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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Project Malaysia - Sighting Common Ground

Project Malaysia - Sighting Common Ground

Some friends and I launched a non-profit initiative called ‘Project Malaysia’ on Merdeka day this year. An on-line journal on key contemporary Malaysian issues, it will run for twelve months during which twelve core themes will, we hope, be deconstructed objectively and comprehensively. Our aim is to offer solutions for a stronger, more united Malaysia.

The idea for the initiative came up towards the tail end of 2006. The Article 11 road-show had become controversial as had my involvement in the Lina Joy appeal at the Federal Court. Circulating, were posters denouncing me as a traitor to Islam and flyers declaring that I was the principal mind behind an anti-Islamic campaign. About a year earlier, I had chaired the steering committee of an initiative aimed at promoting the establishment of a statutory interfaith commission. That too had become controversial, and judging by the campaign in Permatang Pauh, is still something that some see as being useful for purposes of agitation.

Needless to say, these events got me thinking. I had involved myself in these efforts for the same reason that I had been involved in human rights and civil society work since 1996. Appreciating that coexistence in a multi-cultural society such as ours would involve some friction from time to time and that historical antecedents would lend itself to majoritarianism and the unfairness it could entail, my objective had been to find constitutionally just solutions to potentially problematic scenarios. In the case of the proposed commission it had been to find a mechanism by which infringements of religious harmony could be considered with the detached objectivity that problem-solving required. With the Islamic conflicts cases, it had been to highlight the avoidable problems that an erosion of constitutionalism had led to.

No matter what my detractors might say, at no point in time did I advocate the rejection of either Islam as the religion of the Federation, the system of Islamic administration or the special status of the Malays. And yet that is what certain quarters had come to represent with much force. It is readily apparent that the truth had been manipulated and controversy created for the sake of a less obvious agenda, much as it was when the Bar Council held its forum recently.

As I began to appreciate more clearly what it is that had happened, I saw a similar trend in other aspects of our lives. Instead of addressing issues, some of which went to the heart of our ability as a society to remain cohesive and capable of facing the future, it seemed that those in positions of influence were more concerned with scoring points and creating opportunities through proverbial storms in teacups. Added to this was a high degree of politicking from which nothing, it seemed, was sacred, including governance. There was as such a lot of noise and drama, but very little being done.

When confronted, our leaders would have us believe that there was hardly any, or no, common ground on these issues, that they required detailed study by persons unknown, or, all else failing, the matter was too sensitive for discussion. This attitude left little or no means by which issues could be viewed constructively and resolved. Talking to the opposition is only as effective as the opposition is as a means to influencing change and as interested as it is in the issue at hand, the latter not being a given.

The more I thought about this, the more I became convinced that unless Malaysians were given access to objective viewpoints from all relevant perspective, they were going to be constantly in the dark and vulnerable to influence. Difficult scenarios would only multiply.

I began to talk to friends about what it is that could be done. The fact that Malaysia appeared to be awakening, and it cannot be denied that all things said and done the Abdullah Badawi administration did create more space for discussion, was a key element in our discussions. Over time, we began to see the need to challenge preconceptions, not only about issues but also how we were to address them. In this vein, maybe rather presumptuously, we began to look at the possibility of a nation building experiment.

That experiment became known as Project Malaysia. It was meant to have kicked-off about a year ago but schedules, commitments and circumstance made it impossible. In retrospect, this was a good thing as we gained the advantage of the events of March 8th and all that has happened since.

Whether we manage to achieve our goal is something that all Malaysians have a role to play in. We intend to approach each theme in the following manner. An article on the theme will be presented to selected respondents, leaders or experts in their respective fields, and a response invited. The respondents having been selected from the range of relevant stakeholders, it is hoped that a multi-faceted, perhaps comprehensive, analysis of the theme will be presented. Shorter comments on varying aspects of the theme by interested participants should allow us to keep the discussion relevant and real.

Through this, we hope to be able to identify common ground, problem areas and possible avenues forward. At the end of twelve months, we should have a blueprint for a better Malaysia.

As our first step into the void, we chose the theme “Race” and invited responses to a comment entitled “The Politics Of Race”. Already featured are perspectives by YB Nur Jazlan Rahmat of UMNO, Ooi Kee Beng, Tricia Yeoh and Mavis Puthucheary. There are many more to come, some which may surprise. We take the view that the more dimensions the better.

This is, after all, for a better Malaysia.

(Project Malaysia is at

(Malay Mail; 2nd September 2008)



Anonymous said...

I think you & your gang of drama queens should drop the attention seeking project & go join Pakatan if you really want to make a difference!

Crankster said...

Imtiaz, I commend your effort at encouraging public discourse. If there is anything that Malaysia is severely lacking, it's the ability to reason and debate.

Malaysians are saddled with the disease of expecting others to tell them what to do, how to think and how to behave.

It is distressing to note how easily their minds are swayed by opportunistic politicians with their religious preening to gain voter confidence.

Article 11 was a good effort, but perhaps the nation's maturity has not reached those heights. I would love to read a "journal" addressing Malaysian issues.

de minimis said...

Malik, to you and the Project Malaysia team, I offer my congratulations. This is an ambitious undertaking and, a necessary one. It will contribute the the maturity of multiracial and multifaith Malaysia.

Anonymous said...

i agreed with anonymous you and geng make me shiver in my spine

Old Fart said...

Got to congratulate you and your team for this effort.

From the first article it would seem like this would be taking a very academic and maybe even substantially theoretical and philosophical approach to looking at issues, which simply means its not exactly my cup of tea anymore. Nevertheless, it is stimulating and I guess its o.k. to wreck my poor wretched brains once in a while.

In this article here you state "to find a mechanism by which infringements of religious harmony could be considered with the detached objectivity that problem-solving required. With the Islamic conflicts cases, it had been to highlight the avoidable problems that an erosion of constitutionalism had led to."

But isn't that in itself a contradiction to begin with? After all with religious issues there will be a lot more faith attached to the discourse on the one side and the detached objectivity that would be the arbiter you are suggesting to bring to the other. How on earth can the twain meet?

Faith obviously obliges the setting aside of detached objectivity. And religion by itself unapologitically only requires faith, not detached objectivity.

Detached objectivity only forces emotional reactions in response in defence of the commitment and the investment in that faith. What more if this is sanctioned and promoted within the tenets or obligations of that faith.

Detached objectivity can look upon such response to be illogical but it cannot deny knowledge that such responses are ever present in their innate form. I don't know if in a court of law evidence of an innate conduct in response to stimuli is admissable defense. But I cannot and will not stand on a position because detached objectivity tells me so whilst acknowledging the presense of innate forces opposed to that position.

Before I employ detached objectivity I would, as a personal matter of preference and caution, set out the parameters within which my arguments are laid. More importantly, I would set out to establish the credibility of my understanding of the innate forces that may bear on my arguments. Recognising openly those forces will hopefully get me past the fences. Assuming of course I still have an audience or my head! And this applies to all religions and not just Islam. But of course the innate forces may be different for each faith. some just a little more dangerous than the other.

Is this why those who embrace detached objectivity have found their journey so hard to even take the next step?