Sunday, October 19, 2008

Social Contract - Oh really?

Daniel, a commenter asked my views on the social contract as I had not touched on it in my previous post. Unfortunately, he seemed to have thought I walk around with my computer attached to me and expected an instant reply. Hey, I got a life mate.

Then when I got to writing a response, it just got to be too long and so it appears here as a new posting.

For a quick summary of what the social contract is all about, I would suggest you read There are a lot more analysis eselwhere and some good takes on it by Farish Noor and others. Surely I can't add much more to these prominent writers and historians. So, I am only going to confine to whatever about the Social Contract that I find problems with.

Obviously, any country at all with a constitution, has to have that constitution written based on the needs of that nation. In so far as the needs are concerned, usually if there are competing forces, presumably friendly, as I presume it was in the Malaysian instance, then the final constitution would have been agreed upon based on agreements reached over, what at best, must be assumptions about each of their respective claims over priorities.

That the Malaysian constitution in over 51 years has had 42 amendments to it unlike the American constitution that has had 27 over more than 200 years says something about the durability of the constitution. To even suggest that it is as well thought out as the American constitution would be a travesty. However, it would have had certain forces working on it that may not have imposed itself on the American constitution. The drafters of the American constitution would have come together believing in the commonness of their claims and hence all that might have been needed was a document that will help in their governance.

For instance, at the time the American Constitution was written and the amendments added that followed, had they then envisaged the likelihood of a black president, would that constitution have been any different? Maybe they were too self-assured that it would be an unlikely possibility. By now when in all probability the next president of the United States will be black, the society there is already ready to embrace him and the colour of his skin is immaterial. What more, this can happen even without any changes needing to be made to the constitution. Such is the durability of the American Constitution. That of course does not necessarily assure for Barak Obama that the measures used on him will be the same that has been used on all the previous presidents.

In granting independence the British insisted on settling the issue of the Chinese and Indians then. There was this presumption that the Malays were the indigenous people of this country, homogeneous in a sense. Just as there would have been the whites, blacks and native Indians in America, we had Malays, Chinese, Indians and the native Orang Asli. But in the American instance, it was an all white representation at the table that finally agreed upon the constitution with hardly any regard for the blacks or the native Indians. Slavery of course continued and the amendment to the constitution abolishing slavery came about only in 1860. Even then there did not seem to be the need for the Malaysian styled "social contract" that could have ensured Obama never had any hopes for higher office. Also, the assumptions imposing on the constitution drew from the commonness of purpose of all who signed that document.

However, in the Malaysian instance, although the "social contract" is not legislated, it provides the basis for the constitution. It presumes competing communities coming together to share the land, resources and political space of this nation. It presumes a prior claim of the Malays and that of the rulers in the land, resources and the political space and that this claim should be catered for into eternity as the forces that separate the different communities shall forever prevail. Unlike the commonness that prevailed on the American constitution, I suspect the Malaysian constitution had a greater imposition of competing interests and claims. To a certain degree that is a shame and a weakness, especially now when for many a sense of "Kita Anak Bangsa Malaysia looms, the "social contract" might be a bit of a bother.

The social contract presumes homogeneous political interests and an enduring regard of oneself amongst the Malays. I do not think they envisaged that the Malays would be divided into those supporting UMNO, those supporting PAS and those supporting Keadilan. It presumed the Chinese and the Indians would forever be tied to the MCA and MIC's articulation of their respective selves and interests. The definition of who is a Malay, was to say the least, superficial. That Khir Toyo is a privileged Malay over many others might be rather distressing considering his father only landed here in this land in 1946. I have often wondered the reverence these "recent" Indonesian imports would have for the rulers in the various states unlike the Chinese and the Indians here.

Something interesting I found was that Syed Hamid Albar's father, Syed Jafaar Albar, was an Indonesian immigrant from just before the war. Well, my father was born here in Malaysia in 1924 and so was my mum in 1933. And yet Syed Hamid fosters the social contract on me. Its the same with Khir Toyo.

And then I see all those Indonesian workers on our streets. They continue to say they are Indonesian and I believe they are not even allowed to think of identifying themselves as Malays, hence all the harassment they claim to be subject to in the hands of our Police and Rela. To make sure of that the son of a former Indonesian Migrant, our Home Minister Syed Hamid, looks after that. What irony!

Of course I don't need to tell you how passionate sons of others, who might have called themselves Indians or Arabs but now shamelessly identify themselves as the Malays referred to, are in the "social contract". Just see one Mahathir Mohammad.

Now, as for the "social contract" talked about, there is of course no social contract as such. Maybe not even an agreement. But surely there would have been agreed a number of assumptions. There may have also been a number of assumptions actively weighing themselves on the final constitution drawn up that may have never been spoken of.

My problem with the social contract is the continuing imposition of the assumptions that would have prevailed upon the Constitution like as if those assumptions remain a constant until eternity.

We are talking of assumptions that weighed in on the drafters of the constitutions at a time when the Malays did not eat noodles or pau, the Indians did not eat nasi lemak or satay and the Chinese may not have known the delights of thosai and idli. My grandfather would not have envisaged that I would be marrying a Chinese girl for instance. So you see, those were times when it was probably never envisaged that there would be so much of cross-cultural and racial fusion taking place. But most certainly the uncertainties that prevailed then would now not be present and confidences, rather than suspicion, in themselves as well as one another would be at a higher degree.

The constitution was drafted at a time when for many Indians and Chinese India and China were still very much home to go back to. If not for Mao's communism, the ties of Malaysian Chinese to their relatives in China would have been as strong as those of the Indians with their relatives in India. There was a temporariness of the stay of Indians and the Chinese then that certainly does not exist now.

But those factors are not valid factors anymore. The assumptions arising from these don't apply any more. It is only in the minds of the UMNOPutras, the term "social contract" means anything at all.

Sadly, the Rulers too in their Special Statement, seem to have assumed that the starting point for any views and opinions on Malaysian citizenship and the constitution has to be the "social contract" which somehow is locked in a time capsule, never to change in its character.

What is completely ignored is, the assumptions underlying the social contract have most definitely changed in form or even have become invalid and non-existent.

But you see, to acknowledge that the assumptions that prevailed upon the drafters of the constitution have changed or become invalid for certain powers that be would certainly not be profitable anymore. To push to examine these closely might just invite for myself unnecessary trouble. After all the Rulers have decided, for the moment, that the "social contract" is a given that continues to remain valid.

I have to remind myself, the last time someone did try to stump some UMNO leaders with questions over the assumptions prevailing upon the "social contract", we saw the exit from Malaysia and the birth of a new nation, Singapore.

I am not an historian nor have I the inclination to be one. But I would suggest that maybe someone better suited will be able to list down for us all the assumptions that prevailed upon the drafters of the constitution as well as those that were "agreed" on what they now call the "social contract"! One thing that is obvious to me is that of the assumptions that may have been so valid all those years ago only a few may still continue to remain valid. Of course there would be new ones. It will certainly be an interesting exercise to be able to list all those assumptions that prevailed then, including the unspoken ones, and then to delete those that may not be valid anymore. To add new assumptions that may be valid, and then to see how this will impact on the constitution we have today.

In this exercise I am not even asking for universally acceptable assumptions to apply. I recognise that there is still that "suspicion" and the angst that has been cultivated by UMNO. However, sparing the influence of political interests and forces, there is this Malaysian culture that exists and that most of us like to identify ourselves with. These are within our collective consciousness.

Thus, if an academic exercise was attempted at rewriting the constitution at this time by a group of people coming together with a commonness of purpose and interests rather than competing purpose and interests, I would expect to see the rulers retaining their pride of place and probably with greater clarity of their roles as they have stated in that Special Statement of theirs. I can expect to see Islam still recognised as being the foremost religion of the land. I can see Malay still supported to be the National Language of the Federation. However, for the constitution to have to still state that there is such a thing as "other communities" or the "Malay privileges" and so on would probably be giving in to unfounded fears.

When during the BERSIH rally on the 10th November 2007, I found myself in the midst of some PAS supporters chanting "Allahu Akhbar", the fact that I did not find that hostile or threatening. The fact that I found myself supporting and marching alongside them. The fact that I could not see them directing whatever angst they had at me. Hey, we have come a long way since independence and the competing interests that had to be compromised somehow then don't seem to be valid anymore. Something to think about.

So Daniel, I hope this gives you my take on the Social Contract. If I am wrong, help me change it. You see, there will always be a social contract. But that social contract is not something that is written in stone. It evolves as fences fall and confidences replace suspicions.

When you look at the durability of the American Constitution that has been subject to just 27 amendments since its adoption over 200 years ago, it tells you something about the foundation upon which it was built. Ours on the other hand obviously is founded on fear, suspicion, avarice, selfishness, opportunity, greed, and a lot of other negatives. I do not fear revisiting the start of this process. After all I am a whole lot more confident of the goals of my fellow Malaysians. Why should the fears of my forefathers submit me to servitude or for that matter compromise. Why should the fears of my forefathers be a restraint on the development of a truly Malaysian Malaysia? Hey, the assumptions that were brought to bear on the "social contract" may have been very real then and valid too. But now?

Friday, October 17, 2008

No place for UMNO in Conference of Rulers' Special Statement

I was a little aghast reading the Special Statement issued by the Conference of Rulers this morning in The Star. Later when I took a closer look, it suddenly dawned on me a sense of frustration and maybe even anger on the part of the Rulers when issuing this document. I have appended below the Special Statement as issued by Bernama.

Read it carefully and you will realise that most of what is being said is being addressed to UMNO.

Firstly, the Rulers are claiming for themselves : "The Malay Rulers hold the constitutional role to safeguard the special privileges, position, eminence and greatness of the Malay Rulers, safeguard Islam, Malay as the National Language, and the genuine interests of the other communities in Malaysia."

A few points to take note of:

1. It is the constitutional role of the Malay Rulers. Nothing mentioned of UMNO or the Government of the day or any political party or NGO.

2. The safeguard of the special privileges, position, eminence and greatness is of the Malay Rulers. No mention is made of Bumiputras, Malays, UMNOPutras or even the indigenous people.

3 The safeguards extended to everyone else, other than the Rulers, that the Rulers now are stamping their constitutional role to safeguarding are : Islam, Malay as the National Language, and the genuine interests of the other communities in Malaysia.

So what about the Malays? At this time, it would seem like in this statement the Rulers might have left out the safeguarding of the privileges, protection, rights etc of the Malays from their roles. Why?

Is there an assumption here that the Malays naturally get or gain any privileges or that their special position is ordained somehow? Or is the distinguishing point to be made here is that in their reading the Rulers see themselves as the special ones and everyone else, Malays, Chinese and Indians fall under "other communities"?

I will have to presume that the "special status" of the Malays here arises from some other article in the Consitution. (I am not much into that kind of research and referencing....leave that to the likes of Malik Imtiaz and Haris Ibrahim).

In any case, what is interesting in this claim being made by the Rulers is that it is even mentioned at all with all the emphasis that is found in that statement. For the Rulers to find it necessary to state the obvious, "The Malay Rulers hold the constitutional role to safeguard ......" That is to say, this has nothing to do with UMNO. UMNO, please don't find your raison de tre in assuming for yourself a role that was never meant for you in the first place. UMNO stop hijacking the entire Malay race by assuming for yourself a safeguarding role over the Malay race.

In fact it would seem like the safeguarding role that the Rulers state here extends to the "other communities" which all along we have assumed to mean the communities other than the Malay community. Maybe it is an error that the safeguarding of the Malays is not mentioned. Only the Malay Language and Islam. What if all those special privileges applies, as stated in that statement, only to the Rulers? What if the Rulers intended to put the Malays in their place and have lumped them together with the "other communities"? After all the rulers should know that all who claim to be Malays today are not necessarily descended from those who would have called themselves Malays just a generation ago, let alone two or three generations ago. Therefore, the ties that bind and that give the Rulers their pre-eminent position that derives from the collective acknowledgment and recognition of all those who claim to be Malay today may be suspect! There is probably greater comfort in relying on the "other communities'" acknowledgment, recognition and submission to the Rulers after all.

As for MCA and MIC's claim to be representatives and protectors of the rights of their respective races, maybe they got to re-evaluate that position. As you can see, the Rulers are also stamping their claim to safeguarding "the other communities". So why are MCA, MIC or the other Sabah and Sarawak race based parties needed?

Secondly, The only time reference is made to the Malays, this is what the special statement of the ruler states, "The Conference of Rulers also calls on the Malays to be united to safeguard the privileges, position, eminence and greatness of the Malay Rulers, safeguard Islam, Malay as the national language, and the genuine interests of the other communities in Malaysia as enshrined in the Federal Constitution. It has to be emphasised that this agenda is more important and foremost than political or factional interests.

Indeed the onus is for the Malays to safeguard what has been promised the Rulers, Islam, Malay as the National Language and the genuine interest of the other communities. No mention is made about them fighting for their own rights or seeking protection of their rights and or privileges. And indeed if they do have rights and privileges that may be found in other articles within the constitution, the Rulers have certainly not mentioned here any willingness to "safeguard these for the Malays". Maybe the so called Malay privileges, rights etc, is a given, understood and accepted and it is totally redundant even talking about it. In which case, fighting for it is equally redundant.

UMNO has positioned itself as the voice of the Malays. UMNO has positioned itself as the defender of the Malay rights. UMNO has positioned itself as the guardians of the resources and the people of Malaysia and more particularly the Malays.

Nowhere in this document do I see even an acknowledgment that UMNO exists or is relevant.

So who do the Rulers Fault?

To give us a glimpse of what has led the Rulers to issue this statement, the statement refers to:

"The actions of certain quarters in disputing and questioning these matters, which formed the primary basis for the formation of Malaysia and are enshrined in the Federal Constitution, had caused provocation and uneasiness among the people.In retaliation, several quarters particularly Malay leaders whether in the government or non-governmental organisations as well as individuals had expressed their dissatisfaction and anger against those who had made the statements and reports and organised the forums.

"Among the reasons identified for these to have occurred is the cursory knowledge of those concerned regarding the historical background as to why these provisions were enshrined in the Federal Constitution and the influence of their attempts to implicate the principles of impartiality and justice without regard for the historical background and social condition of this country. Narrow political interests are also a cause.

Obviously, the Rulers are perturbed by claims and counter-claims being made. UMNO and ultra-Malay nationalists might think that the Rulers are expressing their concern at the constant statements against Malay privileges being made by leaders of other communities. They even suggest that these were provocative and caused uneasiness.

But read that again. In the first sentence in the first paragraph the reference is made to those questioning the Malay privileges. Presumably leaders or "representatives" of other communities. Then the second sentence identifies the opposition taking the retaliatory positions, i.e. the Malay leaders, whether in government or non-government and some individuals. These second lot being Malays of course.

But the second paragraph is an indictment of those who have run fowl by making statements after only a cursory knowledge of the circumstances leading to these being enshrined in the constitution. And who else can "influence of their attempts to implicate the principles of impartiality and justice without regard for the historical background and social condition of this country. Narrow political interests are also a cause"?

There is something certainly being said by the Rulers here that might suggest that the premise upon which the UMNO led Barisan Nasional runs the country is wrong. If the rulers are going to redeem for themselves the role of safeguarding the nation in its various forms at this time, and that the BN, by their majority, was presumed to have been assigned to carry out that role on their behalf, the re-statement of what is obvious should not be read just callously. Is there a warning here that UMNO should consider?


Conference Of Rulers Issues Special Statement

KUALA TERENGGANU, Oct 16 (Bernama) -- The 215th meeting of the Conference of Rulers, held at the Istana Maziah here, issued a special press statement on several matters enshrined in the Federal Constitution.

Following is the press statement in full issued by the Keeper of the Rulers' Seal, Engku Tan Sri Ibrahim Engku Ngah.

"Press Statement issued by the Keeper of the Rulers' Seal on the role of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and the Malay Rulers regarding the special privileges, position, eminence or greatness of the Malay Rulers, Islam, Malay as the national language, the special position of the Malays, and genuine interests of the other communities in accordance with the Federal Constitution.

"The Malay Rulers who attended the meeting of the Conference of Rulers conferred on the issuing of this special joint press statement Thursday.

"The Malay Rulers hold the constitutional role to safeguard the special privileges, position, eminence and greatness of the Malay Rulers, safeguard Islam, Malay as the National Language, and the genuine interests of the other communities in Malaysia.

"The actions of certain quarters in disputing and questioning these matters, which formed the primary basis for the formation of Malaysia and are enshrined in the Federal Constitution, had caused provocation and uneasiness among the people.In retaliation, several quarters particularly Malay leaders whether in the government or non-governmental organisations as well as individuals had expressed their dissatisfaction and anger against those who had made the statements and reports and organised the forums.

"Among the reasons identified for these to have occurred is the cursory knowledge of those concerned regarding the historical background as to why these provisions were enshrined in the Federal Constitution and the influence of their attempts to implicate the principles of impartiality and justice without regard for the historical background and social condition of this country. Narrow political interests are also a cause.

"Unless this phenomenon is arrested immediately, it can lead to disunity and racial strife that can undermine the peace and harmony which has all this while brought progress, development and success to the nation.

"As such, it is necessary for the Conference of Rulers to emphasise and remind all quarters of these constitutional provisions besides giving emphasis to the assurance of safeguarding the genuine rights of other communities.It has to be emphasised that each provision in the Federal Constitution has undergone the process of discussion, consideration, consultancy, sacrifice and compromise of the highest degree for what has been championed, discussed, considered, benefited from as well as agreed to by all quarters concerned, until the realisation of the provisions in the Federal Constitution which are known as the Social Contract.It is not proper to dispute and question this Social Contract and more so to subject it to a review or change because it is the primary basis of the formation of Malaysia.Therefore, it is appropriate for the Malay Rulers to remind that there should never be any attempt ever to test and challenge issues related to the Social Contract.

"Truly, the leaders of the pre-independence era were insightful -- far-sighted. They brought along with them the Malay Rulers for the negotiations to claim independence. The Institution of the Rulers was retained and legally enshrined in the constitution of an independent Malaysia.The Institution of the Rulers was accorded eminence, was positioned at the apex of Government, as the head of the country and the states, as a protective umbrella, ensuring impartiality among the citizens.The Institution of Rulers takes on the role of being a check-and-balance factor to untangle complications, if any.

"The Conference of Rulers also calls on the Malays to be united to safeguard the privileges, position, eminence and greatness of the Malay Rulers, safeguard Islam, Malay as the national language, and the genuine interests of the other communities in Malaysia as enshrined in the Federal Constitution. It has to be emphasised that this agenda is more important and foremost than political or factional interests.

"Non-Malays should not harbour any apprehension or worry over their genuine rights because these rights are guaranteed under the Federal Constitution and provisions of the state constitutions of Malaysia contained in Article 153 of the Federal Constitution.

"It is hoped that with this emphasis, all confusion among the people regarding these matters can be contained and an atmosphere of peace, harmony and mutual respect can continue to exist among the people for the maintenance of order in the country

Thursday, October 16, 2008


In one fell sweep,Syed Hamid Albar, our Home Affairs Minister, now makes sure that the spirit of HINDRAF becomes more generic and more palatable to absorb by a wider audience. Not just throughout the Indian community but across all other races too.

If previously you were stopped at the "gates" of HINDRAF by the faces that you saw representing it, now there are no "gates". Not that there were any before to begin with, as after all they were not an entity.

Human beings generally look towards an entity. Some kind of physical form. And once they see that , they then look for the personages representing it. Even though there was no entity before, there was a perceived entity in HINDRAF as they had "officials" and they certainly appeared to have some kind of organisation.

Now that the government has issued this ban, we are forced to look beyond that "entity". Looking beyond we see the spirit.

In case dumbo Syed Hamid does not understand what it is I am saying, he should look at America. The labels "Civil Rights Movement", Ku Klux Klan, McCarthyism and such resonate. None of these were "entities". They did not need Presidents, Secretary Generals, Organising secretaries or whatever to carry on with their efforts. So really, you could not ban these. But they all represented something. Right or wrong they all represented something people identified with, supported, participated in and even fought for.

But, I guess, Syed Hamid is doing all this not so much for those among us who understand and know these things. He is doing it for the message that he wants transmitted to his audience. The Malays from the Malay heartland. He wants to paint for them a picture of the evils and the hate that is before them. Hamid and his lot want the Malays to see HINDRAF for the threat against their race and Theresa Kok as the Chinese thief in the night who wants to take away from the Malay their birth right.

Well, for everything that he has said and done till now. For every incitement hate filled missive written and published by their mouth piece, Utusan Malaysia, the Malay heartland is not buying. So much incitement has been filled in their rhetorics that at any other time, for much less, blood has been shed throughout the world where emotions can easily be worked upon. I remember the movie Hotel Rwanda. I recall reading the kind of stuff Hitler depended on to get the German people either whole heartedly supporting him or at worst remain silent. What difference is there in what Syed Hamid Albar is doing and allowing Utusan Malaysia to do and what Hitler relied on or the evil that was vent upon the minorities of Rwanda had been nourished on?

To the credit of the ordinary Malay their emancipation is certainly evident and their rejection of the intent of Syed Hamid Albar, Utusan Malaysia and the leaders of UMNO is testified in the increased number from amongst them who voted Anwar Ibrahim back into Parliament at Permatang Pauh.

It is so very clear as to the intent of UMNO in permitting Utusan Malaysia free latitude in attempting to spread their venom. Syed Hamid Albar's attempting to demonise the HINDRAF movement certainly does not go unnoticed amongst the Malays as they welcomed them into their very own heartland at Anwar Ibarhim's Hari Raya open house at Kampung Baru.

Syed Hamid Albar's and UMNO's untruthful indictment on the state of race relations in Malaysia as coming to a dangerous level is certainly not seen on the streets. Their repeated notations and reference to perceived tensions only resonates in their heads as their own partners in BN push their rhetorics for their own audiences. If at all anyone says anything that may seem a challenge has been thrown it is UMNO's partners in Gerakan, MCA, MIC and UPKO in Sabah. But I suppose this they have to do in order to ensure their constituents within their parties see them as heros.

There has been no race based threat issued by anyone in Pakatan Rakyat and HINDRAF for that matter. If I can see that I am confident the ordinary Malay, Indian and Chinese can see that. But this is, as we can all see, not exactly very good for all the BN parties. It must be very uncomfortable for many members of these parties in BN to see the contradiction of what their leaders are telling them and what they can see for themselves. so why on earth do they stay supporting those parties? What do they fear? What do they worry about?

Tuesday, October 07, 2008


I don't normally copy paste articles as I prefer to just write off the fly. But I thought at a time when the press, especially MSM, is complicit in inventing stories and perceptions that do not reflect the real situation on the ground, maybe, our lying, conniving, and inciting people in the press must surely sometimes feel doubtful and shitty about what it is they are doing with their God given talents. Maybe sometimes,when their conscience is awakened for just a fleeting second, the need to find comfort, (well, crooks and scums too ned comfort you know) may be overwhelming. That is when, knowing that they are not alone can be comforting.

But then again during their evil conniving and inciteful moments, they might wonder, what else they can do that might be sanctioned by people wearing robes and long beards. Or maybe they can learn from other masters of their trade. After all Joseph Goebels never envisaged the internet, did he? So in this time when their spin can be countered almost immediately, what can they do. I guess there must be some in MSM who would have loved to work in Iran where they got access to harsher bully boys to rely on when their own spins don't work.

Anyway, I leave it to you to see how well our spin masters, our information vendors and censors match those operating in Iran.

Jail for Iranian Journalists
by Arash SigarchiMiddle East QuarterlyFall 2008, pp. 49-52

Arash Sigarchi, former editor of Gilan-e Emrooz, was the subject of the Middle East Quarterly's Dissident Watch in the fall 2005 issue. He recently received asylum in the United States. This article is adapted from a speech he gave at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., on February 4, 2008. — The Editors.

I was a newspaper journalist in the Islamic Republic, but censorship forced me to blog. My blogging led to my arrest and eventual departure from my homeland. To comprehend how pervasive censorship is in Iran today and how difficult it is for Iranians to access a wide range of accurate information about everyday news, it is essential to understand how the Iranian government censors journalists. Iranian censorship is enforced by six major entities.
Instruments of Censorship

First, the Supreme National Security Council, charged with defending the country from external enemies, has become omnipresent not only in domestic matters but also in journalism. On a weekly basis, upon direct orders from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme National Security Council informs journalists and newspaper editors of new themes of censorship. Ahead of the March 3, 2008 U.N. Security Council decision to sanction the Islamic Republic for its uranium enrichment program,[1] the Supreme National Security Council sent a letter to newspaper editors and instructed them to respond with articles describing nuclear energy as an Iranian right.[2]

The second group, the Iranian judiciary, acts upon the direct orders of the supreme leader. If the supreme leader questions one item, this might lead to the closure of twenty to thirty newspapers. The judiciary might order only temporary closures but, in practice, their long duration makes the shutdowns permanent. In addition, security forces have killed two journalists and imprisoned another seventy. The Intelligence Ministry has imprisoned several hundred people for interrogations.

Arash Sigarchi (R) greets Iranian president Mohammad Khatami at the Iranian Press Festival, 2001.Security agencies are a third group that exerts pressure on journalists and newspapers. As a journalist in the Islamic Republic for twelve years, I was never able to criticize the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC). To do so is simply forbidden. Toward the end of Mohammad Khatami's term (1997-2005) and the beginning of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's administration (2005-present), the Ministry of Information and Security—Iran's intelligence ministry—began to summon all newspaper journalists to ask them to cooperate with the system. Their message was clear: Those who cooperate can work; those who do not will go to prison. Those who cooperated with the regime received economic privileges. Some of my former colleagues chose to accept the regime offers and today hold positions of power.

The Office of the Friday Prayer Leaders is a fourth mechanism of censorship. The Friday prayer leaders exist to provide the supreme leader a representative in every major town and city. They are, in effect, mini-Khameneis. As Khamenei censors at the national level, so do the various Friday prayer leaders enforce censorship in the provinces. For example, in November 2003, Ayatollah Zeinolabedin Ghorbani, the Friday prayer leader of my hometown of Rasht, spoke about a house that cost $200,000. During the following Friday prayer session, he criticized the system in which workers cannot afford decent housing. I published a response suggesting that it would be more productive if the system actually helped workers get decent housing rather than simply talking about the situation. The same day the article appeared, seven people attacked and beat me, and the judiciary fined me $1,000, a significant amount in Iran, for insulting the sacred matters of Islam.

The fifth group consists of the so-called "pressure groups," which many Iranians refer to as Hezbollahi groups. They are similar to Germany's pre-World War II Brown Shirts, who roughed up anyone deemed an enemy or insufficiently loyal to the regime. These groups, who attack journalists because of political opinions and writings, are attached to the Basij resistance force, to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and to the various security agencies. After I criticized Ghorbani, I also experienced this firsthand. Vigilantes attacked me and my staff in our newspaper office.

Sixth, beyond external censorship, there are internal pressures that also constrain Iranian journalism. Economic actors constrain journalism. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps has extensive economic interests.[3] Their companies maintain advertising relationships with newspapers. For example, if an IRGC-owned factory wishes to hire workers, they will place a notice with the local newspaper. When a newspaper is critical of the regime, however, the IRGC will ban any company in which it has an interest from advertising in that newspaper, severely curtailing the revenue that paper can expect. For this reason, most newspapers practice self-censorship.

In the Islamic Republic, newspaper editors do not have the freedom or independence to determine their own publications' content. The regime approves the newspaper executives who oversee the editors and enforce censorship. In addition, self-censorship is rife. Many of my colleagues resisted becoming mercenary pens in the hands of others, but they censor themselves to avoid arrest. Often, the sentences for journalists are severe. But, if they show contrition in prison, they win early release. If they return to reporting the truth, the state quickly returns them to prison. Many journalists, after receiving a taste of incarceration, are far more mindful of what and how they write.

Information Gap

The lack of real journalism hurts the Iranian public by promoting a false sense of international diplomacy. Ahmadinejad, for example, has said that Iranian discussions with the entire world with regard to Iran's nuclear issues are over, but he still negotiates with Westerners. The entire world has sanctioned us economically, but few Iranians inside the Islamic Republic understand the full nuance or effect.
Another example: In 2007, Ahmadinejad visited Gilan to inaugurate a sports stadium. This year, it was announced that the stadium had opened. What the newspapers could not report, however, was that the stadium had been slated to open fifteen years ago. Nor could the Iranian papers ever report that a day after Ahmadinejad inaugurated the stadium, it shut because it had not yet been completed.

The press also misleads with regard to the economy. After the supreme leader said that the Islamic Republic needed to be self-sufficient with regard to cereals, for example, Ahmadinejad reported that under his government, Iran had, indeed, become self-sufficient. Soon after, my wife and I traveled from province to province. In southern Iran—provinces such as Hormozgan, Bushehr, and Khuzestan—I took pictures of foreign ships importing cereals into Iran. Clearly, neither the politicians nor the newspapers reported the true situation. As a result, politicians could not implement the proper policies to enable the agricultural sector to meet real rather than fictional goals.

You might ask if Iranian journalists are asleep. No, we are awake, but in prison. So how can Iranian reporters pursue the who's, what's, where's, and why's that underpin basic journalism? Many—myself included—started blogging. Everything that I could not publish in my newspaper, I wrote on my blog. When I started in 2001, the Iranian government was not too aware of the Internet, and so I got away with straight reporting. But they soon caught on. I was arrested briefly on August 29, 2004, and, again, the next day. On January 17, 2005, the Revolutionary Court sentenced me to ten years imprisonment for cooperating with the U.S. government, two years for insulting the Iranian leadership, and two years for conducting propaganda against the Islamic Republic. Despite the crackdown of which I was one victim and Ahmadinejad's efforts to shut down blogging, the phenomenon has taken off. When I was arrested, Persian was already the fourth most popular language for blogging.[4] Today, two million people write blogs in Iran. I firmly believe that the only group that can counter the demagoguery of the Ahmadinejad government are the bloggers. With the help of their efforts, censorship in Iran will be crushed.

Arash Sigarchi is an Iranian journalist, living in Washington, D.C. He is the recipient of the 2007 Hellman/Hammett award for writers who have suffered political persecution. He blogs at

[1] UNSCR 1803 (2008).[2] Agahsazi (Tehran), Mar. 3, 2008.[3] Ali Alfoneh, "How Intertwined Are the Revolutionary Guards in Iran's Economy?" Middle Eastern Outlook, American Enterprise Institute, Washington, D.C., Oct. 2007.[4] The Guardian (London), Dec. 20, 2004.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Can We Mind Our Language


Nathaniel Tan said in his blog posting "I applaud the surprising restraint showed by the police."

Malaysiakini carried its report on that same night by Andrew Ong and Rahmah Ghazali thus, "About 2,000 people staged a peaceful march through the busy streets of Kuala Lumpur tonight calling for the abolishment of Internal Security Act and freeing detainees under the Act"

On Badawi's Open house on the first day of Hari Raya, The Star had reported with the following headline:"Hindraf commotion at govt’s Raya open house"

Further in that report it had the following statements from various Ministers:
Ayed Hamid Albar: " “This is not the time, this is not the correct venue. They can come to wish Selamat Hari Raya and shake hands, but the rest of it, different time, and different date.
“If they come in peace and harmony there shouldn’t be any problems,”

Unity, Culture, Arts and Heritage Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal "Hindraf members should have known their limits and not turn up at an open house “like this”.
“There are platforms for you to make your submission. This is not the proper way of doing things. I mean, it’s a Raya do. Today is Hari Raya, it’s got nothing to do with memorandums."

Tourism Minister Datuk Azalina Othman "such behaviour would reflect poorly on Malaysia’s image to tourists.
“If you are here as a guest, then behave as one. Parliament will convene on Oct 13. They can do so (submit their memorandum) then,”

Can you see how in our writings we all commit a common cardinal sin?

Nat want's to applaud the polices' restraint. What would have caused them to lose that restraint? Malaysiakini suggested that the rally was peaceful. But aren't all the rally's by this multi-faceted movement peaceful? Why the need to make this redundant statement?

On the Open House, The Star attempts to discredit "the commotion" by suggesting that it was an HINDRAF affair alone. Well, I guess the reader is supposed to assume that this would be typical uncouth behaviour of Indians. They completely ommitted the fact that along with the HINDRAF crowd there was also Haris Ibrahim and the Anti-ISA crowd. In any case if it was such an auspiscious occassion why all those men in blue in any case? Why did Haris not suggest that there was any commotion in his posting? Neither did Zorro! So, maybe Haris and Zorro are spinning as well?

And then those statements by the Ministers!

Like as if they can tell you when it ever was that the "protestors" referred to have ever caused disharmony or been violent or had contributed towards any kind of racial or religious disharmony. And obviously they are also suggesting that it is quite normal for them to receive memorandums of this nature on gentlemenly kiss on the cheeks basis. And where is that platform they were referring to? How so quickly they forget that they had water canons and FRU's tear gassing when little children wanted to hand the Prime Minister flowers at the Parliamet House.

They want to continue to suggest, subliminally, if necessary, that any such assembly, being illegal because they do not have a police permit, must naturally be "not peaceful" and a "threat to the security of the nation"

Nat applauded the police for their restraint. But why? Was the rally boisterous, noisy, threatening, unruly, destructive, or made up of thugs who carried weapons with them so that the polices' restraint deserved or earned them an applause? Was it even necessary for the police to have been there if indeed their presence was to stop the rally turning to become a threat to the security of the nation?

Malaysiakini found it necessary to prefix the rally with the adjective "peaceful". Are they suggesting that rallies otherwise are not peaceful? Or are they suggesting that the peacefulness of this rally was something unique? I thought Bersih and Hindraf's rally of 1011 and 2511 were also peaceful. The water canons and the tear gassing only tried, oh so hard, to define those rallies in terms that provided satisfaction only to the UMNO led BN.

You see when you have pictures of water canons and FRU men shooting tear gas, of course it suggests the necessity for such devices being used. To the vast ignorant majority who confine their information source to MSM only, these rallies must have been totally unthinkable threats to their usual way of life. And that is how the UMNO led BN wants the people to view these rallies, protests or demonstrations or even attempts at handing over memorandums.

But what are we doing ourselves in trying to paint a different picture?

Obviously in all this we are painting the police and the FRU as the frontline enemy. But really they are not. They are only carrying out orders. So were the KGB, East German Secret police, and Romania's secret police as well. But can you recall the indignity of the fallen dictators and the regime that held all that power on the day it all fell? It seemed all so sudden didn't it?

I still remember Christmas day 1989. Nicolae Ceauşescu appeared indestructive and strong in the morning. I guess his armoured guards were still protecting him. By late afternoon he was shot dead together with his wife like a dog by the enraged people and strewn on the streets. Where were his secret police? Why did they abandon their post? Certainly it was not because the people were better armed or that their voilence was overwhelming.

I would like to think reason finally got to them and the inevitable was upon them.

Are we, in our approach so far, going about it on the presumption that the police are a homogenous lot acting according to the wishes of the IGP, and/or those at the top, for whom perpetuation of UMNO's rule is a compromised goal?

Maybe its about time we consider addressing the men in blue at the front. Do they necessarily know that national security and the perpetuation of UMNO led BN's rule are not exactly one and the same thing? Wikipedia has it that as part of the programme for the National Service one module - the Nation Building Module (Kenegaraan) - Classroom based. Nation's history, sovereignty and dignity, Malaysia and international affairs, Defence and National Security and Citizen's responsibility to the nation, and loyalty towards the current government, Barisan Nasional - has it that loyalty to Barisan Nasional government is a necessary attribute of a good Malaysian citizen. Do the Malaysian police see the perpetuation of the UMNO led BN is synonymous to national security and national perpetuation?

May I suggest that in our writings too, reference to the government be very specifically addressed as the UMNO led BN government. What we all really want is the over-throw of the UMNO led BN. The government then becomes a PR ruled government. This needs to be repeatedly said so that those who form the instruments of government or are part of the apparatus of government once again retrieve for themselves their professionalism and become impartial to the political shenanigans to which they presently dance to. It is imperative that this be achieved immediately even before PR takes over.

The Star's report on the government's Raya open house at PWTC was mischievious. By their willful omission of the presence of the anti-ISA group they have tried to confine any protestations to HINDRAF only. Adding "commotion" to their attempts to access the premises where, they too were invited, The Star carried out Joseph's Goebel's instructions to the letter. After all to non-Indian Malaysians this Indian crowd is looked upon as belonging to the estates with no sense of decorum and city slick ways. They are supposed to be an uncouth lot and certainly a little less civil for the occassion.

The Star has certainly inherited Joseph Goebel's legacy for how a corrupt and evil propaganda machine should be. How they should write so that they define each and every event and happening according to what favours their leaders.

The problem in our circumstances, we too, the bloggers, the alternative press and the NGO's that may be opposed to the evil in this UMNO led BN government are quite careless in the use of our language. We may not even be saying it when we say ,"the rally was peaceful". Yet in what we did not say, we have suggested a whole lot more. Personally I think to even say that it was a peaceful rally is redundant. Why is it, when we read of a 50,000 people rally in London we do not even think of anything that might suggest insecuity?