgments of the two different court systems create confusion and exacerbate religious intolerance among Muslim and non-Muslim – especially when the two different courts deal with the same dispute between a Muslim and a non-Muslim. They further argued that this is due to political manipulation to let people continue to be ignorant and don't know their rights – so that people continue to be confused and constantly live in fear.

Solutions suggested were to take away the administrative process of civil court vs. Sharia court; no visible manifestations of an individual’s sexual, racial, religious identity on the survey and national identity card to eliminate discrimination. Also, some participants claimed government shouldn’t have access to all private and confidential information just by using the national identity chip. Liberals means personal space and personal security. To update the development of religion in line with individual desire/wants and society acceptance was also recommended. At the same time, a participant said it would better to replace the word “tolerance” to “acceptance” to keep abreast with global progress. But in Malaysia, situation has not progressed much.

A fair and equal society

During the plenary discussion, some participants agreed about fairness, but there were different opinions about equal society as per liberal values.

The discussion started with the country history of diverse community (multi-racial). Some argued even though Malaysia has many laws but her citizens don’t even enjoy basic human rights – the problem is with lack of enforcement.

The presentation brought back issues of Malay/Bumiputra – how majority of Malay/Bumiputra do not enjoy the special privileges, but only a small fraction of Malay/Bumiputra who are well-connected to political figures do, which is a class within a class issue.

The participants agreed that every citizen should have fair share in enjoying the country's wealth. However, some argued that redistribution of wealth shouldn’t be the role of government, because corruption practices usually start from wealth redistribution programs.

The proposed solutions were citizens should know their own rights; wealth redistribution is unfair on the basis of racial discrimination. A participant suggested redistribution of wealth should take consideration of gender issue by implementing gender-budgeting. Change the election system by appointing opposition Members of Parliament as Ministers was alluded to. Also, several participants proposed to be liberals as a way out for Malaysians – they said citizens should have more says than government in what they want the country to be.

DVD Movie Analysis on Terrorism – “Paradise Now”

There was a lengthy and heated discussion on terrorism, and everyone felt strongly about the movie: “Paradise Now’. Some participants complained they were not given enough time to debate, while one questioned the propaganda of the movie, by claiming there has been a prejudice against Muslim after 911. The working group presentation and plenary discussion started by commenting Israelis and Palestinians live in two different worlds in terms of infrastructure and environment. The former live in an earthly paradise with great beaches along the Mediterranean, beautiful palm trees lined up along the street, big commercial centers with skyrise buildings and modern vehicles, while the latter was hell on earth with poor environmental health conditions. There was observation that Palestinians are denied rights to sufficient food, to clean water, to education, to an adequate standard of living. Israeli checkpoints to increase safety from terror attacks has severely infringe on the right of Palestinians to freedom of movement, to freedom of economy and trade. The checkpoints system has deprived Palestinians of their rights to move freely within the borders of the state, let alone to achieve economic prosperity through free trade or to work freely in the neighboring countries – all kinds of permits are needed for Palestinians. Participants also highlighted rule of law is non-existent and inconsistent, in which Palestine is like a cowboy land where anyone can carry a gun to kill or to bomb on whim wham – people take the law into their own hands.

Given the long-term poverty, economic hopelessness and anarchy in society, Palestinians in West Bank are frustrated and fed up with life, and commit suicide has been a way out for some of them. Glorifying and celebrating the death of suicide attackers in the name of God and their cause has passed on from generation to generation as the society’s spiritual sustenance. As the plenary discussions went on, some participants asserted Palestinians resort to terrorism such as suicide bombing is to attract the attention of Israel and the outside world to sympathize with them, with hope to get them out of their hardships. This justification was rejected by a participant by arguing the movie did not portrait fair view of terrorism, and causes of Palestinians resort to terrorism should be further studied – she felt it’s because of social injustice. However, a number of participants agreed that the movie humanizing the suicide bombers, by asserting terrorists have their own personal agenda. For example, they felt Said’s motive to become a suicide bomber was very personal, that’s because he’s jobless and to regain respect for his family. Said’s impotent rage and choice to be a suicide bomber came from the humiliating experience that his father was a collaborator working for the Israelis and then executed by his own community. Is this problem partly related to conservatism on how one should behave according to the society norm as well as anarchism of the Palestinian society?

Majority of the participants reached a decision that terrorism could be countered by soft way instead of hard way. A participant added that the fact was Jews were previously displaced and military aggressions were launched against Palestine, but the prolonged Israel/Palestine conflicts have been an embarrassment to mankind. So, Palestinians have to move on in order to change the status quo and to relieve their own sufferings. Proposed liberal solutions included to encourage economic interdependency between Israel and Palestine, to expedite Palestine’s economic development in alleviating unemployment and poverty. Also, there was suggestion that only education could change individuals’ mindset so to solve the problems. Education would expose individuals to different values such as liberal, ethical, moral values and so forth. Everyone should have the rights to education, only when people know their rights, they could build a better society together. For example, Suha who lived in Morocco and came back to Palestine to work as a human right activist didn’t believe in violence for equality. She didn’t feel proud of the death of her father as most Palestinians adore martyr. She thought being a martyr didn't react to reality, and couldn’t solve the political, social and economic problems of Palestine. On the other hand, Khaled who was very excited to be a suicide bomber initially, was successfully persuaded by Suha to draw back, by merely exposing him to more liberal views and options other than terrorism as his salvation. This movie showed individualism and individuals have different ideologies, but individuals are all time vulnerable to change their ideologies. Suha, Said and Khaled reflected extreme cases and varied mindsets due to different exposure, life experience and level of education.

There was argument, however, many participants had the same opinion that there is no linkage of terrorism with religion, and most of the time, terrorists have their personal agenda to accomplish. Politically, socially and economically, Israelis and Palestinians need each other. Unfortunately, until now, Palestine is not liberated from the grasp of many politicians and terrorist leaders’ wicked ideology and self-interest.

Develop Trust and Openness – The Only Solution

To draw perspectives from the discussions on movie session, and to refer them back to the World Café discussions on Malaysia’s problems. There was agreement that Malaysia is a peaceful but not a harmonious country. Participants agreed that different religious ideologies and cultural practices invariably create gap among people. They also acknowledged that the majority of different ethnic groups in Malaysia do not interact with each other. This followed by recognition of “trust” must be in existent among different cultural and religious groups in Malaysia to live in harmony, let alone in Israel/Palestine. Some participants suggested more interactions and dialogues among the different cultural and religious groups are necessary to enable communication, to promote trust, to develop mutual respect, openness, understanding and empathy. Further to that, this replication workshop was suggested by several participants to keep on as a platform to expose liberal values and to encourage open discussions among the diverse groups. It’s especially important to instill openness into our future generation’s minds, so that they will be more liberal and agile in solving problems.

Observations from the participants’ responses showed that they still had different understandings in “fair and equal society”, especially with regard to “redistribution of wealth”. However, some agreed that a good system providing equal chance for every citizen to be successful is the only way to create a fair and equal society. Also, being equal is to remove all the discrimination on the basis of gender, religion and ethnic group. There was proposition that being fair and equal, and upholding rule of laws is the only way out for Malaysia to excel. Some participants even quoted Malaysia’s failure as an advanced country was in some measure due to the inefficient “redistribution of wealth” policy to achieve “fair and equal society”. To substantiate their claim, they compared the degree of advancement of Malaysia which is well endowed with natural resources to Singapore without natural resources. Besides, more “liberal” politicians who could fairly treat every citizen were suggested to be put in the right place. The usefulness of Bills of Rights was also supported by a participant to protect every citizen’s rights, and to achieve equality for all.

Intolerance and prejudice is destroying the country's long-term prosperity

The participants came to a conclusion that there is a political agenda in Malaysia and globally to stop people from living in harmony. They felt many selfish leaders stop people from openly discussing religious, cultural or “sensitive” issues is to stop people from building trust and understanding. It had been argued that certain leaders rely on mistrust and prejudice among the people to quest for power – is it because beside personal benefits, such leaders have nothing to offer to the people and the country?

When there is lack of open discussion and lack of interaction among the diverse groups, the existence of intolerant and prejudiced cases can be easily identified in Malaysia and in all places. Intolerance and prejudice have major implications for the efficiency of the country in the long run. If the problem is not addressed, it will lead to the stalling of state efforts to effectively implement policies. For that reason, it is recommended that more liberalism workshops are necessary in the existing Malaysian society and also in the global society.