These are just plain opinions; they can be rejected, refuted, argued against or accepted. These words are not meant to impose my ideals upon anybody , and they are not going against the law of the diversity of thoughts~~

Sunday, 7 December 2014

When economists in cosy seats plan for the poor

Among the job of an economist is to gather economic data of the population in the past and present such as income, capital and population growth, and explain the conditions of the people.

He explains whether the income distribution is equal, whether the prices have risen or fallen in real terms, and so on.

A timeline analysis would show in gross terms whether the quality of life has increased or not, as he makes comparison between the living conditions of the present and the past.

My grandfather was a poor man with 8 children, and he worked as a trishaw peddler. My uncles who wanted a bicycle to go to school used to scavenge dumpsites to search for bike parts, and construct a working bicycle from scraps.

Meanwhile, his grandchildren is currently studying overseas using loads of taxpayer’s money and wasting every penny. Relatively, I would infer that living standards have clearly risen to unthinkable levels.

But it is not enough, and it is not fair for economists to compare living standards simply by such narrow and simplified examples; there are many other questions to be asked.

For example, is the increase in living standards the same across the region? What about Sabah and Sarawak? Have they been able to enjoy the same prosperity? While we amuse ourselves with skyscrapers in the capital, and scatter railways all over the west coast, there are still villages without electricity and water, not to mention internet or the obligatory bridges present in every by-election.

Is the living standard the same among the races, and between the states? Have the children of other families receive the same opportunities that I have gratefully received, and were 
they subjected with the same judgement over their merits and achievements?

It is true that economists and policymakers in the capital, in the cosy Prime Minister’s Office and Bank Negara, do their jobs real good, that they can be textbook examples.

According to the textbook, of course, oil subsidy is something irrational. It is not something a homo economicus would choose in an economy. Rather than waste taxpayer’s money, with the subsidy which pays even the rich, it is better to give people direct cash handouts, or so they said.

Of course, it’s true, because in the economics textbook it clearly shows in the graphs that subsidies cost much more than cash handouts, although both ultimately bring the same effect.

But surely, surely these economists should have realised the effect of oil prices on the prices of pretty much everything else- or are they living in a different world?

It is inevitable that GST is a better system than the SST, because nobody ever will be able 
to avoid paying tax. Previously, only the rich paid the tax, and now, as a sign of equality, even the poor in slums have to pay too. We supporters of equality must submit to  the system.

It is not enough an explanation when you tax people, that GST is a better system simply because hundreds other nations use this system. It is also not an acceptable reason to say that GST is a system that makes it easier for the government to collect tax.

Who gives a damn about that? The government is adding to the burden of the people, and we should accept it, because GST makes it easier to make people suffer more?

These policies are made by rich economists, the urban rich, the bourgeoisie, industrial capitalists for their brethren, and other rich capitalists.

Sprawled in the backseats of luxury cars, in black suits and leather shoes, in this suffocating hot tropical country, they are truly living in another dimension. They are unable to see how different are the living standards, even between urban citizens, not to mention the ones across the Titiwangsa mountains.

It is unconceivable that these policies would be agreed upon if policymakers truly live among the masses and understand the  struggles people made to make ends meet.

Have they been representatives who are more than VIPs in public ceremonies and random faces on Eid banners, I wonder what kind of country would we be now.

If only they could see how the economy treats people as commodity, and when the capitalists deem labour as useless, they are thrown away to starve. 

When these rejected people who can’t afford houses due the high rent, they seek the streets and under the bridges as their beds, but even then, in the lowest of honour, they are caught and put in jail.

Because they are poor, because they are homeless, and because it is an eyesore for the urban rich to see people sleeping under the bridges.

It should not be a surprise when some people think it appropriate to slap the PM’s picture with a slipper, when his minister showed up in the news asking people to bring packed lunch to work.

Thanks Mr Minister for the tip, but when you showed up in your expensive suit, shiny glasses and immaculately trimmed hair, it is a mockery, a humiliation to the burdened massed, especially at a time when your rich brethren are asking for a pay raise.

Remember that when Mary Antoinette told the starving masses who were asking for bread in France “Let them eat cake”, they cut off her head.

Of course  we are not keen to cut anybody’s head, not yet currently, because Malaysians forgive and forget all the time, and we tolerate almost everything.  But remember, our patience has its limit. – 16 October, 2014.
- See more at: http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/sideviews/article/when-economists-in-cosy-seats-plan-for-the-poor-ahmad-ibrahim-zakaria#sthash.R3hfF5ie.h5YDJf2q.dpuf

A response to IRF’s view on secular state

June 4-2014
I write in response to Islamic Renaissance Front's (IRF) reaction to Pembela, published in The Malaysian Insider yesterday.
I am not affiliated with Pembela or IRF, nor I am interested in their squabbles about the word "secularism" in our Constitution, but I feel obligated to comment on IRF's statement that only a secular state can provide religious freedom.
IRF seems pretty bent to prove that the Constitution provides the basis of a secular state, and because our forefathers have strived to achieve such agreement, we should follow suit, as the Constitution has decreed so.
I see no difference between advocating for a secular state because the Constitution somehow meant so, and the way pre-Islamic Arab societies worshipped idols because their grandfathers did so centuries earlier.
With this obsession with secularism, IRF has found a new idol to worship, and the way the article emphasises that only a secular state can provide religious freedom seems to undermine our own religion.
"And only in a secular system can Muslims be free to practice Islam exactly as they see fit and out of their own conscience, and not state coercion.
"And only in a secular system can non-Muslims be at peace without fear of their rights being compromised and erode," it said.
Secularism emerged as a resistance against the despotism of the church in Europe. The kings relied upon the "divine will" to gain legitimacy, while the clergy acts as if they were direct representatives of God. Countless men and women were oppressed under the name of religion, and thus the people sought to separate religion from the state and their livelihood.
Why should Islam go through the treatment of secularism, if such religious despotism did not occur in the first place?
Prophet Muhammad had offered freedom of thought and belief during the foundation of the city-state of Madinah, hundreds of years before the word "secularism" was coined. Non-Muslim were part of the shareholders in the Madinah Charter, and they were considered part of the Ummah, responsible upon the development and security of the state.
Under which rule did the Jews live in peace and harmony in Jerusalem? What kind of government was it that allowed Christians to coexist with Muslims in Cordoba? I am pretty sure it was not Ferdinand of Aragon.
The notion that only under secularism can ensure religions thrive is absurd and unacceptable. How could an ideology that seeks to remove religion and its values from the people ever be thought of being beneficial? I am not sure what kind of secularism does the IRF interpret from our Constitution, but secularism in France have seen Muslims being prevented from practising their religion freely. In Britain, religion is mocked and ridiculed by the people.
How could secularism create a country where religions can be practised freely, when the philosophy that came with it makes people skeptical to religion and abhors the mere mention of religion?
IRF, in the article, states that there is no compulsion in religion, then suddenly proposes that only secularism can provide such condition. This is a contradictory statement, and it shows how IRF is currently plagued with inferiority complex.
It is normal for occupied and defeated nations to emulate the example of the imperialists, and to assume that the creed that they had had for so long is somehow wrong or weak.
Rachid Ghannouchi wrote about "tawahush", which is about the return of mankind to the state of nature, or barbarity. Without religion to enhance good values inherent in mankind, they would become materialistic beings which lack compulsion to do good and prevent wrongdoings.
Family relations and bonds have collapsed under the secular system, while people living in close proximity don't even know the names of their neighbours. The state has to use all means possible to pacify the people; namely violence and welfare. We have seen how their societies broke into riots and uncontrollable mobs once the economy dips and their welfare is being reduced. This is the effect of secularism which separate people from religion and its values.
Therefore it seems naive to propose that religions can thrive under a secular state, or suggesting that the ideology brings benefit to the nation. It is an ideology which seeks to distance people from their Creator; a belief of emptiness and loneliness, for what would their lives mean without a vision beyond the world of the living?
The IRF need not worry itself over the making of the nation as a secular state, as it already is. Ghannouchi, however, names the form of secularism which exist in our country as pseudo-secularism, where instead of separating religion from the state, the government institutionalised every religious organisation there is, therefore making them instruments of the government, and effectively useless.
The government has done very well to incapacitate the role of Islamic clerics in a civil society, by limiting their works to finding pork in chocolate and raiding weddings, way better than a mass murder of Muslims.
It is due to this great evil that Islam is being trivialised and ridiculed by the masses, and the reason why IRF ran to the hands of secularists.
Jakim and other Islamic institutions should have been the main component in a civil society, working towards the eradication of poverty, and acting as a counter to the powers of the government. Religious institutions should be run independently by Islamic intellectuals instead of being an instrument of the government, and this is the only form of separation of state from religion which is acceptable. – June 4, 2014.

Reply by Dr Farouk Musa of IRF
What is obvious at first glance to Ahmad Ibrahim Zakaria’s response is that he doesn’t seem to understand why in the first place Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF) issued such a statement. The statement was in response to Pembela’s challenge to prove that the term "secular" was stated in the Constitution. The sudden realisation that the word "secular" was not in the constitution was from the "revelation" by none other than Professor Shamrahayu Aziz during a seminar.
What we stated was obvious: that the word "secular" does not need to appear in the Federal Constitution since the interpretation is made by the contents of the Constitution. But we expanded the statement to touch on Article 3 that is pertinent to the topic being discussed.
And it is obviously malicious to associate the statement for advocating a secular state to that of the Arab societies worshipping idols because their grandfathers did so centuries earlier, since the Constitution was already meant for a secular state. The issue at hand is that Pembela denied that the Constitution had laid the foundation for a secular state. And that very fact triggered the whole debate.
Ibrahim made the same mistake as many other Islamists in thinking that secularism was anti-religion. While secularism in the form of laicete is antagonistic towards religion, what IRF is promoting is a passive secularism, a secularism that is neutral towards religion.
This is similar to what was said by Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of Hizb en-Nahdah (The Renaissance Party) when he stressed that there is no inherent incompatibility between Islam and secularism. And he defended a degree of separation between political and religious affairs in what is known as as-siyasi (the political or profane) and ad-deeni (the religious or sacred).
A state should be secular in the sense that it is neutral to all the differing religious doctrines. It does not mean the exclusion of religion from the public life of a society. The misconception that it does is one of the reasons many Muslims tend to be hostile towards the concept.
As Abdullahi An-Naim argued, state neutrality is necessary for true conviction to be the driving force of religious and social practice, without fear of those who control the state.
And typical of any Islamist argument is to cite the history fourteen centuries ago where freedom of thought and belief was the foundation of the city–state of Madinah. While nobody denies the fact that it was the main foundation laid by the Prophet, circumstances at large today are a far cry from such a situation.
Unless Ibrahim is living in a vacuum, freedom of conscience and religion is gradually being eroded in the 21st century in this country called Malaysia and being felt by many; not only the non-Muslims but also Muslims of other denominations than that of the mainstream endorsed by Jakim and Jais.
I do not have to cite the numerous inexhaustible examples and the trend is very worrying so much so that some have even envisaged that very soon this country will become the next Taliban state, but of course with a Syafi’i flavour.
And yes, no matter how absurd it might sound to Ibrahim and the like, we stand by our argument that only in a secular state can religions thrive.
This argument does not arise from an antagonistic attitude against piety but from a true appreciation of what piety is all about: a sincere belief free from coercion. Any regime that imposes piety because of the belief that it is part of the doctrine “commanding the good and preventing the wrong”, for instance, is basically creating a community of hypocrites instead of instilling genuine piety.
Genuine piety only arises through personal choice. And that choice only becomes possible when there is freedom.
In other words freedom to sin is a necessary medium to be sincerely pious. The erudite Muhammad Asad made it very clear when making his commentary in his magnum opus The Message of the Quran regarding verse 25 of al-A’raf or Faculty of Discernment where he commented on the story about the temptation of Adam and Eve, saying:
“The growth of his consciousness – symbolised by the willful act of disobedience to God’s command – changed all this. It transformed him from a purely instinctive being into a full-fledged human entity as we know it – a human being capable of discerning between right and wrong and thus of choosing his way of life. In this deeper sense, the allegory of the Fall does not describe a retrogressive happening but rather, a new stage of human development: an opening of doors to moral consideration. By forbidding him to 'approach the tree', God made it possible for man to act wrongly, and therefore, to act rightly as well. And so man became endowed with that moral free will which will distinguish him from all other sentinel beings.”
And to us, the only way forward is to allow a space for intellectual discourse and to respect religious rights and freedom of conscience and expression, which is clearly wanting.
Islam and true religiosity could thrive better in a secular state that breaks down the monopoly of religious truth. It is a space needed for a Muslim to live a life based on his own free will and true conviction, not because of the state’s imposition.
Secularism, as the separation of state from religion, is probably the minimum requirement for participation in the sphere of civic reason.
Secularism needs religion to provide moral guidance for the community and in turn, religion needs secularism to mediate the relations between the different communities that share the same political space and space of civic reason.
Secularism is able to unite diverse communities of belief and practice into one political community simply because the moral claims it makes are minimal.
And secularism is able to tolerate differing view in a religiously diverse community while maintaining its political stability. Such a situation is probably just a dream in an autocratic Islamic state envisioned by many Islamists, including Ibrahim.
And only in a secular democratic state will all citizens, believers no less than non-believers, and even believers from the various denominations, Sunni and Shiite alike, have the same basic reason to embrace the right to religious freedom.
They will have total freedom from a government that wants to behave as an arbiter of religious truth or worse, a government that manifests its coercive power to impose religious authority and uniformity. – June 5, 2014.

Problem Statement

              Allah tells us to walk upon the face of the earth  and observe the collapse of past civilizations a few times in the Quran. Surely this does not mean that we should merely plan holiday escapades when winter comes, but we are asked to critically search and question the fate of people before us, and to learn lessons from them. Dead people tell no lies.

Sahih International
Say, [O Muhammad], "Travel through the land and observe how was the end of those before. Most of them were associators [of others with Allah ].
(Ar-Rum- 42)
                    From this sprung up the need for archaeologists, historians and sociologists in this religion, ones who can decipher the meanings of things and languages of the past, so that we can learn, instead of only knowing the general idea of history in passing. The damned Pharaoh knew about the people who came before him , and yet he learned no lesson- no , he refused to learn, and the end he received was then justified.

Sahih International
[Pharaoh] said, "Then what is the case of the former generations?"
(Taha- 51)

              The prophets of the past , presented in the Quran ,over the generations and among different civilizations, showed the same pattern  of thought and action. Although they were separated by years between them , or distance between the sprawling deserts, they were men who brought message from the same God, bearing the same principle and belief- which says that God is One, and there’s no God but He.

             Surely if we wish to learn from the past, we need to observe the regularity of their actions, and patterns of their behaviour. Similar to the behaviour of friends and people around us; in order to know them and be closer to them, we observe their general behaviour and patterns of their thought; things they like to do, or things they hate. It shouldn’t be weird then, to know people of the past we observe things they did with regularity, their philosophy and pattern of thought.

          Regarding the acts and thoughts of the prophet, of things he does regularly, we have in fact known this quite well. Our Islamic scholars name the thought and speeches of the prophet as the Hadis, and his acts and examples as the Sunnah.

         There is a similarity of thought and action of the prophets from different ages that we must observe. This is the Sunnah of the prophets, of which most if not all of them follow the same pattern. Surely if we learn from the previous civilizations not to repeat their sins and wrongdoings, we must also follow the example of the prophets? Viewed from a purely Manichaean world, the prophets are the forces of good , and their disobeying counterparts as forces of evil.

                        What is it that we must follow, what is the regular pattern of the prophets? That is that they came with problem statements, and as provider of solutions. What we must understand that the prophets did not come out of nowhere. They aren’t outsiders in their community. The prophets did not just descend from the skies with holy books and instructions.

 In fact the prophets spent their childhood and their youth amongst the people of their nation. They grew up accustomed with the traditions and the patterns of behaviour of the people. Prophet Muhammad grew up to be the most trusted man in the whole of Makkah, they called him Muhammad Al-Amin.

        What we need to understand is that the prophets who lived in the community understands the problem of the nation and as a messenger of the God, he begins with the problem statement; and the problem statement must come with experience and a thorough understanding about the people . Prophet Shuaib explained to his people that they should be fair in trades and not to cheat in their dealings. Prophet Lut said to his people that they must  stop choosing men over women, and Musa alaihissalam stated that Firaun must release his clutches and tyranny upon Bani Israel, and that he must fear Allah. 
Sahih International
Give full measure and do not be of those who cause loss.
(Syuara’- 181)

        In the surah Al-Qasas it is stated how  Firaun is a tyrant  who divides the people apart , and Allah wishes to favour and bring justice for the mustadh’afiin, the ones who were oppressed under his rule.

Sahih International
Indeed, Pharaoh exalted himself in the land and made its people into factions, oppressing a sector among them, slaughtering their [newborn] sons and keeping their females alive. Indeed, he was of the corrupters.

Sahih International
And We wanted to confer favor upon those who were oppressed in the land and make them leaders and make them inheritors

                   I believe that this is the Great Sunnah of the prophets that we must follow- we must be the ones who understand the social structure and culture of our people, and by understanding the people we might discover what is it that plagues the nation and oppresses the people, so that we might be able to come with a problem statement. What is the source of all these hunger and suffering, of the corruption and the lack of integrity?

                   Frantz Fanon wrote in The Wretched of The Earth, in the chapter The Pitfalls of National Consciousness, regarding the crisis in post-colonial countries, after they achieved independence. He wrote about young nationalist bourgeoisie who replaces the colonials before them as the new rulers of the independent nation. These are privileged men who had the opportunity to study in the colonials’ mother country, to learn in their great universities all sorts of knowledge.

                       Frantz Fanon called them bourgeoisie of the under-developed nations. Fanon wrote that the crisis of national consciousness after independence is that the people who were previously united in their fight against the imperialists, now descend into terrible racism , sectarianism and religious separatism . Whose fault is this? It is the fault of the new rulers, the young bourgeoisie , who are disconnected from the masses, who fail to educate the people regarding the building of a nation.

          The laziness of this privileged people, the scepticism with which they view the people- saying that villagers are a lazy bunch , and unable to understand things like national unity and progress, says Fanon. Because the bourgeoisie are unable to educate people and to come with problem statements and solutions, tribe leaders and heads of religion who were alienated during the fight against the colonials, now starts to grow in influence , and we see the people separated into race and religious groups, each being antagonistic to each other.

                    Frantz Fanon wrote this almost sixty years ago, during the height of the Algerian war for independence, yet we see these symptoms now , in our country. And whose fault is it?

              We economists, engineers, lawyers, doctors, pharmacists, biologists, teachers and accountants who have the privilege and the opportunity all this time, we must strive to follow the Great Sunnah of the prophets. Who else would be available to come up with the problem statement of our nation, other than those who studied extensively in the workings and culture of the society?

        What I wish to say after so long and so many confusing terms is that we need writers. Write about the problems of our nation, not about trivial issues which pop up every two weeks, or stories about your experience in  kindergarten. We do not need that.  The prophets did not come to dictate how should we sit in mosques, or whether we can touch dogs or not. Write about the problems of our nation, based upon a sincere observation, with a heart which wishes truly for the salvation of all.