Friday, January 23, 2015


(by Joe Chelliah)

Seremban as we know it today was not always like what it is today both in physical form as well as in population demographics.  This is also true of almost all Malaysian towns in the west coast of peninsular Malaya and more so of those that have a tin mining historical past.  These towns saw better development of infrastructure in line with the economic needs of the time.  Only the roads in Seremban remain with mostly changed names supposedly displaying a more Malaysian identity.  The prominent roads had names like Birch Road, Paul Street, Wilkinson Street, Cameron Street, Channer Road, Carew Street, Dunman Road and so on.

Birch Road in the 1960's

Seremban was and still is to some extent essentially a Chinese dominated town comprising mostly of the Cantonese speaking variety.  They even had their own name for Seremban as “Fuyong”.  They dominated almost all the big and small business ventures in the towns while others grew vegetables in the areas surrounding the town principally in the Rasah, Paroi and  Sikamat areas which also house the new villages.  Probably a little tin-mining continued with some Chinese as dulang washers along the Sungai Linggi areas. This river flows through Seremban. 
The Dulang Washers
The “dulang” was used to scoop earth mixed with water and by careful swirling the mud was swept away and the heavier tin ore remained.  This is not surprising as Seremban began mainly as a Chinese dominated tin-mining entity. The huge number of man-made lakes to be found around Seremban even today bears testimony to this assertion.  Many smaller lakes nearer to town have been covered up and houses built on them.  Some had been converted to lake gardens by the British, a Britsh legacy in towns with a mining past like Kuala Lumpur, Taiping and Ipoh.

The Sermban Lake Gardens

The Seremban market was almost entirely run by Chinese with some Indian Muslims selling mainly mutton or beef.  There were also exotic animals that were easily available to suit the prevalent Chinese tastes of the time – tortoises, snakes, iguanas and what not. The Chinese had so many secret societies – 03, 04, 08, 18 Immortals, Long Foo Thong etc.  These people mainly provided protection for the business community and often had gang fights for territorial control.  They also ran brothels and massage parlors and illegal lotteries.  Needless to say, there were opium dens and illicit samsu sales too that were done in the back lanes which was essentially a Chinese social problem of the times.  Mahjong was their popular game.  Very few Chinese worked in government jobs although some educated ones worked as teachers and also in the police force, especially in the special branch which helped combat the communist insurgency.  A handful of Chinese also did a very important social service at the town council which no other community wanted to do – the job of a “night-soil” collector – a highly paid job too.  The human waste was collected at night and “distributed” / sold to the surrounding vegetable farms as manure. The rest was just dumped into the  Sungai Linggi.

Malay presence in Seremban was somewhat very restricted to the few small Malay kampong areas that surrounded the town essentially in Ampangan and Rasah areas mainly.   Most Malays in Seremban at the time were from the police force and lived in quarters provided for them.  Others were in the Malay Civil Service as district officers and clerks or technicians.  Unlike today, the three army camps in Rasah, Paroi and Sikamat were populated by British troops including Gurkhas at the Sikamat Camp.  Of course today these camps have been taken over by the Malay dominated military.  Even as late as the early 1960’s, there was not a single Malay eating shop in town.  I remember there were only two in the mid-60’s – Kak Yan Restaurant and another beside the Plaza theatre.  Earlier on, the Muslims could only eat at one or two public Muslim restaurants run by Malabaris ( Indian Muslims from Malabar in Kerala) such as Ally's Cafe.  Other than that, there was row of Indian Muslim (we wrongly call them mamaks now) mee goring and rojak stalls in the lane beside the Rex theatre which was a popular venue for Malay and Tamil movies.  There were only two mosques in Seremban at the time and that too were built by the Indian Muslim community – one in town and another in Rahang.

A Malabari Stall

Besides the Chinese and the Malays ,  Seremban also had a significant number of Indians of different Indian ethnicity too which significantly added to the non-Malay segments of the Seremban population.  One such group dominated mostly all the civil service, railways and utility boards.  These were the more English educated Ceylon (Sri Lankan) Tamils who held almost all the middle-management and supervisory posts in all the government departments.  The lesser educated Tamils manned the public works departments and worked mostly as laborers or lower posts like peons at the Public Woks Dept. (PWD), Telecoms, Electricity Boards and Town Council.  These folks were housed in laborer quarters in Lobak.  Of course there were exceptions to the rule. The Indian Muslims also traded in groceries and the food business. 

There was also a very small Chettiar community that functioned as registered money-lenders.  It was customary for the Chettiar community to build temples wherever they resided..  The biggest Hindu temple in Seremban town was more often referred to simply as the “Chettiar kovil”.  Its real name is Sri Bala Thandayuthapani Temple and was first built in 1895 even before Seremban developed fully.

Sri Bala Thandayuthapani Temple today

Then there was a small Pakistani and Punjabi community too in Seremban which comprised of mostly retired policemen.  The Punjabi community also had some wealthy businessmen who owned mostly transport companies running lorries and many of the bus companies too – Utam Singh, Seremban Town Bus Service,  Ganasan and so on.  One of the bus company bosses even drove a Buick car with the number plate NA 1.  But the bulk of the ex-policemen worked very hard as watchmen at night while by day the reared cows, drove bullock-carts, sold cow-dung as manure besides being the sole source of fresh cows’ milk.  This community was extremely frugal but placed heavy emphasis on education and sent their children to study medicine mostly and also law.  Today there is a kampong in Seremban named Kampong Singh.

National coach - Peter Van Huizen

There was another prominent community in Seremban in the 60's - the Portuguese Eurasians. Most of them lived in Temiang and also at the government quarters in Rahang Square, Melaka Road, Hill Road and Bland Road. There were so many of them at the time especially in the government services. This group played a significantly disproportionate role in the fields of sports and music at the time in Seremban.  Many excelled in hockey and even became national coaches.  In music this community produced quite a few family bands - The Woodens, The Sparklers, The Monotones, The Starlings and the Danker family had many drummers. Understandably, the boys attended St. Paul's Institution and the girls where else but The Convent.  There were many Eurasian families too - the Sta Marias, Van Geyzels, Lazaruses, Van Huizens, Hoseys, Dankers, Valens, Especkermans, Freemans, Henderofs, Jacksons, Woodens, De Mellos, Nonis, Sequerahs, etc. Many from this community migrated to UK too in the 60's..

That in a nutshell is how I personally witnessed the kaleidoscope of Seremban through my personal observation and experiences in Seremban since 1955 till now.

Thursday, November 6, 2014


The Background.

The education system in the pre-Merdeka days was utilitarian at best.  It served the interests of the time and the denizens of the Malay Peninsula in particular.  I am not including East Malaysia in this writing simply because I know too little of what happened there.  The British freely allowed vernacular education which developed along the needs of the respective community concerned.

The Malays lived mostly agrarian lives in the rural and coastal areas. To them an education was

Sekolah Attap

seen as necessary especially in Islam. They were quite satisfied with the “sekolah attap / pondok” that were provided for them even though it was only at the primary level.  Such schools existed nationwide in almost all kampongs.  The teachers had little specific training and were themselves Std. 6 “graduates”.
Better Equipped Chinese schools

The Chinese, as a rule, did value education very much more and had Chinese schools in every Chinese community that grew into small or big towns mainly along the mining areas in the west coast of the peninsula.  Their children could learn up to the secondary school level.  They had their own system of school, teacher training and syllabus.  The schools too were better built and had better facilities as the community and its leaders funded the schools generously.  The schools were also built on land with proper titles.

Tamil schools were situated mostly in the rubberestates

As for the Indians, their schools were mostly Tamil medium with a few Sikh ones too.  Most of the schools were built in the rubber plantations owned by the British to serve the estate workers.  In the towns too Tamil schools were attended mainly by children of laborers and other menial workers from the town councils, public utility departments like JKR and NEB.  Education here too was for only 6 years and the teachers were not properly trained and were educated up to Standard 6 themselves.

The schools to go to then and in fashion were the English schools of course and situated in all the major towns.  These schools supplied the needs of the British to man the clerical and sub-managerial jobs in their civil service. The schools provided eleven years of schooling, six primaries and five at the secondary level. The Form 5 students sat for examinations set by Cambridge and the curriculum, needless to say, was very much like the secondary schools in England.  The parents of these schools were the town dwellers who preferred English education to the vernacular varieties.  Most often, they themselves were English educated.  These schools were also well-built and with good facilities.  Only a few Chinese schools could match them. Teachers in these schools were trained and the highest qualification at the time was the Overseas Cambridge Certificate. Even the Higher School Certificate only came about after Merdeka.  Of course, the British freely allowed missionary schools to operate. These schools served well and left a legacy hard to follow.

English schools were the most prestigious ones

After Merdeka

By 1956 it was already becoming crystal clear that we were going to be independent soon.  The government set up an education commission to plan education for an independent Malaya.  The commission was led by Tun Razak.

                                                                      Elite Schools - Kolej Tuanku Jaafar                                 The Kolej Tunku Khursiah

The Report provides for Malay, English, Chinese and Tamil schools at the primary school level and Malay and English schools at the secondary level.  The Malay medium schools were referred to as "national" schools while the others were referred to as "national type" schools.  All schools are government funded and use a common national curriculum regardless of school type. Other provisions include :-
  • Formation of a single system of national education
  • Commencement of a Malaysan-orientated curriculum
  • Conception of a single system of evaluation for all
  • Recognition of the eventual objective of making Bahasa Melayu the main medium of instruction.
Today, there is much dissatisfaction regarding the school system and education in general.  Almost all harsh critics are unaware that the main framework and aims of The Razak Report have indeed been achieved.  National unity which was the report's primary aim, however, remains elusive.

The eventual and ultimate objective of making Bahasa Malaysia the main medium of instruction has become a praiseworthy success and  was not really the result or handicraft of Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim or even Tun Dr. Mahathir…. those who think so simply do not know their history well.

The proliferation of new schools in Malaysia since Merdeka is can be envious by the standards of almost all countries that were colonized.  Today we have, in fact, such a plurality of schools that is actually working against national unity.  No where in the world do we have such a wide spectrum of schools - national schools, national type vernacular schools, private schools, religious schools and international schools.  While such an array of different school types may be not without benefits and provided for in our constitution, it definitely is a contributory factor in our failing efforts at national unity these was also the main aim of The Tun Razak Report of 1956.  We have failed in this area.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014


Music is part of this world of sound, an art based on the organization of sounds in time. We distinguish music from other sounds by recognizing the four main properties of musical sounds: pitch, dynamics (loudness or softness), tone color, and duration. I am going to comment briefly on the pitch aspects only for now.  Contrasts between higher and lower indefinite pitches play a vital role in contemporary western music and in musical cultures around the world.

Now, imagine playing the piano only in the very higher pitches or having to listen to only the piccolo throughout a performance.  There has to be a fair mix of high, medium and low pitched notes. This is easily observable in any western or eastern music ensembles. Just as in life, there has to be a sensible balance in music too.

Now why am I saying what may be seen or known as an obvious fact.  Well, I have for long spoken up against the use of the treble recorder in music education not so much for basic learning purposes but for recorder ensembles that feature only the treble recorders at music contests instead of the whole recorder family ensemble. In the world of popular music the soprano saxophone has become popular but to me, it is a wearisome instrument to listen to how ever perfectly blown for long, say as in a Kenny G concert.

Whenever I have to put a band together for soft music situations I prefer the lower pitched instruments such as the tenor saxophone or guitar in preference over the soprano sax.  That is why there is a pitch register classification for voices and instruments namely the soprano, alto, tenor and bass.  Any musical ensemble has a clear mix of all even in non-western music. And when a high pitched instrument is featured it is seldom for an entire episode but in combination with other medium pitched instruments. That is why we have instruments from the very low to the very high octaves. 

But then this is only my opinion and everyone has one too …. Music and human aesthetics are not as precise as the sciences.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014


For those who do not understand the heading let me first explain what I mean.   An Ali-Baba venture in Malaysia is a colloquial term that refers to an arrangement that is commercially motivated in which a Malay and a non-Malay partner enter into a business venture and relationship.  In this arrangement, the Malay usually plays a dormant sleeping partner role.  It is an arrangement in which the Malay who enjoys certain special rights is “used” to do business with a non-Malay, usually Chinese.  Just for information, I am reliably informed that this sort of thing happens in present day Dubai too with the Arab owning the majority share of 51% as a sleeping and decision making partner with a non-Emirates citizen to venture into any business there. And it is official and above the board at that.

What I intend to posit here is that the British were already doing it before Merdeka itself and struck up a deal with the local sultans in which the sultans were “well taken care of” while the British were allowed to do whatever they thought fit economically and more here.  This arrangement worked well and soon Malaya became the world’s largest producer of not only tin but also rubber.

The first Europeans who came here before the British were the Portuguese and the Dutch respectively.  Both occupied Melaka for periods exceeding 100 years during which time Melaka was ruled by them but were mere trading posts then, nothing more nothing less. The Portuguese were in Melaka for 130 years between 1511 and 1641. They endured years of battles started by Malay sultans who wanted to get rid of the Portuguese and reclaim their land.  The Dutch ruled for almost 183 years with some intermittent British occupation.  This Dutch era saw relative peace with little serious interruption from the Malay kingdoms that already existed at the time but this period also marked the decline of the importance of Malacca because The Dutch preferred Batavia (present day Jakarta) as their economic and administrative center in the region.

In 1824, the British and the Dutch signed the Anglo-Dutch Treaty which saw the British taking over Melaka by swapping Bencoolen ( Bengkalis in Sumatra) with the Dutch among other terms.  The Malays were not a party to this treaty.  The Anglo–Dutch Treaty of 1824 officially demarcated two territories  Malaya, which was ruled by the United Kingdom, and the Dutch East Indies, which was ruled by the  Dutch besides a brief 4 year Japanese Occupation.
Now the colonial British were much more witty that the earlier Europeans.   They studied the Malays well and noted a few things about the Malay psyche which helped them tremendously to “rule” and benefit better.  They noticed that :

1.      The Malays were staunchly Muslim and adhered so much to Islam that it dawned on them that a Malay is a Muslim and a Muslim is a Malay over here.
2.      The Malays had an unquestionable devotion and love for their respective sultans and leaders.
3.      The Malays loved their culture and traditions including some animistic beliefs.
Thus it became apparent to the British colonials  that if they were to get anywhere with the Malays and their sovereign sultans it is in their best interests to :

1.      Recognize the sultan and his sovereignty
2.      Not do anything to antagonize the Malays by for example trying proselytize Christianity to them or do or say anything against Islam but instead recognize and respect Islam as well.
3.      Also respect the Malay culture and all the traditions and customs that go with it.
In recognition of the above the British then :
1.      Pampered the sultans with pensions, built lovely stone mansions as istanas (palaces) for them and taught them the social graces of the Europeans such as fine dining, music, dancing, cigars, polo and brought them to England to see for themselves what England was like and how progressive it was.
2.      Allowed the sultans be in total charge of Islam and the Malay cultural practices and hereditary customs (adat) and lands.
3.      Built schools, mosques and suraus for the Malays in the villages which must have immensely pleased the Malays who were almost all rural denizens at the time.

In return for all the aforesaid, the Malay sultans gave a free hand to the British to do whatever they wanted with Malaya economically and sometimes even more than that.  This is what I
alluded to as the original Ali -Tom relationship.  The Malay sultans were happy and so were the Malays who were lived mainly as agrarians in rural areas or as fishermen along the coasts.  In return, the British brought in (or were allowed to bring in) an Indian labor force and also the Chinese to transform the Malayan landscape into rubber plantations and tin mines. These new economic efforts were principally manned by Indian and Chinese migrants.   Today any lake or for that matter any town you see in the west coast is a tell-tale sign of tin mines and Chinese settlements.  And, almost any rubber plantation (or palm oil plantation now) that exists today is another tell-tale sign of the efforts of the migrant Indians in Malaya besides the roads, railways and ports.

It is sad that most people do not realize these things. I have always thought of the Malays as a as hornets which are generally very peaceful.  But God help you if you go and poke or provoke their nest.

Related Pictures


Monday, September 1, 2014



This is a good question if you ask me. The common way has always been one of direct confrontation and to fight it out physically and in the open.  This has been the way of the many so-called civilizations in human history.  Ironically, this way is considered barbaric but is still with us till today and being openly practiced everywhere.

Generally, the term "barbarian" refers to a person who is perceived to be uncivilized.  It was first used by the Greeks on any non-Greek.   The word is usually used either in a general reference to a member of a nation or ethnos, typically a tribal society as seen by an urban civilization and viewed as inferior, or admired as a noble savage.  In the Americas the native Indians preferred consultation and negotiation with the Europeans through pow-wow sessions while smoking the peace pipe.  They settled for peace with numerous treaties with the Europeans.  None of the treaties were honored by the far more “civilized” Europeans.  This sort of treachery happened to the native Indians in both the Americas and even in Africa.  Open confrontation or threat with a conspicuous military advantage has happened in all the countries that were colonized by the Europeans.  In fact, it is actually an ongoing reality where “might is right”.

Why am I rambling on about this confrontation and consultation thing one might ask? Okay let me get to the point.  Right here in Malaysia too it is a problem now as I see it.  Open confrontation has become increasingly conspicuous especially among Malaysians.  Such Western orientation may not be actually in sync with our Malaysian culture.  This is being seen not only in the politics of the day but also in other public spheres too.  If one understands the predominant and mainstream Malay culture in Malaysia well, it is a well-known fact that most Malays prefer to sit down and talk things over in a consultative style.  Even if they are adversaries the confrontation is subtle and in the past even poetry was employed to “whack” each other.  If confronted physically the reply is “ Melayu pantang dicabar” and the average Malay mind only then resorts to the use of force.  Even Chinese secret societies preferred to table talk first before hacking each other with parangs.  The Indians?? No comment because I really am not too sure.

Today we are seeing open confrontation even by the Malays against Malays and of late even confronting the royalty.  Non-Malays who are secondary in the main national equation in such matters have also joined in the fray.  We may be westernized in many ways but deep down we are all colored people and considered natives by the West which itself outclasses us with an amazing history of world wars, civil wars, war of roses including the famous 100 Years War between France and England.

All religions and real civilized cultures advocate consultation rather than confrontation.  I do hope that the majority of younger folks in Malaysia too will see it that way.  In fact there is no other way to move forward as we have done in the last 57 years. Less confrontation and more consultation please.

THE 3 R’s in Malaysia

Let Us Stand United As Malaysians

Educators worldwide know what is meant by the 3 Rs – reading, writing and arithmetic.  In Malaysia there is an unwritten 3rs as well – Race, Religion and Royalty, something I dare say that many Malaysians still do not understand the implications that go with it.  From the dawn of Merdeka, these three factors have kept the nation growing and made Malaysia what it is now today. Malaysia has had one of the best economic records in Asia with its GDP growing at an average 6.5 % for almost 50 years.  Though the 3Rs may be seen as divisive factors the early Malayans and most Malaysians understand that these “divisive” factors to many has actually kept us progressing and united.  It is only of late that these factors have surfaced in the face of our economic success and the transformation of the national landscape and rapid urbanization of the rural masses.  Industrialization too has contributed towards this change and transformation.

The three major races that started off as Malaya in 1957 became even more diverse with the addition of the East Malaysian states in 1963 when Malaysia was formed. Racial understanding, acceptance and tolerance had been exemplary save a brief period of racial unrest in 1969 and that too was mainly confined to the capital city of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur.  The government with a constant more than two thirds majority carefully steered the populace back to economic prosperity again with increased affirmative action particularly for the Malays who had been left behind in the economic success of Malaysia to a greater extent.  In the 1980’s under the stewardship of Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir  the Malays particularly began to taste better economic success as preference was given to them in almost all public sectors and government controlled businesses, oftentimes at the expense of the non-Malays.  The Chinese being known for their resilience worldwide, weathered the changes and adapted with their usual perseverance and industry and prospered even better as the Malaysian economic pie grew bigger and bigger.  According to Forbes list of the 50 richest entrepreneurs in Malaysia more than 40 are still Chinese.  Malaysian Indians particularly the descendants of the labor classes became handicapped in the Malaysian spurt in economic growth. Many reasons can be offered but I will skip them here but merely would mention one that has kept a significant number of them lagging and handicapped at higher levels of the education process – Tamil vernacular which is provided for in the constitution.

The 2nd R which is religion was not a big segregating factor in the earlier days when the three major communities cohabited in separate spheres so to speak.  The Malays were mainly living quite happily in the rural kampongs with the Chinese mainly dominating the trade and businesses in the towns especially in the west coast of the peninsula. The Indians confined themselves to the rubber plantations by convention and did the same even in Tamil enclaves in the towns.  All this “peaceful” scenario has changed with Malaysia’s economic success and transformation from an agrarian base towards a more rapid industrialized one.  The increased economic and educational preferences and opportunity for the once displaced Malays has become a sour point of discontent among the non-Malays.  This dissension is simmering and can become quite explosive if left alone and not well addressed.  The HINDRAF street demonstrations of more recent times are an indication of this growing discontent.  Today, almost everything is seen through a racial kaleidoscope.  With this background religion which hitherto was not such a divisive force has increasingly become one.  From the early times the cunning British well knew that the Malays were easy to deal with if their religion was left alone.  They even introduced laws that did not allow any form of proselytizing among the Malay Muslims well before Merdeka itself. These laws still stand.  With the power they had, they could have easily forced all Muslims to become Christians as the Portuguese and Spanish records show worldwide.  But the British had only economic intentions which also became their priority over here.  All Malaysians should learn from the British and leave the Malays and Islam alone. This is easier said than done especially if religious rulings fringe upon the rights of non-Muslims.  This has to be kept in check.

The 3rd R refers to our royalty, another unique institution in its own way and not to be found anywhere else in the world.  Tiny Malaysia has nine sovereign monarchs of  the total of about twenty five monarchs worldwide.  It must be remembered that the Malay royalty has been part and parcel of the Malay culture as is Islam and thus enjoys a symbiotic relationship with both.  The Malay sultans were never really disposed off even by the first colonials who come here. The Portuguese merely occupied Melaka.  The Dutch too merely occupied Melaka after the Portuguese. The English were the “smarter ones” who occupied Melaka through a treaty with the Dutch in 1824.  Thereafter, British intervention in the Malay states was not through conquest but mainly through the requests of the ruling sultans or whenever ascendancy problems arose.  In this way, the sultanates became British protectorates rather than colonies per se. Only Penang, Singapore and lastly Melaka became British territories.  The Malay rulers were pampered and left alone by the British and the sultans continued to be heads of religion and cultural matters while the British exploited the land with "permission" granted by the Malay rulers.  The British realized that if the sultan was not happy the Malay hornet’s nest would have to be dealt with. As such, they kept the sultans happy and placated. Malay rebellion, against the British was thus rare and a few who did rebel were severely dealt with and even banished.  With Merdeka, the sultans became more powerful so to speak as their sovereignty became more pronounced and extended. Today they are usually seen as mere constitutional heads as in some other western democracies.  This is not quite true as the sultans still have much power at their disposal which is seldom used.  For starters, they are commanders of the armed forces and the police force.  This is something even educated Malaysians do not seem to understand.
Divided We Fall

It is sad that such things are not clearly spelt out in schools or even at the tertiary levels. This situation has given rise to a feeling of disenchantment with the establishment by Malaysian youths particularly of the non-Malay variety.  It is my understanding that the British knew the nuances of each of the three major races and used the said understanding well.  When they were preparing to leave after the 2nd World War they created and set into motion several institutions that would see perpetual power in the hands of the Malays. This must have been their desire and motive.  They started affirmative action for the Malays even before Merdeka. Institutions such as the Malay Civil Service ensured that mainly Malays only would have administrative posts right from state secretaries and district officers to penghulus and ketua kampongs. Elite educational institutions such as MCKK, TKC and the Tun Fatimah College were set up exclusively for bright Malay children. The personnel in the police, navy and army was made up of  almost entirely Malays too.  This situation remains.  In this way, the "gun" was given to the Malays.  The exclusion of Chinese in such things was, in my view, based on the deep British distrust of the Chinese. They well knew what the Chinese were capable of and remember the hell the Japanese has suffered during the Japanese occupation of Malaya.  And after all, the British High Commissioner Sir Henry Gurney was killed by communist insurgents who were mainly Chinese too.  Despite the aforesaid, the British had been fair when they left and had afforded citizenship, rights to one’s own religion and vernacular education for the Chinese and Indians.

I am rambling off here just to remind my fellow Malaysians to understand the basic pillars on which this nation stands upon and was built.  Let us not spoil what we have built all these years.  Instead let us safeguard the rights of one and all that are ingrained in the constitution which is something the founding fathers had agreed upon. By us, I mean the various races including the Malays as well. Let us not rock the boat too much.

Thursday, September 19, 2013



An article by Dr. Chandra Muzaffar who is President of the International Movement for a Just World – published in The New Straits Times on 17.7.05 – transcribed by Joe Chelliah

It’s unanimous: The dastardly bomb attacks in London on July 7th 2005 were a barbaric act.  There is no other way to describe the planned, premeditated targeting of civilians.  It is political violence of this sort that constitutes stark naked terrorism.

While all of us would regard 7/7 as barbaric, some of us would be deeply disturbed by statements attributed to the British and American leaders in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, statements that sought to present themselves as men upholding the canons of civilised conduct.  In their view – and in the sight of the media – they were “defenders of civilization” under siege from barbaric elements.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  If it is barbaric to murder 50 civilians is it civilised to kill 100,000 civilians in Iraq?  That is the number of civilians who have died in Iraq as a result of the Anglo-American occupation since March 2003 according to The John Hopkins University study.

Is it civilised to use cluster munitions, incendiary bombs, depleted uranium (DU) and chemical weapons against a civilian population? 

As a member of the Jury of Conscience of the World Tribunal on Iraq (WTI) which sat in Istanbul on June 23-27, 2005, I was presented detailed evidence by expert witnesses on “how leukemia has risen sharply in children under five residing in those areas which had been targeted by DU”.

I heard accounts of how the occupying forces deliberately directed attacks on hospitals, residential neighborhoods, electricity stations and water purification plants.  The total destruction of Falluja is testimony to this.  It is a city where even children, pregnant women, elderly persons and wounded civilians were sprayed with bullets. 

And lest we forget, what about the degrading torture of prisoners not only in Abu Ghraib but also in Mosul Camp Bucca and Basra?  Is that a mark of civilization? 

The “civilised” destruction of Iraq did not begin with its occupation in 2003.  The severe and inhuman economic sanctions against the people of Iraq over a period of 12 years beginning in August 1990 had already killed 650,000 children.  How can civilised leaders preside over such inhumanity?

But Iraq is only the latest victim of the “civilised” embrace of the great centres of Western imperial power.  We still remember Vietnam, whose soil is soaked with the blood of millions of men, women and children
who were slaughtered mercilessly as they resisted first French and then American aggression.  The latter had no qualms about using such “civilised” weapons as Agent Orange and napalm as it attempted to crush the “barbaric” Vietcong.
Other “barbaric” nations in Asia and Africa have their own tales to tell of the colossal price they paid when they came face to face with the “civilised” marauders from the West.  It has been estimated that in the Western colonial subjugation of the two continents some 40 million lives were lost.

But the continent that has suffered most at the hands of Western civilization is, of course, Latin America.  From the extermination of the indigenous peoples from the 15th century onwards (perhaps some 30 million people were killed) to the elimination of opponents of US imperialism in the 20th century, it is a continent that has borne the brunt of the “civilizing mission” of powerful aggressors.

The point is simple.  Leaders in the West, specifically those in London and Washington, have no moral authority to talk of civilised standards.  One should realize that when these leaders kill civilians it is invariably part of some nefarious plan to conquer someone else’s land, or control someone else’s resources, or to establish one’s hegemonic power.

In other words, civilian slaughter has been an integral dimension of the numerous wars of aggression that the centres of power in the West have undertaken in the course of the last 1,000 years, the Iraq adventure being the latest.

Of course non-Western states have also embarked upon wars of aggression.  Whoever the perpetrator, a war of aggression by its very nature is a far greater evil than any other violence we know, as the Nuremberg Trials observed.

It follows from this that the killing of civilians in such wars is, from a moral perspective, more barbaric than the senseless, mindless violence that those who are fighting subjugation and occupation sometimes engage in.  Thus in specific language, the occupiers of Iraq have been more barbaric than the London bombers.

Why is it that most people are not aware of this? Why is it that the barbaric deeds of those who claim to be civilised are not part of the popular consciousness?  The main reason is the reality of global power.  Those who have donned on the robe of civilization happen to be the rulers of the world.  They are in a position to shape the global discourse on what is right and what is wrong, who is good and who is evil.  Their power is so overwhelming that they have transformed oppressor into liberator; aggressor into victim; warmonger into peacemaker.

Which is why barbarians masquerade as the civilised today?

Saturday, August 10, 2013

How the British Won Over Malays : A Lesson For All Malaysians.

(by Joe Chelliah)

I have often wondered how only a relatively few Brits ruled over and controlled such a vast empire on which, they had boasted, that the sun never sets. They had employed different strategies that best suited in differing localities all over the world and have gone down in history as the last of the greatest empires in human civilization.  It is generally agreed that they divided and ruled which I personally am not too comfortable with.  But I will not ramble on on this issue but merely focus on how the British managed to excel in Malaya and make it indeed the “ gem on its crown’ without actually “ruling” the place.  I say this that the Malay rulers were NEVER disposed, even during the Japanese occupation to a great extent.  Even the Japanese left the Malays alone.

The British colonials  were quite unlike the Portuguese and Spaniards who also had a missionary zeal to spread Christianity on their agenda worldwide.   The football countries of South America and The Philippines can serve as good examples.  They ae staunchly Catholic countries today.  I posit here that the British mission was purely set on trade. Only the Dutch can come as a close second as both came here as mercantile companies – The Dutch East India Company (VOC) and the British East India Company (EIC).  Since its creation in 1600 by The Royal Charter granted by Queen Elizabeth I, the influence of The East India Company has been well documented.  Without the EIC our world would not be as it is today. 

The early colonials saw great potential in the fertile plains and undulating hills in Malay Peninsula. They acquired Penang and Singapore quite easily be helping the Malay rulers fend off the Siamese besides helping their preferred candidates to ascend thrones claimed by disputing
brothers, uncles and cousins.  Melaka was taken over through negotiations with the Dutch through the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824 which effectively divided the Malay Archipelago into the English and Dutch spheres of influence among themselves.  What was under the British is what we know as Malaysia and Brunei today with Indonesia being wholly “owned” by the Dutch. This treaty also effectively kept the Spanish out of the Malay a archipelago who then centered their mission and activity in only the Philippines which is predominantly Catholic today.  

It is my take that the British managed to rule Malaya well until 1957 by understanding the local Malay psyche very well.  They had studied the Malays well and knew their strengths and more so their weaknesses.  They knew that their “nature’s gentleman” (that is what they had termed the Malay) could be the best of friends and the worst of enemies. Leave them alone and they leave you alone – almost a hornets’ nest story. There were essentially four things that they knew that would upset the indigenous Malays terribly.  So they very cleverly steered off the four “taboos” and worked around them which I can identify – leave the Malay sultans, Islam, the Malay language and Malay local customs alone.  Simple as that.

Malays have a strange symbiotic relationship with the Malay rulers.  The word feudalism has actually been an alien thing to Malays.  Till today, no Malay worth his salt will allow anyone to insult
his sultan.  Not quite unlike Siam and Japan, the Malays have a very strong love and loyalty to their respective rulers and since a long time ago.   Even British monarchs were “merely” referred to as His or Her Majesty but in Malay, check this out, the Malaysian king is referred to as Duli Yang Maha Mulia Seri Paduka Baginda Yang Di Pertuan Agung. The early sultans had had all sorts of problems with pirates, tax collection and rival claimants to the throne besides the Chinese secret societies menace all of which they found cumbersome and hard to manage.  With British help all these problems were sorted out quite easily.  Further, the British “placated” the Malay rulers with generous pensions, built stately stone mansions to replace wooden palaces, taught them “social graces” of the British including dressing, regalia, polo and horse riding and brought them to see even distant England.  The Johor royalty is the
best example of this influence to date.  Thus you take care of the sultans and you are afforded a free hand to literally do what you want with the land.  Malay rebellions against the British have been quite insignificant in the overall scheme of things.  When the British tried to curb the powers of the sultan or even dispose them through their proposal for a Malayan Union after WW II the whole Malay race was in the streets in nationwide protests which immediately halted any such British design. This was then replaced with the Federated Malay states in which position of the sultans remained intact.  As I had mentioned, do not play with a hornets’ nest is and was the order of the day.  Today, such a thing is even unlawful to bring up even in Parliament.

Second, Islam has always been the religion of the Malays since the 15th century. Even though Hinduism had left an indelible mark on Malay culture and remains strongly embedded in it, Islam

has always been the religion of the Malays till today. Being a Muslim is equated with being a Malay….. constitutionally speaking too.  Knowing and understanding this Malay sensitivity fully, the British never tried to proselytize Christianity to the Malays and left the sultans in full control over such matters.  They even promulgated a law that prohibits anyone from preaching any non-Islamic religion to the Malays – a law that still stands today.  No missionary activity was allowed on the Malays but it was a free-for-all where non-Muslims were concerned.  To cement Islam and the position of the sultans, the British also made the sultans the respective heads of Islam as well which must have immensely pleased the Malays who allowed the British to do almost whatever they wanted in Malaya.  The  British only technically ruled Penang, Singapore and Melaka which were accepted as Crown colonies.

Thirdly, I am reminded of the Malay saying “Biar mati anak, jangan mati adat”.  The British understood this very well and left the Malays and their customs too alone and conveniently put it under the control of the respective Malay sultans.  The “adat perpatih” practiced in Negeri Sembilan is one that even contradicts Islam especially in matters related to hereditary inheritance.  It is a matriarchal society in which only women can own traditional Malay land
and property which is again something that British had gazetted.  The British, in this way, also protected the Malay ownership of such land from falling into the hands of the migrants.  These laws are in place even till today.  Thus the British stayed clearly off in matters of Malay “adat” (customs) too which again helped them to rule this country quite freely.

Fourthly, the Malay language too was left alone by the British.  Till today, even the most educated Malay is quite happy and proud to speak Malay.  Even if linguists may say that it is an under-developed language and tends to borrow heavily from Sanskrit and English the Malay continues to be proud of his language.  Thus Malays had always had their own schools albeit in huts / pondoks or ramshackle placesto teach Malay and Jawi ( the original written form of Malay).

These Malay schools also made the learning of Islamic tenets and reciting the Quran an integral part of the curriculum.   In 1957, Malay was made the national language in the Federal Constitution which again was drafted by none other than the British.

When the British left they did not completely forget the large almost 50% non-Malay communities that had contributed towards the British coffers too.  As such full citizenship for non-Malays born after Merdeka was enshrined in the Malayan constitution with an allowance for naturalized citizenship too for those born before 1957 ……… and also for those who, though born elsewhere, could apply for citizenship after staying in Malaya for a certain period of time. Those born in the Straits Settlements even before 1957 were considered British citizens with automatic Malayan citizenship. The other provisions for the non-Malays (or seen as concessions today) were and they include included the right to profess non-Islamic religions and the right to study the respective mother tongues of the Indians and the Chinese.  All these were agreed upon by representatives of the Malays, Chinese an Indians whom the British recognized and negotiated with before granting independence.  In return the Malays were to enjoy certain special privileges that included Islam being the official religion of Malaya and the Malay language to be made the national language.  All such provisions are now referred to as the “social contract” although that word is a more recently coined word. 

 It would be good for all Malaysians to know of these things which I consider the basic foundations on which the nation stands today. ………including the “social contract” which have helped Malaya, and later Malaysia, to grow and prosper with peace and stability even till now.  When these provisions are questioned by anybody the boat gets rocked which can result in much civil commotion and social disorder that we can ill afford. I hope for a more united and peaceful Malaysia.