Monday, December 22, 2008



What kind of world do you have in mind for us, Mr. Obama?

The world perspires in cold sweat as Barrack Hussein Obama readies to become US president on the sleight of possibly the worst financial hand since King Solomon overspent on his hundreds of wives and on their commemorative temples to slump Jerusalem into a wild hyperinflation nearing the end of the 10th century BC.

American New Age financial wizardry, striking rot, is estimated to have dug a hole in banking and in financé that’s about USD 62 trillion deep.

When the multiplier effect is applied to that, the number may run to USD 620 trillion some say.

Even if the numbers given are somewhat exaggerated, the simple effects of the current malady will write into history the worst economic meltdown since the Great Depression of the 30s.

Obama’s pin-up status as the first colored American president is wearing out. What’s appearing before the new world he is destined to herald is a giant depression that tells a story of inebriate greed sown into the flag-bearer of capitalism that’s now a pall-bearer.

America was spending way beyond her means, using mathematical models to issue bundles of credit to stretch money into what has finally caused the bankruptcy of American banking and finance, with the spillover suggesting loudly the failure of poorly regulated free-market capitalism.

With the world’s largest economies in deepening recession, it is the emerging market economies that are now keeping trade alive, for a while. These economies are themselves weakening.

China already growing at less than eight percent from 11.9 percent in 2007, is facing workers’ protests demanding wages and salaries owed to them by foreign-owned factories that closed down.

The Gulf States, the other strong performer, having lost more than 200 billion following the oil price slide, may be posting only 2.2 percent growth in 2009.

Labor unrest will sweep through the world. This would be an explosive mix with riots in 40 countries that have run short of food in the midst of plenty, their food supply exported for cash.

About two billion of the world’s 6.5 billion inhabitants are strapped below the poverty line with half of the number abject, and a swath of the world is hamstrung on asymmetric war nobody wants, apart from those that swarmed the White House to remove Saddam Hussein by the might of mayhem, unilaterally.

Change is clearly begging swift address. In the given circumstances, it is looking likely that the flag-bearer of capitalism will have to herself apply tariff barriers to protect what’s left of her physical economy if she is to at all recover within a decade without having to resort to war.

But the automobile, electrical and electronic industries have lost essential market segments and have begun to retrench. In the case of Japan, her markets in Europe, the US and in Asia have contracted so severely the country, already in recession, has become a net importer.

In Germany the car producers are all down, the country herself, the third largest economy, is also in recession.

Expecting Obama to single-handedly will away the dread is merely a hysteria. Obama should quickly squeeze into the US and the world real remedial policies and structural changes.

Change takes time to settle. Remedy for this financial and economic ills will need at least a decade.

Post America

It is simple to conclude we are looking straight into the prospects of a post-America era, the facts saying loudly the world cannot be wishing for a superpower such as America has been, to continue.

America decided on her own to fatally wound Iraq and to restructure the Middle East, to forcibly throw Islam out of fashion, to spring a surprisingly fragile financial system for a world she wished to hold under her hegemony in a free-market system, while she controls the IMF and World Bank as she has done.

The world would be obviously looking for a means to peaceably resolve conflicts, not for a tight Missile Defense System Mr. Bush had wanted to hoist over and above the decided advantages America already has in firepower, war machines/technologies and strategic balance of power.

Russia has only a fleet of four leftover aircraft-carriers we are told, while China has none, meaning America remains uncontested in the oceans. But there are now surface-to-sea missiles.

Over Western Europe the US is reported to have more than 560 middleweight nuclear warheads (excluding those in Israel) ready to act against any contestant, which could have been one reason for the European Union to militarize under the stalled Lisbon Treaty that Ireland has refused to accept.

Since America will continue to keep her technological edge in various fields for a while yet, and she is certainly remaining the sole superpower even if she is a bankrupt individual, the world will continue to be depressed by the prospects of having to live with a not-so-competent Sheriff and Big Brother who has made the globe much less fortunate under Mr. Bush, “The Shoe Man”.

There are definitely more “Muslim terrorists” now than could have been imagined before the US quest for glory struck Iraq, and then, the defenseless Afghanistan, where reconstruction is hopelessly obscure.

The troubles in Afghanistan have now overflowed the border into Waziristan and Pakistan, proclaiming American policy, method and outlook in the containment of “Muslim Terrorism” have failed.

In Asia people have begun to turn aside from the US’s containment of China and are looking forward to having Asian IMF and Asian mega-infrastructural development banks to prosper the continent and the trade-blocs within.

New Bretton Woods

M. Obama must know going back to Bretton Woods is merely a route to stabilize currency and trade.

Going back to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s freedom from wants, freedom from fear and freedom from tyranny is more substantial than the simple equation of Bretton Woods, IMF and the World Bank, especially when the idea had become monetary control rather than of a credit scheme for mutual development between sovereign countries they were meant to serve.

A growing number of countries in the world now want an ethical standard and an economy of mutual assistance (ta’awuni in Islam) within the context of the trade and economic blocs.

The beacons for these are not with America at all. Instead it has been the Latin American countries that have inspired ethical statecraft and diplomacy with mutual aid as a basis for the new social and international reality, leading to a grand infrastructural development covering the whole of South America.

The Latin American example has become a new existential springboard to redeem humanity from the greed of the “new economics”.

In the same passage for redemption, though less dramatic in impact just yet, are the Islamic ethical financial institutions and the Islamic securities crafted from it – the Shariah-compliant financial regime that has been spared from the frightful reverses we read of everyday inside the laissez-faire banking and finance.

Islamic securities have only surpassed USD 1 trillion, a little drop in the ocean, but stable and expanding at a rate of more than 20 percent per annum just before the economies shuddered in the current crises.

Islamic banking have been unscathed and should begin to broaden its scope to pursue the ethical economy and society internationally as an alternative to the ideological variance deemed viable by the world before.

It is not about being different. It is rather of an ideological and cultural pluralism that fit with the wishes for a multi-polar world that shall encourage healthy competition between the economic blocs and also share in seeking for the best imaging of the human collective that we can possibly call a world soul – a human personality that is good. ---a. ghani ismail, 23 December 2008

Friday, December 19, 2008




The Kuala Terengganu January 17 By-election

While the Barisan Nasional will have against her the stubborn inflation resulting from the fuel price-hike that was clearly a bad boob, for the Pas it is a challenge against Terengganu’s parochial thickness if the party chooses again to field Mohammad (Mat) Sabu for the January 17 by-election.

Unlike in Kelantan where many “outsiders” have won in elections running as Pas’ candidates, the same does not hold true in Terengganu. Even the brand new Pas Secretary-General failed in his bid to breach the difficulty in the 8 March polls. He contested in Besut.

Mat Sabu lost on 8 March 2008 by 628 votes in Kuala Terengganu because he was not a domicile. There’s no other reason that can explain why the “imported candidate” had lost as narrowly as he did.

Kuala Terengganu is a hard place for the BN to win too. Voters gave three from four state seats within the federal constituency to Pas, with the total votes exceeding the BN take by 2,283, meaning Mat Sabu ought to have won.

But if the Pas were to opt for Wan Muttalib Embong instead, or Dr. Syed Azman Syed Ahmad who won in Batu Burok (Kuala Terengganu), the BN, which is likely to choose the educationist, Zuber Embong, or the CEO of the Religious Council, Alwi Mohamad, will have to fight tooth-and-nail to keep the parliamentary seat in this by-election.

Kuala Terengganu passed from the BN to Semangat 46 in 1990 and then to Pas in 1999.

It can go either way once again, the BN being sadly depressed by the general disenchantment arising from the out-of-control prices of goods and mainly of foodstuff.

Prices of foodstuff kept going up in Malaysia after the prices of fuel at the stands were reduced since the price of oil had gone down from the record of USD 147 to below USD 36.

There’s no way for the government to explain this sad failure without making voters cry foul louder than otherwise.

On the brighter side in Kuala Terengganu are the facts the present state government was chosen by the palace and the sultan will be chairman of the Terengganu Investment Authority where RM 10 billion of the state’s sovereign fund shall be deposited.

Sultan Mizan, who is presently the Yang Dipertuan Agong (Malaysia’s King) is highly respected in the state for himself and not merely as a constitutional ruler. He and his household have conducted themselves beyond a mist of reproach.

The sultan is above party politics, of course, but the gist of the fact he chose the present state government against the wishes of the Prime Minister is a big plus for the BN.

The previous Terengganu state government had been cruelly mangled by federal intrusions that introduced the jinxed “Typhoon Cup”, said businessman, Syed Muhammad, a grandson of the famous savant, Tok Ku Paloh.

Like the cherry on the cake, this year’s Typhoon Cup was held while Kuala Terengganu was flooded.

In a recent move the state government was seen to have weeded out the poorer performers in the state capital, paving a path for a more efficient team to finally commercialize and industrialize oil-laden Terengganu instead of being dependent on tourism.

The tourism binge had been a follow-through of the Monsoon Cup. It gave Kuala Trengganu a classy façade of a crystal mosque and a miniature Taj Mahal, some jobs and a face-lift.

Those artifacts on Pulau Wan Man off Kuala Terengganu did draw more than 1.5 million sightseers this year.

But how all that would improve the state’s human resources and lead into a sustainable economy after the oil and gas are gone, is beyond easy reach of sensible minds.

Is Terengganu too primitive to be thinking half as loud as Dubai?
Is it true Terengganu’s ship-building industry is quite recent and found only on Pulau Duyung opposite Kuala Terengganu?

Ocean-going ships of three to five masts were built in various locations of Terengganu from as early as the 14th century according to available records and chances are, the ship-building had been there several centuries earlier.

Terengganu was the second Malay kingdom on the Peninsula after Patani and it was already a Muslim country long before Islam reached Malacca with the conversion of Parameswara in 1411.

Trengganu was ahead in this maritime region with a strong ship-building industry, gold mining and metallurgy, silk and fabrics that still survive as batik and songket, and agriculture and fisheries.

Terengganu was an industrial leader in the region, and probably the leading ship-builder in the whole of Nusantara even after Aceh began building her large ships of war in the 16th century under IskandarMuda and Iskandar Thani, and then when the woman, Malayahati, was Laksamana (Admiral).

Hence people in the coastal state have asked where has the will puffed to deter setting sail for the gone-glory?

The Malay Archipelago (The Spice Islands) remained the largest contributor to the world GDP even during the initial encounter with the Occident before widespread colonization was forged by the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824.

Kuala Terengganu was a ship-building and industrial port that was looking eastwards during those times when China was a big maritime power.

Now, after decades of oil-wealth, it does sound ludicrous to be busily gearing Kuala Terengganu into a tourism hub, spending billions on glassy enchantments in the murk of the muara (river mouth) while the people are left without understanding even how a tungsten-bulb is made.

It is certainly time to change the direction of government in Terengganu and this is what is being accomplished, beginning with the sultan’s intervention following the 8 March elections.

There’s an air of expectation in Terengganu. Will that translate into a larger-than-normal winning number of votes for the BN on January 17 is what’s left to be seen. ---a. ghani ismail, 19 December, 2008

Monday, December 8, 2008


How do you shine a light in a straight line through a prism

Instant Unity has not been patented yet, which is a hard bite on the hope to forge integration in Malaysia outside the common schooling experience.

Ernest Renan, defining a nation as a large-scale solidarity based upon the feelings of past sacrifices and the willingness to sacrifice again for the future, is sadly quite right about what are missing in the Malaysian plural society.

No matter the fact the members of the major races have fought together against the nation’s foes and together the races contributed to the country’s growth and development, the threesome cannot be said to have achieved integration at any time in the history of the country.

Memories are not something we can rely on to build unity in plural and competing ethnicities. As many have observed, it is the grievances that are more reliably remembered than the shared triumphs in our separate memories.

About 95 percent of Chinese parents send their children to national-type Chinese primary schools and a smaller percentage pursue the same stream to secondary and tertiary levels.

Chinese schools are not about mother-tongue education, as are Tamil primary schools. In the Chinese schools the medium of instruction is Mandarin, the Chinese national language and which is quite apart from the mother-tongues of the several Chinese tribes that have made Malaysia their home.

Malaysian Chinese have a separate nationality, and a member of a successful global Diaspora in the world. How we shall ever get the community to override its demand for a separate commonweal to integrate with the others has been a matter deliberated from the Barnes Education Report of 1951, and since becoming a never-ending story.

In recent years the Malaysian Indians too have become a Diaspora their motherland espouses.

The Malays and other Bumiputras are caught in-between these grand dispersals of nationalities that are bound to be playing big roles in the world.

Chinese and Indians shun the army and police as low-income recruits. However, they willingly apply to become commissioned officers in all branches of the armed-forces.

Discussions 10 years ago ended in a compromise solution. The government decided on a half-way measure, i.e. to pool the vernacular primary schools into a shared compound in which students and teachers may share some classes and cooperate in extra-curricula activities.

The idea was named Vision Schools (Sekolah Wawasan), a float from inside a great debate on how to herd the Malaysian plural ethnicities into a single identity, a single sense of nationality and a shared destiny.

To pursue a single schooling experience would be asking too much against the residing chauvinism and against the real need of the various communities to retain their mother-tongues. Hence, the half-way measure – Vision Schools.

But on what basis will the Vision Schools work to help forge the single sense of nationality? Can Vision Schools bring about the “large scale solidarity”?

It would need much more than that, obviously, and much more than a revised or reformed common curriculum too.

So, Mukhriz Mahathir who is contesting for the top post in the Umno Youth, asked to close the vernacular schools and to coral the pluralism into a single educational life-space for high-speed integration.

But MIC president, Samy Vellu, instead recalled the Vision Schools, saying it would have worked for the better had not the outgoing Prime Minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, neglected it.

The half-way measure suggested a slower approach to the same thing Mukhriz had wanted outright.

Leaving things the way they are would be letting us become something like the Ottoman system of millat, whereby each community is separately governed by its representatives who finally share power with the host.

In Turkey of that time, Renan wrote, ‘the Turk, the Slav, the Greek, the Armenian, the Arab, the Syrian, the Kurd, are today as distinct as they were on the day of the conquest.’

In Malaysia, even if we now live side-by-side in corporate housing schemes, there’s too little that is shared between the ethnic communities to say we have a “Malaysian society”.

Of course the Vision Schools can help. But there are merely five or six such schools, all reportedly “very successful”, before Abdullah Badawi decided the idea useless..

Former Deputy Minister of Education, Aziz Shamsuddin, said the children mixed and the staffs learned to cooperate and together organized extra-curricula activities in the existing Vision Schools.

In other words, we do have a modest advantage in the Vision Schools. The children learn to share and teachers/parents loosen much of their mutual suspicions.

Mukhriz, because he is contesting for Umno Youth chief, has been read to be seeking for easy mileage by suggesting the closure of all vernacular schools.

He is, in fact, voicing a popular thought among Malays in the current political setting. Some non-Malays have been demanding meritocracy and equality, i.e. to do away with Malay Special Privileges without wishing even to pay lip-service to unity and integration.

That is an absurd demand in the given circumstances. You’ll need the two-third majority in parliament to alter the Constitution. Without that, the noisy demands are only hot-air, good for floating the bloat. --- a. ghani ismail, 9 December 2008