Friday, March 19, 2010

British Parliament: "Quit harassing Anwar and the Opposition!"

Jeremy Corbyn met Anwar Ibrahim on Friday, 19 March; while more Members of Parliament signed the EDM last Tuesday.


Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn submitted the following EDM (Early Day Motion) to the British Parliament on Monday, 15 March 2010, and it was passed.

That this House recognizes Malaysian Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim's contribution to promoting democracy in Malaysia and peace and understanding between the Muslim world and the West; is deeply concerned at the charges laid against Anwar Ibrahim and that his current trial flouts international standards of fairness and adherence to the rule of law; notes that this trial resembles the one he faced in 1998 in which the conduct of the judiciary was condemned by Malaysians and by the international community; further notes the renewed exhortations by international human rights organizations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and prominent leaders from Commonwealth nations including the Right honourable Paul Martin of Canada and the Right honourable Michael Danby and 59 other elected representatives of Australia for the Malaysian government to drop the charges against Anwar Ibrahim; and calls on the Malaysian authorities to bring an end to the harassment and persecution of members of the political opposition.

Not such a good year for the Tiger...

AFP/Getty Images

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Mahathir the Snake Oil Salesman

MALAYSIAN MAVERICK: Mahathir Mohamad in Turbulent Times - Barry Wain's revealing study of Dr M's 22-year term as Malaysian prime minister was published in 2009 by Palgrave Macmillan. The first shipment of the hardcover edition was detained in December 2009 by the home ministry when it arrived in Port Klang.

More than three months later, no formal announcement has been made as to whether the book is banned in Malaysia. As a result local booksellers have held back on ordering the title in case the home ministry confiscates all copies, as it is wont to do with any literature deemed embarrassing to Barisan Nasional.

A group of dedicated souls have now begun to upload in pdf format low-quality scans of Barry Wain's highly readable and well-researched book. This makes the material accessible to anyone with an internet connection, even if it unfortunately deprives the author and publisher of some revenue.

I have just skimmed through Chapter Five of Malaysian Maverick and can attest to the robust quality of Mr Wain's research and the lucidity of his writing style. Barry Wain has done us all a magnificent service by publishing this important work which effectively deconstructs the demiurgic façade carefully and cynically built up by Mahathir's professional spin-doctors.

It only takes a few paragraphs to show up Dr M for what he essentially is - just another snake oil salesman with a terminal case of megalomania, in vigorous denial of his own dark and dangerous side.

Of course, Mahathir couldn't have singlehandedly destroyed the nation's moral core - he was more than ably aided by the archetypal Mafia don, Daim Zainuddin, who subsequently served Mahathir as finance minister.

The first shipment of Malaysian Maverick was finally released by the home ministry a few months after being impounded and copies are currently available at major bookstores.
Barry Wain is a writer-in-residence at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore. An Australian journalist who has lived in Asia for 38 years, he is a former editor of the Asian Wall Street Journal. He is currently working on a thematic treatment of Southeast Asia since World War II that will draw heavily on his extensive reporting in the region.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Get ready to explode when Umno implodes!

Najib was in France a few months ago on undisclosed business. Upon his return the media briefly carried reports of a memorandum of understanding signed with the French government to purchase a multi-billion-ringgit nuclear reactor - along with a French technical team to supervise its installation, operation and maintenance. Thereafter, nothing more was heard about this insane and wasteful scheme. Malaysia sits just above the Equator and enjoys all-year-round sunshine. The obvious way to go is solar, augmented by wind and wave power. Why did Najib agree to such an expensive and dangerous nuclear project (when we have trouble operating even a telephone company and a train service)? Was his arm twisted by the French - who surely are in possession of "sensitive" documents that could undermine his position as crime minister and land him in jail? I don't have time to write an original piece today, so I'm recycling a play review written in August 2003 which concerns Malaysia's secret aspiration to become a nuclear power... scary, huh?

Antares is radioactivated yet again by Huzir Sulaiman’s masterpiece, ATOMIC JAYA

Since March 1998 when Atomic Jaya first opened at the original Actors Studio Theatre (now reclaimed by the primordial ooze), too many things have gone badly for the world. So when something bucks the global trend of failure, destruction and disaster - when something goes very well indeed – it’s a call for huge celebration and rejoicing.

A sure sign that something is going very well indeed is when you see nothing but cheerful faces leaving their seats at intermission, and there are far more grins than frowns at the end of the show.

Okay, there were THREE members of the audience who made a major show of not enjoying one of the finest satires I’ve seen staged anywhere. Someone whispered that they were from City Hall, there to monitor the performance for offensive, subversive, or pornographic content. After the recent fiasco over its ill-advised attempt to ban the Instant Café Theatre from the city of KL (thanks, Mr Mayor, for speaking out on behalf of good sense and reversing the ban; I insert a round of applause for that silver lining on an inquisitorial dark cloud), it’s understandable that City Hall would be feeling defensive.

Keeping sewers clean, streets swept, and petty traders on their toes isn’t quite as glamorous or exciting as intimidating the fancy-talking faggoty arty-farty fringe. However, what one person labels “offensive” another calls “hilariously honest.” You have to really hate how you look to object so strenuously to your own reflection. Art’s primary function is to reflect our lives. Everyone ought to know that. Certain artistic approaches may work more like distorting mirrors but being able to laugh at your own comical aspects means your ego is healthy and comfortable with itself.

True art is subversive, reclaiming for the individual the power the State constantly attempts to steal. If art is subservient rather than subversive, most likely it’s mere corporate propaganda. And in response to the question of what constitutes “pornography,” all I can say is: “Honi soit qui mal y pense.” Evil to whomsoever thinks evil.

Enough! We won’t allow City Hall to steal the show, no matter how badly it wants in on the limelight. I want this to pass as a review, not just a rave. So how did I like Atomic Jaya’s new incarnation?

Enormously! The original version was more or less a 14-character monodrama: a litmus test of any actor’s ability, agility and nerve, sort of like tightrope-crossing Niagara Falls on a unicycle. This Checkpoint Theatre production features Claire Wong and Huzir Sulaiman on a breezy tandem ride through Bolehland – with crisp digital images meticulously crafted by director Casey Lim and flashed on a paper screen as a kinetic backdrop (the state-of-the-art, high-resolution Panasonic projector produced startlingly clear images). It also has Fahmi Fadzil playing a double rôle as a canteen makcik and patriotic singer.

While the original version was supercharged with manic intensity and a stark, dark surrealism, this new production heightens and broadens the comedy, thus increasing its entertainment value without detracting from the script’s satirical incisiveness. And in any case it’s doubly pleasurable to watch two consummate performers tackle the main characters instead of one.

What gives Atomic Jaya a solid core of substance beyond the guffaws, sniggers and belly laughs is the play’s underlying seriousness as anthropological commentary. The fact that it opened in Kuala Lumpur on August 6th – on the 58th anniversary of Hiroshima, when 80,000 human lives were destroyed by an atomic bomb dropped by the United States Air Force, followed by another over Nagasaki three days later which decimated horrific thousands more – was a grim reminder to us all that we’re still living under a nuclear sword of Damocles (not “umbrella” as some may pretend).

The mind-boggling insanity of squandering trillions on an ongoing program of Mutual Assured Destruction – instead of redirecting every available resource towards the alleviation of suffering caused by simple lack – has its roots in the malignant human ego when it takes on exaggerated nationalistic proportions. Can the laser surgery of sharp-tongued humor excise the tumor of ruinous pride and megalomaniacal ambition? Perhaps not, but weapons-grade satire produces a chain reaction of transcendental consciousness among those it infects with despair-banishing mirth. And even the deadliest strain of militant pomposity cannot withstand well-aimed ridicule, though it will try its damnedest to outlaw and suppress it.

On the strength of the three or four plays (and one short film, That Historical Feeling by the prolific Huzir Sulaiman) in which I’ve seen Claire Wong act, I’d place her amongst the top ranks in both hemispheres. The precision, sensitivity and vitality she infuses into each rôle makes her - like Jo Kukathas, who created the original characterizations - an extraordinary shapeshifter.

Who can forget her Dr Saiful from UKM (“Oh, you are discussing philosophy. Very interesting. For example, ‘Men are from Besut, Women are from Dungun.’ I also like philosophy.”)? Or her thumb-twiddling malapropic minister (“Why should we import the highly enriched Iranian? We already buy the Persian carpet and the Persian cat from the Iranian so they become highly enriched at our expense.”)?

In two seconds flat she visibly gained 200 pounds as former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: “We have the might, and we have the right, and we will not hesitate to fight for the right to our might, and our might alone. Ask not what your country can do for you; rather, ask what our country can do to your country.”

But as nuclear physicist Dr Mary Yuen, Claire Wong was 100% the real McCoy. No problem passing her off as a Chinese Catholic girl from Ipoh who just happened to idolize Lord Rutherford, Niels Bohr, Erwin Schrödinger, Max Planck, Albert Einstein, and the entire subatomic pantheon.

Huzir Sulaiman was in top comic form as General Zulkifli (with his classic Napoleon Complex and unforgettable lines like, “I want to get to the bottom of this matter. Until the bottom is reached, the top cannot be happy.”); and the excitable Delhi Polytechnic graduate, Dr Ramachandran (“If you vant to take yumbrage, make sure this taking of yumbrage is correct and prahper. Yumbrage simply cannot be taken at vhim or vhimsy. You vill vaste the yumbrage.”)

He had a spot of trouble getting an exact fix on the extremely sleazy Mr Bala, and his Otto (the low-grade European) could have been further fine-tuned; but he outdid himself as a whole stream of newsreaders from the BBC, CNN and RTM – and as a police officer addressing a group of protestors (all 7 of them) with a loudhailer: “This is an illegal assembly. I order you to disperse. This is your first warning. Tangkap mereka semua.” An immortal characterization in only four lines.

Noraini, the canteen operator at Syarikat Perniagaan Atomic Jaya Sdn Bhd, was played in drag by Fahmi Fadzil (left) who turned in a laudably restrained performance. Fahmi also did a superb job as a nattily besongkoked patriotic song-rendering robot, as instant palm trees waved in the electronically generated background.

Director Casey Lim’s wizardry with digital design is matched by a fine intuition for injecting just the right symbolism with almost subliminal subtlety.

The choice of a solitary hibiscus flower (Malaysia’s national emblem) as central motif was an inspired one. Closeups of the stamen evoked understated phallic imagery and mimicked the mushroom cloud that would later dominate the entire backdrop with chilling effect. From nationalistic egocentricity to testosteronal displays of potency – just by changing camera angles on a hibiscus flower – pretty neat!

When all the elements of a play work together so efficiently (and with such apparent effortlessness) to produce an aesthetically satisfying synergetic gestalt, we are reminded that Creation is infinitely wise and perpetually self-perfecting. So what if the country or even the whole goddamn planet is temporarily in the hands of Sharkey and his perception-challenged henchmen? The vision quest only makes sense and carries any value if it bears the ring of truth – and Huzir Sulaiman’s Atomic Jaya rings true for me.

[ATOMIC JAYA was restaged in October 2008 by students of Sunway University College under the direction of Chee Sek Thim.]