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Fear and loathing in the province of respectability. September 17, 2007

Posted by elizabethwong in "We can do better", Columns, Malaysia, Note2Self, Politics, Writings.

I read, with horror and frustration, that once again, university authorities had the gall to walk into dorms and harass students.

But I’m even more frustrated that our student activists are so disempowered that they allow these thugs to do whatever they wish. If we wouldn’t allow anyone to pilfer our homes or our rooms, why then are students allowing these thugs get away with this? (Just a thought, don’t students keep baseball bats in their rooms, like we used to?)

My latest column is a reflection of this frustration, which has been in my thoughts for a week now.

Fear and loathing in the province of respectability

Eight years ago, amidst the sound and fury of Reformasi, one of the student leaders went missing.

Let’s just, for the moment, call him “Mr. Respectable”.

He was after all, a proponent of ‘respectability’ and ‘respectable’ dressing among the student activists.

I thought it was one of those local odditities, considering it was only a few years ago when we wore what was considered then, haute couture for student activists – tank tops, dirty black jeans, Blundstones faded to a hue of purple, sometimes with a flannel shirt and a scarf around the neck, in anticipation of delights such as a hot sunny day or tear gas in downtown Sydney.

A week later, we discovered he was holed up at Armada Hotel, Petaling Jaya. Between room service and cable TV, he made furtive calls, arranging meetings with Reformists to offer anything their hearts desire, so long as they saw ‘his light’.

Little did we know that during one of those ‘respectable’ discussions with government officials, he had negotiated a sweet deal for himself. (Con’t reading here)


The Limits of Nostalgia August 27, 2007

Posted by elizabethwong in Columns, Current Affairs, History, Malaysia, Writings.

A new online magazine, Bolehland.com, premiered a fortnight ago, featuring 12 columnists under 40. They include Brian Yap (who has a column in NST and soon to be a film-star); Fahmi Fadzil (actor); Li Tsin (Malaysiakini journalist); John Lee (frightfully bright 17-year old who’s been writing on politics and current affairs for the past 2 years); Nat Tan (editor of ‘Mahathir vs. Badawi’ – a book still on the top 10 bestseller list); and many others.

My piece came out last Monday.

Around this time of the year, we gorge ourselves, willingly or otherwise, at the buffet table of unlimited servings of sepia images and faded texts; this year with a little more pomp and frenzy, partly spearheaded by officialdom to put out a good show and partly fueled by the government’s recent reaffirmation that Malaysia is an Islamic state.

While there is ample critique of the government’s use and abuse of ‘history’, not much has been said or written on contradictory reactions, bordering talismanic and involving equally solemn rituals of:- (1) whipping out the Federal Constitution (original) (2) reciting the Rukun Negara; (3) bringing forth the spectre of the ‘Social Contract’ (original) and (4) invoking the spirit of the (original) Merdeka Declaration.

Con’t reading here

Question on GT girls in Parliament June 27, 2007

Posted by elizabethwong in Columns, Creative, Democracy, Malaysia, Note2Self, Politics, Southeast Asia, Women.

Wednesday morning.

Our tax dollars runneth. Another dumb-*ss question that will tickle ’em silly and bring the wolf out. Hilarity guaranteed. Better than viagra.

Q3. PR-1122-L9472
Datuk Ir. Hasni Bin Haji Mohammad [ Pontian ] minta MENTERI BELIA DAN SUKAN menyatakan apakah pendirian Kementerian terhadap peragawati yang berpakaian seksi pada perlumbaan kereta Super GT yang diadakan di Malaysia setiap tahun.

(Loosely translates to – What does the Ministry for Youth and Sports have to say about hostesses in hot clothes at Super GT race held annually in Malaysia?)

How would you answer if you were the good Minister?

The politics of mergers (1) January 17, 2007

Posted by elizabethwong in Columns, Economy, Malaysia, Note2Self, Politics.

Permodalan Nasional Bhd (PNB) has asked for an extension, from January 15th to the 29th, apparently due to disagreements with Synergy Drive Sdn Bhd, led by the CEO of Sime Darby Datuk Ahmad Zubir Murshid, and merchant bank CIMB.

The Edge Daily quoted sources who said, “(T)he main contention was a disagreement over whether the sale of assets of the PNB companies to Synergy Drive should be made inter-conditional to a capital distribution proposal.”

PNB owns owns 39.4 % of Sime Darby, 64.7 % of Kump. Guthrie and 51.8 % of Golden Hope. While news of the merger of these <em>Big Three</em> centre on the combined ownership of plantations, very little is said about the rest of the assets, which are in turn extremely lucrative businesses, including real estate, engineering, construction and others.


Wet and weary Christmas December 24, 2006

Posted by elizabethwong in Columns, Current Affairs, Malaysia, Politics, Writings.

– Graffiti found in Newtown, Sydney; circa late 20th Century

banjir82.JPG(NST Pix by Shahrizal Md Noor) My box of dusty Christmas lights and weathered decorations lie unopened, the gifts unwrapped. Every fifth person I know is frantically sending out Christmas e-cards and SMS greetings before the phone networks overload with messages of peace and giving.

I’ve never been terribly fond of Christmas, barring the occasional Bing Crosby songs. I confess I do like relatively painless family gatherings, the quirky gifts and the company of close and old friends.

But the fates have decided to make this occasion pricklier than in the past.

The great deluge has taken at least half a dozen lives (and counting), and has all but drowned any holiday joy for close to a hundred thousand people in West Malaysia, unveiling the crassness of Christmas in all its glory.


Umar Tan: Perginya Seorang Pejuang November 6, 2006

Posted by elizabethwong in Columns, Democracy, Human Rights, Malaysia, RIP, Writings.

(Umar freed outside Pudu Police Station, after his arrest during an anti-fuel hike protest)


Some two hundred people, from friends to civil society leaders, dropped in at Pak Lang’s Bangi house to offer their condolences and prayers for the departed. Those present included Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, president of People’s Justice Party; Syed Shahir, president of Malaysian Trade Union Congress; Dr. Hatta Ramli, Treasurer of PAS and Kuala Lumpur’s own bon vivant, Hisham Rais.

Reformists. NGOs. Students. Writers. Editors. It felt almost like a reunion of our restless generation.

There were others in their cars and vans, racing from Perak, Penang and Melaka, unaware that the burial would be conducted in a matter of hours. Amin, who lives in Korea, asked if he should take the next flight back to Kuala Lumpur.

The send-off was not for a titled person or a celebrity. He was neither a tycoon nor a political dignitary.

Tan Soi Kow (who, of late, went around as Umar Tan Abdullah) or just plain old ‘Ah Tan’ was a most ordinary man who made our lives most extraordinary.

Unbeknownst to most Malaysians, even those who unabashedly wear the velveteen tag of “human rights activists”, Tan was without doubt one of the most committed fighters for democracy and human rights in this country. But one would be hard pressed to find a feature on him or read his words laid out on glossy magazines.

Once, an “activist” asked, “How could you possibly hang out those people (Reformists)?”


Reality check on reforming the police April 8, 2006

Posted by elizabethwong in Columns, Current Affairs, Human Rights, Malaysia, Politics.

Formation [Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia]I read a commentary piece, where our boys in blue reportedly turned on the taps, during a closed-door meeting between the ruling coalition parliamentarians and the police over the proposed bill on the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC).

I almost cried too – from laughter.

Perhaps many would fail to appreciate the fine show put up by the police. But for many of us who have been working on police reform for more than a decade, we have documented and seen too many cases to start dishing out tissues, group hugs and Washington apples.

It wasn’t too long ago when the former (now disgraced) Inspector-General of Police, Rahim Noor, threatened human rights organizations with arrest and indefinite detention without trial when we tried to organise a gathering of victims of police brutality.

Rahim Noor had a problem with the image of dozens of people on stage, recounting how the police sided with developers who were conducting illegal evictions, or women repeating what police officers said to them when they tried to lodge domestic violence reports, or of family members describing the bruises and welts on the cold bodies of their loved ones, who were well and alive before they were placed in police lockups.


Faith and the state July 25, 2005

Posted by elizabethwong in Columns, Human Rights, Islam in Southeast Asia, Malaysia, Politics, Southeast Asia, Writings.
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Children There is something about faith that drives believers to, on the one hand, astound the world with what the human spirit is capable of accomplishing, and on the other, commit the most heinous of crimes in the name of their religions.

Take for instance, the religious inspired monuments and objets d’art molded with mere mortal hands. At the other end of the spectrum, there were the ‘holy’ wars which saw the slaughter of men, women and children.

We needn’t go out of the country to witness this paradox. Here we have the Ayah Pin commune in Jerteh, Terengganu. Many had traveled to this little village to seek whatever they were looking for, and found it. Some were hardened heroin addicts for 20 years who were able to kick their habit there. Some wanted to heighten their spiritual growth and understanding, though not discarding their personal faith. There are others, for example, a family of three who, without any musical training, were able to compose songs out of thin air.