Saturday, April 19, 2008

A Vancouverian View of Malaysian Politics


Jonathan Manthorpe, Vancouver Sun
Published: Friday, April 18, 2008

Revenge is sweet and Malaysia's former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim seems intent on savouring every drop.

A decade after Anwar was elbowed into the political scrap heap when a compliant court convicted him of fabricated sodomy and corruption charges, he is poised to become prime minister.

Anwar's resurgence comes as the United Malay National Organization (UMNO), which has dominated the country's government since independence from Britain in 1957 and of which Anwar used to be deputy leader, implodes into a brawl of backstabbing, power lust and greed.

What set off this ferret fight was March 8 elections when voters among the southeast Asian nation's 20 million people, despairing of the endemic corruption, nepotism and cronyism in the UMNO-led National Front ruling coalition, gave it a mighty face-slap.

The National Front did win a majority in the 222-seat parliament, but it lost the two-thirds majority it has enjoyed for more than 50 years and the opposition alliance led by Anwar won power in five of Malaysia's 13 states.

The wind of change appears to be blowing Anwar's way and almost immediately within UMNO the calls began for the removal of the gentlemanly but ineffective prime minister and party leader, Abdullah Badawi.

Abdullah took over the leadership in 2003 on the retirement after 22 years at the helm of the irascible and recalcitrant Mahathir Mohamad.

It was Mahathir who engineered the downfall of his deputy, Anwar, when they fell out over how to deal with the Asian economic crisis of 1997. And it is Mahathir, 82, together with one of his sons, Mahathir Mukhriz, who are playing large roles in the campaign to dump Abdullah.

In one of the most open acts of rebellion so far, Mukhriz, who is an UMNO member of parliament, this week called on Abdullah to immediately transfer power to his deputy, Najib Razak, so the party can be stabilized and rehabilitated.

Well, Najib is not an obvious candidate for the role of cleansing new broom.

Najib is embroiled in a number of classic Malaysian procurement scandals from his time as defence minister.

Even more explosive is the trial of two of his bodyguards for the 2006 murder of Mongolian model and professional escort Altantuya Shaariibuu, the troublesome and demanding mistress of Najib's closest friend, Abdul Razak Baginda.

UMNO is the perfect example of a floundering political ship where the rats are rushing around hunting for life jackets.

This is a moment of huge opportunity for Anwar and his three-party coalition led by his People's Justice party, as he acknowledged on Monday at a mass rally in the capital, Kuala Lumpur.

Anwar's opposition alliance, the People's Coalition, won 82 seats in last month's election and needs to entice only 30 members from the government National Front to be able to claim power.

At Monday's rally, Anwar said he has been approached by many National Front MPs looking to cross the floor to the coming man.

"Yes, we have enough MPs to topple the government," he said. "We are saying here for the first time that we are ready to rule.

"But we will only enter when the majority is comfortable. Do we want to be a government with a two- or five-seat majority?"

The answer at the moment is clearly not.

While Anwar and his alliance have political power in Malaysia within their grasp, there are some significant hurdles to be negotiated.

The first is that Anwar must win a seat in parliament in a byelection. He did not become eligible to run until Monday when a five-year ban on his involvement electoral politics ran out.

Although his conviction and nine-year prison sentence for sodomy was overturned by the Federal Court in 2003 after Mahathir's retirement, he had already completed the six-year sentence for corruption, to which the ban was attached.

Then there's the question of whether he really wants to come to power with the aid of UMNO's deserters, who will be seen as soiled goods even if they are not. Few people will believe floor-crossers were not bought.

Meanwhile, the National Front is rushing to deter floor-crossers by making it illegal for MPs to change parties without fighting a byelection.

International Affairs Columnist Jonathan Manthorpe watches global events through the prism of 30 years experience as a foreign correspondent in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Friday, April 18, 2008

A Stroke of Insight ~ Jill Bolte Taylor

Neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor suffered a stroke in 1996 from which she took eight years to recover. During the episode she remained lucid and was able to report a mystical experience she had while her left brain hemisphere was disabled by a blood clot. Her insight is brilliant, vivid and of immeasurable value to our understanding of the nature of holographic reality. She articulates it engagingly and passionately. I initially found her accent grating, but after a few minutes I got into her story and found it rewarding enough to share on this blog.

[Brought to my attention by Alfred the Essene]

Monday, April 14, 2008


Sim Kwang Yang has raised some very pertinent issues in his essay, "Whom should we trust?" Ultimately, we have to love and trust ourselves before we can love and trust anybody else. Otherwise we will end up behaving like the proverbial lemming, incapable of independent thought and action.

Every day I bump into people who continue to parrot well-worn clich├ęs about Anwar Ibrahim being tainted during his long stint in Umno, his unrelenting political ambition, his connections with the Zionist banking fraternity - and, worst of all, the Islamic zeal that first shot him to prominence as a hot-headed leader of ABIM (the Muslim Missionary Movement). All these negative perceptions of the man are ultimately rooted in deep fear of individuals like Anwar Ibrahim whose lives seem like epics compared to most of us.

Every culture produces its own cult heroes - strangers who appear from out of nowhere, slay an ogre, marry a princess, and end up ruling the kingdom. Most of us are fascinated by heroes. After all, that's where our role models come from. However, in recent times, with the rise of the corporate superpower, heroes have become a manufactured product. The mass media conspires to transform ordinary folks into superstars - and then, almost inevitably, they commit deicide by ripping their icons to shreds through vicious gossip and slander.

Sim rightly advises us to reclaim the authority that resides within each of us, to embody within our own beings the noble qualities of the hero. This is the mark of a mature individual. As more of us become our own heroes, we shall no longer be in awe of other heroes. Instead we will befriend and cooperate with them to manifest our collective dream of the Promised Land.

During Mahathir's 22-year reign as PM, he effectively dismantled all the mechanisms by which citizens of a functional democracy can replace non-performing or misbehaving public servants. Without journalistic freedom, no real information reaches the ground, only corporate propaganda. Without academic, artistic and intellectual freedom there can be no open dialogue on values, perceptions and collective visions. Without a politically neutral civil service and police force, a climate of Orwellian absolutism prevails. And without an impartial and independent judiciary, no justice can exist, nor can serious wrongs be righted.

In effect, Malaysian politics under Mahathir was like a public toilet with no working flush mechanism. There's nothing more unpleasant than walking into the loo only find Unsinkable Floating Objects in the bowl. With no flush - and no bucket and pail to perform the job manually - we had no choice but resign ourselves to the less-than-delightful odor and the disgusting sight of public servants, fattened on sleazy lucre, who simply refused to resign or retire even when they had long overstayed their welcome.

Rather than succumb to mistrust and fear, we would do much better to regard Anwar Ibrahim as the Master Plumber who will take on the unpleasant but absolutely necessary task of fixing the flush mechanism. Once that is accomplished, nobody will be reluctant to "get their hands dirty" by participating in local politics as every adult citizen should. The public bowels will be regularly moved and Malaysia's infamous stinky loos will become a nightmare of our collective past. In other words, let's get a grip on our conditioned reflexes. BN has ruled us for 50 years by playing on our fears. They fanned the flames of the non-Malays' Islamophobia even as they played up the Malays' anxieties about being overwhelmed by noisy platoons of pig-eating pagans.

In a fear-free atmosphere of open discussion - such as we are experiencing for the first time courtesy of the Internet - clarity, truth and wisdom have a much better chance to prevail over atavistic superstitions and taboos. When the public lavatories are clean and functional, people will be less likely to walk around full of their own crap - and public servants who become bloated with egotism and greed will find themselves unceremoniously flushed away.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Saving Up for Sufiah Yusof

What a fabulous fiasco it turned out to be, the hue and cry over the recent revelation by a scabious Murdoch-owned tabloid (News of the World) that a female math prodigy who entered Oxford University at 13 was now working in Manchester as a "£130-an-hour hooker" ten years later. Why the hue and cry? Simply because the girl, Sufiah Yusof, was supposedly Muslim, one of five children born to a Pakistani father and a Malaysian mother.

Like everybody else I found the story intriguing enough for me to poke my nose into it - and what I found online was a series of provocative poses uploaded as a slide show by the News of the World. Now I must admit I took an instant shine to Sufiah, especially after watching an interview with her. She came across as a highly articulate, self-confident, sexually liberated young woman who had consciously decided to embark on a lucrative career as a professional erotician. Luscious bod too.

"I've had some of the best sex I've ever had working in this job," she says candidly. Sufiah sounds totally British, so it's rather odd that some Malaysians still believe they have some sort of claim over her as a "princess of the soil." The truth is, what Sufiah does with her life is none of their fucking business, no pun intended. Okay, during the Mahathir era the Malaysian government did sponsor Sufiah's studies in the hope that she would someday do her motherland proud. But dammit the kid was only 12 at the time and it was her dad Farooq who came up with this insane and cruel method of "accelerated learning" designed to hydroponically produce academic geniuses. Not surprisingly, Farooq Yusof was recently jailed for molesting two 15-year-old students who were taking home tuition from him. You can imagine what sort of relationship Sufiah had with her dad.

But this blogpost isn't about Sufiah Yusof, even though she inspired it. What I want to talk about is the erotophobia of the Abrahamic religions which has turned repressed sexuality into a multi-billion dollar industry.

The crux of the problem is that morality has become inextricably linked to sexual behavior when morality and sex have very little to do with each other. Cutting edge thinker Robert Anton Wilson often wrote about the conflict between what he called the logogram and the biogram. Morality is part of the logogram - a set of assumptions and beliefs conjured by the verbal mind. Sexuality is part of the biogram - a reproductive strategy activated by biochemical, bioelectrical and sensory processes that do not take their cues from the analytical mind.

In other words, the language-processing conceptual mind creates artificial boundaries and limitations and then assumes they are real and universal; while the body operates on a complex series of autonomous programs triggered by the endocrinal and hormonal systems, evolved over billions of earth years.

The late great Austrian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich (left) theorized that sexual repression is the source of many psychological and social problems. The split between mind (logogram) and body (biogram) causes us to destroy each other and our planet, Reich believed, and is the underlying cause of warfare. Reich saw the ability to lose ourselves in sexual ecstasy as the ultimate measure of well being. He held that neurosis is none other than the sum total of all chronically automatic inhibitions of natural sexual excitation, and everything else is the result of this original disturbance. Reich's psychotherapeutic goal was to restore the primacy of our sensual nature. To really let go during the sexual experience. Not just an orgasm but a complete, full release. For Reich, a key question was: Why did people support the Nazis? Reich found that several things went together in Nazi Germany:

* Strong paternal authority
* Sexual repressiveness
* authoritarian values
* reactionary political ideologies

Sexual desires naturally urge a person to enter into all kinds of relations with the world, and to enter into close contact with others in a variety of forms. If these urges are repressed, they can only express themselves within the narrow confines of the family. In patriarchy, there is much more emphasis on sexual control than in matriarchy. If all the wealth passes through the father, you want to be very sure who the father is. If it passes through the mother, there is less concern as to who the father is. Monogamy will cease to be presented as the only legitimate form of sexual bonding. [Brief summary of a paper by Victor Daniels of Sonoma State University]

E.F. Baker, in an essay on Reich published in the Journal of Orgonomy wrote:

"Reich could only conclude that sex, which was formerly believed to be solely for reproductive purposes, had the vitally important function of maintaining a stable energy level within the organism. It would follow, then, that without sexual repression, there would be no neuroses. This is indeed the case in those societies that are sex-affirmative, such as the Trobriand Islanders'. Such societies are matrilineal in structure. In western civilization (and most Asiatic and other countries), a patriarchal form of social structure exists which is sex-negative. We have, therefore, to be concerned with the social cause of sexual problems and hence neuroses. Our whole society is oriented against true sexual freedom and, from infancy on, every effort is made to inhibit and repress any sexual manifestations. Boys and girls alike are severely reprimanded for any curiosity about the other's body, and adolescents who engage in sexual relations can be severely punished. Thus, only a few are allowed to grow up with a natural sexual attitude, and yet, when they marry, they are supposed to be able to function. Few find or attain a satisfying sexual relationship even in our day when youths are boldly showing their sexual interest and demanding its fulfillment."

So why would anyone be willing to spend £130 (approximately RM870) just for a sexual romp with Sufiah Yusof? It's simply because she has figured out that the majority of men can't find sexual gratification at home and are happy to pay handsomely for a really fantastic fuck. Few women, once they're married and have children, bother to remain sexually appealing to their husbands. By specializing in the erotic arts, Sufiah capitalizes on fulfilling male fantasies of carefree, no-holds-barred sexual play. If an occasional evening out with somebody like Sufiah Yusof can help maintain a man's sanity, then that £130 can be considered money well spent.

Those who believe Sufiah Yusof needs to be saved from a life of sin and godlessness are themselves most likely to suffer from acute sexual repression. Growing up in a patriarchal culture and indoctrinated with erotophobic beliefs that equate pleasure with immorality, the existence of a sexually liberated female like Sufiah threatens the fundaments of their belief systems.

If I were living in the vicinity of Manchester, I might be sorely tempted to look Sufiah up. Not with the thought of saving her, of course, but it would be absolutely delicious to have a juicy discussion on algorithms and integral calculus with her while nonchalantly peeling off her algebra. Well, I'd better start saving up. This foxy lady who began life as a math genius doesn't come cheap!