Sunday, January 31, 2010

'Allah' a Muslim term to the ordinary man

Jan 31, 2010

I thank Mr Janadas Devan for highlighting the excellent etymology of the word 'Allah' ('What's in a name?') last Sunday.

The Cobuild Series English Dictionary defines 'Allah' as 'the name of God in Islam', while The Reader's Digest-Oxford Complete Wordfinder refers to it as 'the name of God among Arabs and Muslims'.

The dictionary definitions would be the understanding of the word for the ordinary Ali in Bedok, Ah Lee in Beijing and Ally in Brooklyn.

The expression 'By Allah...' is commonly ascribed to Muslims everywhere. Does one connect the refrain to non-Muslims?

After the Sept11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York, Muslim leaders tirelessly reminded their flock not to blindly imitate the practices of their fellow Muslims in the Middle East.

Contextualisation, they emphasised, was critical. What may be suitable in the Arab countries may not be practical in the local environment.

The biggest concern must be at the grassroots level, with the strength of social fabric being the key indicator.

If the unity quotient has risen, then the status quo can and should remain.

But if it has plunged over time and become more porous and fragile, etymology is the last thing that policymakers will consider when undertaking a policy review.

Mohamad Rosle Ahmad

[I appreciate that this letter is well-written and puts the point of the writer across very well: that etymology aside, the question is what is the ordinary person's understanding of the term.

In other words, the common understanding of the phrase, at least in this part of the world is that "Allah" is commonly understood as to mean exclusively the Islamic God. And as to the point that even the Arabs do not claim exclusivity of the term, the writer counters that with the exhortation not to slavishly imitate the Arabs in the wake of 911, the reference to Arab practices smacks of hypocrisy: Don't follow the Arabs when it doesn't suit us, and follow when it suits us.

Here then are the problems with the claim of exclusivity of the term. Firstly "this part of the world" seems to mean only West M'sia and maybe Singapore. As Singapore is unlikely to officially support such an exclusivity, the only country, and even then only half a country (by land area if not by population) is M'sia and only W. M'sia. Indonesia and East M'sia does not have a problem. And even in W. M'sia it is not unanimous that all Islamic leaders are on the side of the claims of exclusivity. The genesis of this controversy seems to be politically motivated, and a gambit by UMNO to be seen as more "Islamic" than PAS. This is debatable and like the etymology of the word "Allah" may be irrelevant as the writer claims.

However, the etymology of the word may not be as irrelevant as the writer claims. There is two approach to this issue. One, make the claim to customary use and understanding and refuse to consider new facts (etymology) and learn new things, and claim that the status quo should be left well and good alone.

Or Two, open one's mind to new facts, consider these facts, argue about the facts and then decide the best way forward. A closed mind and defending the status quo by refusing to consider facts and history is a sign of a siege mentality.

In any case, the etymology of the word is not simply a matter of language evolution and word usage. It also traces the Abrahamic faiths, and the simple matter is that as Judaism-Christianity-Islam share the same origins, then the 3 faiths reference the same God, then how true or how correct is the position that the same God cannot be called by the same name?

The PAS leader took this position which is a learned position based on a correct understanding of the origins of Abrahamic faiths. The M'sian Minister's position is based at best on customary understanding and at worst on political motivation.

The position taken by PAS (which surprisingly is more moderate and backed by sound scholarly understanding) is that unless and until "Allah" is used to confuse, proselytise, or promote apostasy, Christians have as much right to use it as Muslims.

Marina Mahathir commented that Muslims are not so stupid or weak-minded as to walk into a church, see the cross above an altar, the pews, and a priest and the moment someone says "Allah", think that they are in a mosque.

And yes, the writer is correct to say that etymology or any kind of logic is the last thing politicians will consider in their policy review. Political mileage and political points will be their only consideration.

And that is sad, and wrong and will sow the seeds of future problems.]

S. Rajaratnam - Excerpts of Biography

Jan 30, 2010

Mr S. Rajaratnam speaking at a PAP rally in the lead-up to the 1959 general elections. -- ST FILE PHOTO

The Singapore Lion: A Biography Of S. Rajaratnam by Irene Ng, takes the story of one of Singapore's founding fathers to 1963.

Meeting of the minds that would shape history

THE time had come for one of those moments in history when people are thrown together and the course of a nation's destiny is changed forever. The first of these events involved Goh Keng Swee, whom Raja knew from the Malayan Democratic Union (MDU) days. While Goh was happy to slug down mugs of beer with the MDU leaders at the Liberty Cabaret, he was detached from their political ideology.

Like Raja, Goh resented the humiliation of being under colonial rule. Unlike Raja, who often lived in the realm of ideas and theories, Goh was a down-to-earth pragmatist who chose his allies and his methods carefully.

Goh found his chance when he was released from the civil service to pursue economics in London. In 1949, while studying at the London School of Economics, Goh and several friends set up the Malayan Forum. The aim of the forum was to rouse political consciousness and press for an independent Malaya that would include Singapore.

From Singapore, Raja gave his active support. He had felt keenly the absence of such a national consciousness among Malayan students during his decade in London... To help it along, he passed some of his British contacts to Goh.

Goh realised how well-regarded Raja was in the intellectual left-wing circles when he found personalities such as Lady Hilda Selwyn-Clarke, a leading figure in the Fabian Society, asking after her friend, Raja. By widening and deepening their political network in Britain and Singapore, Goh and Raja supported each other in their common cause.

The Malayan Forum also provided the platform for Goh to exchange political ideas with three like-minded Malayan students - Lee Kuan Yew, Toh Chin Chye and K. M. Byrne - who had known one another since their Raffles College days. After interminable discussions in various pubs, they decided that the 'returned students' should play a leadership role in organising a broad-based movement to fight for national independence through constitutional means. The four resolved that they would seek out other kindred souls for this mission.

The circle was closed in February 1952, when Raja received a phone call from Goh after he returned from London. Goh invited him to meet Lee, a brilliant Cambridge-trained lawyer who was now representing the Postal and Telecommunications Uniformed Staff Union over a pay dispute. Lee had been following his anti- colonial columns in the newspapers. Would Raja want to meet the lawyer? Raja agreed readily.

On that fateful day, Raja turned up to meet Lee at the open-air restaurant of the Chinese Swimming Club in Amber Road. Neither of them knew their meeting would change the political course of Singapore. Against the hubbub of swimmers and background music, Lee briefed him on the strike. The government had failed to meet the union's demand for salary revisions and pensions. Angered, the union had decided to give strike notice. If held, it would be the first since the Emergency was declared in 1948.

Years later, Lee recalled: 'It was a very serious discussion because we were leading the postmen into a fight which was going to cause disruption to a lot of people and their businesses. And we would have done injury to them if they had failed. There would be lost pay. Some would be sacked.'

Lee was astute in trying to get one of the most conspicuously influential journalists of his generation to throw his weight behind the campaign.

Raja listened intently to Lee's plans, all the while sizing up the man whom he knew only by reputation. Of average height with a good build, Lee cut a charismatic figure, strong and vigorous with piercing eyes and a deep, mesmerising voice. Raja knew of Lee's scholastic achievements.

But what impressed Raja more was Lee's work with some unions as legal adviser, which he did without any pay. Here, Raja thought, was a rare English-educated intellectual who cared for the working masses and would toil for them.

Lee would later recall: 'I found Raja very keen. He was more a campaigner than a journalist, so he was very enthusiastic and said that he would give the full support.'

When Raja agreed to help Lee, he did not know that the decision would change his life completely.

Birth of the PAP

THE mood of the core group - Lee Kuan Yew, Goh Keng Swee, Toh Chin Chye, Kenny Byrne and Raja - was intense and sober as they huddled around Lee's dining table.

Dominating their concern was the quality of the political parties which would contest the elections in 1955 under the new Constitution. As Raja recalled later, 'our comments were generally all negative. We didn't have a high regard for any of the parties'.

As he would put the options in more graphic terms later: 'There were the Progressive Party and their feeble leaders. There were the clowns of the Labour Party of Singapore.' It became clear that the choice before the people - and also them - would be between these parties and a militant underground Communist Party. It was a dreadful thought.

Their discussions then shifted to the consequences for the country should these people take over. The scenarios did not bear contemplating. 'From there, then the idea began to germinate that we should form a political party, to enter politics ourselves,' Raja related.

Lee argued that it was no use just talking. They should do something about it and participate in the elections. This was greeted with an avalanche of questions by those around the table: Was the time opportune to start a new left-wing party? What would be the consequences for socialism if the new party went the way of the other left-wing socialist parties, such as the Malayan Democratic Union (MDU)? The odds seemed stacked against it.

They then became absorbed in the question of whether they should take part in the elections, or stay out. Samad Ismail and Devan Nair, who joined the discussions after their release from detention in early 1953, were for boycotting the elections in protest of the Rendel Constitution. They saw the Constitution as undemocratic and pro-colonial.

Raja set out a different view, just as he had when MDU decided to boycott the 1948 elections to register its protest. He forcefully reminded the group of the political suicide committed by the MDU by its inaction. He believed that a party committed to constitutional methods of change would be signing its own death warrant if it stood outside the constitutional arena and merely protested with words.

It was a robust argument that was also propounded by Lee, Goh and Byrne. They further made the point that, if a genuine left-wing party was not launched before the Rendel Constitution came into effect in 1955, the British would have an open field to consolidate its power through the local right-wing, pro-colonial groups.

Against this backdrop of gloomy foreboding, the group decided to take the plunge and form a new political party, the People's Action Party. In October 1954, they announced the inauguration of the PAP. The date was set for its official launch - 21 November.

The other political parties received this news with foreboding. In David Marshall's diary entry on 24 October 1954, he noted that the new 'socialist-inclined' PAP was formed with Lee and Raja, and added: 'I believe they may be communist-orientated.'

Hock Lee riots and bloodshed

12 May 1955. Black Thursday. Raja was working late in his Straits Times office when all hell broke loose on the streets outside.

A mob was parading around a bleeding Chinese student. The boy had been hit by a stray shot fired by a policeman hours ago during a riot. But instead of rushing him to the hospital, the mob carried his body around town, with stops for the press to take photographs as evidence of police brutality. By the time they took the boy to the hospital, he was dead.

Raja was shocked at the ruthlessness. He was even more shocked that the violence arose out of strikes instigated by fellow PAP founders, Fong Swee Suan and Lim Chin Siong. This was not what the PAP, as he had envisaged it, stood for.

While Fong and Chin Siong would later protest that they did not start the riots, that it was the prevailing 'social conditions' which led to it, their actions indicated that they were more than ready to use revolutionary methods.

Raja said later: 'It was this Hock Lee riots which gave a premonition of the kind of problems the PAP would face.'

In an attempt to distance the PAP from the violence, Raja worked with Lee on a press statement to denounce the bloodshed, while sympathising with the workers on strike. Dismissing the PAP statement, Chief Secretary William Goode charged that the PAP, its 'covert communist supporters and back-seat drivers' wanted violence, bloodshed and industrial unrest, but then realised too late what horrors they had engineered.

In 1957, Raja was being educated on the art of leadership in Chinese-dominated Singapore. It was a time of great political instruction as he observed Lim Yew Hock being whipped by the Chinese masses for his collaboration with the British.

Astutely opportunistic, Raja drafted PAP statements, issued by Lee, to discredit Yew Hock as a 'colonial stooge'. Raja observed later: 'He could not get rid of the taint that he was the British stooge.' Yew Hock's political destruction at the hands of the Chinese masses served as a lesson to Raja and his non-communist colleagues who sensed that their own showdown with the communists was only a matter of time.

As Raja saw it, Yew Hock's problem was that he lacked the 'intellectual finesse' to project his fight against the communists as one conducted on behalf of Malayan nationalism, and not on behalf of British colonialism.

Yew Hock made great play of the fact that, out of so many arrested in 1957, many were connected with the PAP, and as many confessed that they were instructed to penetrate it to use it for communist ends. This was not a blinding revelation to Raja and his PAP colleagues.

They observed how the communists penetrated other mass organisations, manipulated them, and orchestrated events. Hence, despite all his huffing and puffing over the arrests and the Emergency regulations, Raja had begun to appreciate the need to keep the Emergency regulations in place. This was a case of familiarity breeding contempt. It was a significant shift for Raja, the expert on the theory of democracy.

His own man, with his own convictions

AS RAJA set to work preparing for the Anson by-election on 15 July 1961, his name was being bandied about among top communist circles in Peking as a candidate for another sort of campaign - the Communist plot to subvert merger.

Chin Peng, secretary-general of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP), was in Peking to discuss developments with the Communist Party of China (CPC). Deng Xiaoping, the secretary-general of the CPC, was convinced that the South-east Asian region would soon be ripe for communist domination and pressed Chin Peng to revert to armed struggle.

Enthused by the prospect of eventual communist domination in the region, Chin Peng fell in line with China's wishes. It was against this strategic backdrop that Chin Peng summoned Eu Chooi Yip, who controlled MCP operations in Singapore from his base in Indonesia, to Peking. They discussed the strength of the Singapore underground and Tunku Abdul Rahman's bombshell announcement on merger.

They decided to sabotage the merger plan, or at least to delay its implementation for as long as possible. They were fearful that, once Singapore joined Malaya, the communist network on the island would be smashed. They hatched a strategy - exploit the internal weaknesses of the PAP.

Chooi Yip told Chin Peng that the PAP was being split three ways. According to Chin Peng's account, Chooi Yip argued strongly that 'there was an ever widening split between the PAP's right-wing faction, led by Lee Kuan Yew, and a middle-of-the-road group, seemingly headed by Sinnathamby Rajaratnam'. The third faction was the 'Chinese communal group'. Chin Peng was sceptical about the depth of difference between Lee and Raja. But Chooi Yip, who had kept in close touch with the Singapore underground, was convinced that 'the rift was present and would worsen'.

Chooi Yip could claim to know Raja well, having been his former housemate at Chancery Lane. After escaping the police dragnet in Singapore in 1951, Chooi Yip had fled to Indonesia's Riau Islands. To convince Chin Peng of Raja's radical proclivities, Chooi Yip related how, during the Emergency, Raja had helped him to get medical treatment for his tuberculosis and gave him refuge in Singapore.

Chin Peng related: 'We then decided to instruct our Singapore underground to work on winning over the Rajaratnam faction to an anti-Malaysia stand and, at the same time, do everything possible to undermine Lee's determination to press for the formation of the new Federation incorporating Singapore.' With that directive, Raja, who had been resisting communist overtures since his salad days in London, became a chief target for the communist plot to sabotage merger.

Raja was seen to be more 'left' than Lee in his approach to politics, more radical, more ideological. The communist leaders knew that Raja was powerfully influenced by Marxist thought and had many communist friends whom he had treated gently and even protectively.

In contrast, Lee's approach was less ideological, more political, and entirely pragmatic. As Chin Peng put it, he thought that Lee would use his communist contacts as much as he could and would one day move against the MCP.

No doubt, the communists tried various approaches to win Raja over to their cause. He was obviously well-versed with their arguments, as he would later rehash them to expose their intent. The typical communist line would go: The communists had a network of formidable organisations. They had the moral and material support of China and Soviet Union. The force of history was on their side. What did the non-communist PAP faction have? A bunch of beer-swilling English-educated intellectuals with a support base that would crumble under communist pressure. The non-communist PAP could not win.

These threats would work with many, but not with Raja. His strength of character and conviction was a bulwark against communist intimidation. Years later, Samad Ismail, who later confessed in an interview that he was a high-ranking Malayan communist, confirmed the extensive communist efforts to influence Raja and the futility of it all.

Samad, who visited Chooi Yip in Indonesia during that turbulent period, said: 'Chooi Yip admired Raja because he was not ambitious, and not easily influenced.' Samad said the communists found Raja 'too smart' to be manipulated.

Raja himself never spoke about the communists' attempts to turn him against Lee during this period. Perhaps, it was to protect his friends who had tried. In an assessment which summed up the general view held among communist circles, Samad said: 'Raja was a decent fellow. You can trust him. He doesn't stab you in the back. You can be quite frank with him in discussions.'

Had the communists succeeded in capturing him, the Singapore story might well have turned out differently. When Chin Peng heard the news that his men had failed to turn Raja against Lee and merger, the guerilla fighter was despondent, but not surprised. He observed: 'Rajaratnam was, from the very beginning, undoubtedly Lee Kuan Yew's man.'

Chin Peng's conclusion missed the larger truth: More than Lee's man, Raja was his own man, with his own convictions. Raja firmly believed in the union of Singapore with Malaya, even before he met Lee in 1952.

While Lee might exert a powerful influence over Raja, he did not have control of Raja or his actions. (This was a point also noted by the British in a classified report in 1964, when Raja favoured a more aggressive political role in Malaysia.) He was not intimidated by Lee's ruthless intellect and felt little compunction telling Lee the blunt truth about his mistakes. Years later, Lee said: 'In our arguments, he'd win some, I would win some. That was what made us good friends. I never insisted that in everything I was right because I was Prime Minister. He would not concede just because I was Prime Minister.'

From the day they entwined their fates in a common cause to fight for independence for Singapore, Lee and Raja had been through traumatic times together. The events that tested them could have proven serious enough to weaken their alliance, if not for their exceptionally strong personal and political bond. When the chips were down, they closed ranks.

Standing up to the communist threat

FROM November 1958, the PAP began to prepare for the general elections in 1959. A major decision it had to take was whether it should fight to win to form the government, or to constitute a strong opposition bloc in the assembly.

Raja was stoutly against fighting to win. He told the team: 'Look, we haven't got an organisation. I think you need a few years as an opposition to build up your reputation and organisation.' He knew that the real struggle for the PAP would begin after self-government was achieved, between communists and non-communists.

Raja was uneasy at the prospect that, if the PAP were to field 51 candidates, it would be a Trojan horse for some 'hidden communists' and the PAP would not know any better until they were waving their red books in the Legislative Assembly. Raja further argued that a government which assumed power under a constitution which did not grant full independence would run into severe difficulties.

He listed them: There would be demagogues who would try to cash in with slogans about an independent Singapore and other violent, anti-colonial posturing. Merger with the Federation might be a very slow affair, providing more fuel for advocates of an independent Singapore. There would be attempts to brand the government in power as compromising with colonialism. Even more onerous would be the task of trying to resolve the economic and social problems of an isolated Singapore with no natural resources.

These were powerful arguments against forming a government. Indeed, until about the beginning of 1959, the trend of thought within the party was against fighting to win. Lee gravitated to this view as he knew the problems facing the next government would be immense. Lee was not at all confident that they could withstand the communist assaults that would follow.

Lee recalled the arguments: 'Raja, ever the idealist and the ideologue, was in favour of our forming a strong opposition.' Disagreeing, Goh Keng Swee and Kenny Byrne argued that the PAP had to form the government. They feared that, if it waited another five-year term, the corruption would spread from the ministries into the civil service itself.

Towards the end of 1958, Lee began to discuss this question with the principal pro-communist detainees - Lim Chin Siong, Fong Swee Suan, Devan Nair, S. Woodhull, and James Puthucheary - in their detention centre at Changi. Lee made plain his deep reservations about setting out to win in the next election, because a PAP government would soon be in trouble with the MCP (Malayan Communist Party). Chin Siong and company were alarmed by this position. Lee told them that he and his non-communist colleagues in the PAP would not fight to win, unless he was assured that they would abide by the democratic socialist values of the PAP, respect peaceful constitutional means, and take a clear-cut stand against the armed insurrection led by the MCP.

Gradually, the detainees offered promises to support the party. Knowing that promises could be broken, Lee asked them to put down in writing the terms on which they would give that support. Nair wrote a draft. By that time, Nair had become disenchanted with his Chinese communist friends' brand of politics, which was distinguished more by their Chinese chauvinism than by their Marxism.

Lee kept his non-communist colleagues informed of his discussions with the detainees. Lee suggested to Raja that, given his grave doubts about fighting to win, he should visit them himself to make his own assessment. Raja did. At the detention centre, he met with Woodhull, Puthucheary and Nair whom he knew quite well, but not with the Chinese-educated members, being less familiar with them.

The trio impressed on Raja that the PAP must fight to win. Raja tested them with this counter: 'But we will have trouble with the communists.' They responded with assurances that they would help to curb the communists. To make sure they were on the same page, Raja launched into a discourse on how communism was not practical for Singapore. During the discussion, Raja noticed that Nair was the most categorical on his stand against communism; the other two prevaricated.

At one point, Raja noticed sores all over the hands of Woodhull and asked him: 'What's wrong with you?' According to Raja, Woodhull replied: 'Nervous tension. Raja, you people better fight to win because if you don't win, if the PAP doesn't come in, if Yew Hock comes in, we may be here for life. So you must fight to win.'

By the beginning of 1959, Nair had his political statement ready for the five principal detainees to sign. It spelt out their commitment to the PAP's fundamental stand. They signed it. Raja nursed some doubts about their sincerity. His reservations were not unfounded. In the end, only Nair would stand by it.

A lesson in bridging racial, religious differences

RAJA surveyed his changed world from an office of faded colonial grandeur in City Hall. His window looked over the Padang, the stage for many of the country's historic events. It was here that, in 1819, the Malay chiefs signed the treaty with Stamford Raffles to cede Singapore to the British Empire. It was here that, in 1945, the Japanese surrendered to the British. And it was here on 5 June 1959 that Raja and the PAP Cabinet were sworn in as the first fully elected government of self-governing Singapore. As the country's first culture minister, Raja epitomised that spirit as he imagined a nation united and free.

His office on the third storey of the City Hall was his workshop. It was strewn with books and notes and all the apparatus of a writer. He had easy access to the prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, and the deputy prime minister, Toh Chin Chye, whose offices were on the second floor.

The prime minister left it up to Raja to define his job and its scope. Even the nomenclature of his ministry came from him. Lee had initially proposed to Raja that his ministry be called the Ministry for Information. Raja had other ideas. As he told Lee, information was only one part of the job, but the more important part was to confront the communal divisions in the society and to establish a sense of national identity among the various races. Lee had initial misgivings.

As he confessed later that year, there was the 'natural English-educated reluctance' to talk of a Ministry of Culture 'because of its association with ideas and ideals which are supposed to be intolerant and illiberal', said Lee. But, in a move which reflected the weight he gave to Raja's views, Lee went along with his proposal.

Raja was to spend the better part of his six years as culture minister on a quest to define the country's national identity. He worked hard to foster a sense of identification with the new ideals of the state. As he put it, 'we must create in our people an awareness that they belong to Singapore and that Singapore belongs to them'. He focused on developing state symbols - the flag and the national anthem.

He had other vital priorities: Build up the capabilities of the mass media, change its orientation towards a more national outlook and develop new channels of communications, such as television, to transform the people's understanding of themselves and the country.

The statue of Raffles was at first earmarked for removal, but Raja and his colleagues decided that this would only give the wrong signal to the world. So it stayed. 'To pretend that he did not found Singapore would be the first sign of a dishonest society,' Raja said.

Instead of tearing down the statue of Raffles, he found other ways to signal a break from the past. And that was to rename the Raffles National Library to National Library, and the Raffles Museum to National Museum. It was significant that, of all the buildings in Singapore, he considered the library and the museum the most worthy to bear this symbolic mantle.

Raja's sense of racial politics sharpened as he contended with communal pressures in the process of designing the state flag. Deputy prime minister Toh Chin Chye was involved in the earlier stages, delving into the technical rules of heraldry in drawing a flag and a crest, but he was overseas when the time came to finalise the design and provide the interpretations of the symbols. The task fell to Raja.

For the flag to be a national symbol, as opposed to a PAP one, Raja consulted all political parties represented in the Legislative Assembly. Lee was also closely involved and guided the discussions. They were so fraught with racial and religious controversies that, at one point, the entire project seemed at stake.

In Raja's account, the first draft of the flag design was red as the background with a yellow star in the centre. The Singapore Umno was up in arms against it, protesting that it was virtually the flag of the Communist Party. Later, someone suggested that the flag should be green in the background with a large white star. This demand was deemed excessive - (it) would have Islamised the flag.

Raja was caught in a quandary. He recalled years later: 'After several discussions, arguments and much persuasion, we managed to persuade all, including some people inside the PAP, to use red and white as the background colours of the flag, with five white stars and a crescent moon.'

The crescent moon also caused some consternation among the non-Muslim community.

'They saw the crescent moon as a proclamation of our religious identity,' said Raja. This perception, too, had to be cleared up. To prevent 'any too free a translation of the new symbols', Raja provided an 'authorised translation' of the symbols when moving the Singapore state arms and flag and national anthem Bill on 11 November 1959.

In the Legislative Assembly, opposition member Thio Chan Bee gave credit to Raja for creating 'this new precedent' of consulting the opposition political parties on the design of the flag. Opposition assemblyman Mohd Ali bin Alwi, who spoke in Malay, also praised him for being 'very compromising in accepting constructive suggestions' on the design.

For Raja, the entire process was a salutary lesson not only in compromise, but also the sensitive nature of racial and religious discussions.

The strategy: To out-tough, and to outlast

Mr Lee said Mr Rajaratnam gave him the heart to go on fighting, recalling that 'when everything looked bleak and we were in the depths of despair, Raja roared like a lion'. Mr Rajaratnam was determined and confident of winning the fight against the pro-communists. -- ST FILE PHOTO

IT WAS time to draw a line between those who were prepared to fight on the side of the PAP, which meant fighting for independence through merger, and those who were not. Years later, Fong Swee Suan related that after the Anson by-election, there were several tense meetings between the key leaders of both factions to thrash out their respective positions. On the pro-communist side were Lim Chin Siong, S. Woodhull and Fong. On the non-communist side were Lee Kuan Yew, Raja and Toh Chin Chye.

According to Fong, after rounds of discussions which only laid bare the unbridgeable gulf between them, Raja finally told them: 'Either you go into Malaysia and swim or sink with us - or we part ways.' A stunned silence greeted his stark ultimatum.

Fong recalled: 'We understood what he meant. It meant that we have to make a decision, whether we go into Malaysia or we go on our own way. We were very impressed. He was a very straightforward man.' At the meeting, the pro-communist group uttered no response. They felt there was no need to.

'Almost immediately, we made our decision - we decided to split from the PAP,' said Fong.

Raja related years later: 'After the Anson by-election, we knew that they betrayed us, that they were unreliable. They were going to make things more and more difficult for us. So, we decided to get rid of them.'

The PAP leaders took their fight against the pro-communists into the open and into the Legislative Assembly. On 21 July 1961, Lee moved a motion of confidence in the government in the Assembly. It was a huge gamble. If the motion was not carried, the government would resign and general elections follow.

But the PAP leaders knew they had to be careful how the purge was done - if they appeared to be disposing of the pro-communists after making use of them, they would lose the support of the Chinese-speaking ground.

Hence, the PAP leaders sought to make it clear that it was the pro-communists who had betrayed them; that it was the pro-communists who were consorting secretly with the British; that it was the pro-communists who were selling out the people in opposing merger by serving the interests of the communists and not of the country.

Lee kicked off the gruelling debate, which stretched from 2.30pm until about 4am the next day. In his speech, he laid out the 'plot, counter-plot and sub-plots' which would make 'an Oppenheim thriller read like a simple comic strip cartoon'.

Raja joined the marathon debate at the ungodly hour of 1.35am. He related a G. K. Chesterton short story in which the detective almost failed to solve the mystery because he had overlooked one suspect - the postman. He said: 'The postman is taken so much for granted that no suspicion is aroused by the fact that he visited the murdered man's place. Similarly with the British.'

He reinforced the PAP government's case that the British had met the pro-communists at Eden Hall and given them an assurance that nothing would happen to them if they took over the government. This served to embolden the pro-communists to obliterate the PAP at Anson.

Raja steeled himself for the worst when the confidence vote was taken in the early hours of 22 July 1961. The PAP needed 26 votes in the 51-member Assembly for a majority to carry the motion. After a headcount, it was certain of only 25. When the vote was called, 13 PAP rebels abstained. In the end, the government was saved by the crucial vote of an ailing PAP assemblywoman Sahorah Ahmat, who had to be carried into the chamber in a stretcher from her hospital bed.

Publicly, Raja greeted the defection of the PAP rebels with derision. He disparaged them as political opportunists, lacking in principle and conviction. He believed that some of them were not so much communists, as 'weaklings who believed that, if they took the Communist line, the Communists would bring them mass support and so ensure their political future in any forthcoming elections'.

Outside the Assembly, the political battle spread rapidly to the trade unions - the PAP's original mass base - and the PAP branches. The TUC was dissolved. The PAP unionists formed the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), while the Barisan set up the Singapore Association of Trade Unions (SATU). When the dust settled, no one was left in doubt which was the stronger force. The NTUC had about 12 unions. SATU had 43.

The Barisan rubbed in the PAP's humiliation further by also wresting away the bulk of the PAP's branches - including 20 of the PAP's 25 paid organising secretaries. Many members of the 51 PAP branches also defected to the Barisan, with some taking entire branches with them.

Raja's own Kampong Glam branch was almost entirely wiped out. His branch was previously buzzing with Chinese-speaking members. Overnight, almost all vanished.

Privately, Raja was anxious about the strength of his opponents. Knowing how dedicated and ruthless the communists were, he expected a brutal fight with sinister twists and turns. Given this grim reality, Raja's strategy, simply put, was to out-tough and outlast the Barisan. As he told the journalist Dennis Bloodworth during this period: 'All we've got to do is to hang on. The pro-communists are pinning their hopes on toppling the government. We shall hold on until merger is an accomplished fact.'

The pressure-cooker politics left the PAP leaders drained both emotionally and physically. At his lowest point, Lee was overcome by an acute sense of dejection. As he surveyed the devastation visited by the Barisan, Lee could not help but be seized by the utter hopelessness of it all. His spirits sank as he took in the disastrous position they were in.

In later years, Lee recalled his mood at this point: 'My spirits were very low, because how could we fight them? We went into elections in 1959 with this party machinery and the cadres we had cultivated. Then they absconded and joined the other side and left us with very few. So with this paltry remnant, a minority, how the dickens were we to fight the next elections?' Given the grave situation, even Goh was reduced to just staring at the ceiling fan. They felt battered, even brutalised, by the pro-communists.

The natural reaction in such circumstances was to hunker down and prepare for defeat. In that darkest hour, Raja did not allow the prevailing mood of impotence and gloom to overwhelm him. He looked at his doleful colleagues - and saw not a losing team, but a talented and capable one which represented Singapore's best hope for survival. They could win the fight against the communists.

Defying the overwhelming evidence pointing to the PAP's defeat, Raja radiated confidence as he told Lee: 'Don't worry, Harry. To hell with it. We'll fight on.'

With his indomitable fighting spirit, Raja fortified the morale of Lee and his colleagues and charged them up. It was a galvanising moment that transformed the mood of the PAP from despondency to defiance, and changed the trajectory of the battle.

Raja gave him, Lee said, the heart to go on fighting. As Lee recalled, 'when everything looked bleak and we were in the depths of despair, Raja roared like a lion'.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Grow productivity, not just GDP: PM

Jan 26, 2010

Past 5% annual growth will be difficult to sustain, he says
By Jeremy Au Yong, Political Correspondent

SINGAPORE is to adopt a new economic growth strategy focused more on improving productivity than pursuing growth at all costs.

The reason boils down to the country's land and labour constraints, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

'Our total land area is finite, and very little of it is lying fallow,' he told a conference examining the challenges facing Singapore.

'Our own population is growing slowly, and we cannot indefinitely expand our workforce by importing more and more workers from abroad.'

Mr Lee said Singapore would have to adjust its growth strategy and find new ways to continue to do well.

And, with that change, it has to shift to growing qualitatively not just by expansion, but by upgrading.

He said: 'We have to extract maximum value from the resources that we have; every piece of land must be put to optimum use, activities which are no longer competitive or productive have to be gradually phased out.'

Similarly, he said, workers, both local and foreign, need to be upgraded.
His call for higher productivity came a day after Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong spoke on the same topic - a clear sign that raising productivity is high on the Government's priority list this year.

The Economic Strategies Committee report, due for release next Monday, is expected to focus on it.

The Budget statement, on Feb22, will respond to the committee's recommendations.
The general target outlined by both Mr Lee and Mr Goh is to double productivity growth to 2 per cent to 3 per cent a year, from the present 1 per cent.

Productivity growth is usually considered critical to improving living standards. It means getting more value from each worker, resulting in more income being available to be distributed.
Such a change will take a major effort, said Mr Lee. 'But we have to do it so that progressively and inexorably, our economy will be transformed.

'Then, even if our total gross domestic product grows more slowly, our workers can become more productive and our income per capita can continue to rise.'

Previously, Mr Lee has warned that Singapore would not go back to pre-crisis growth levels. Yesterday, he said the average annual growth of 5 per cent enjoyed in the past decade would be difficult to sustain.

This was due to how much Singapore had progressed, and the push for higher productivity would result in slower expansion of the workforce.

'We must acknowledge that we are now more developed economically than we were 10 or 15 years ago, and we can no longer grow as rapidly as before,' he said.

'There will be good years when we should go faster. There will be other years which are tough, where we will do more poorly, but overall, if you take it over the next decade, I think 5 per cent will be a stretch,' he told about 900 people from academia, business, civil society and government sectors who attended the conference.

Called Singapore Perspectives 2010, it was organised by the Institute of Policy Studies.
Mr Lee also disclosed that the Trade and Industry Ministry is studying what a realistic long-term growth target would be.

He was careful to stress that the push for productivity did not mean just working harder.
Businesses needed to innovate relentlessly and be bold in seeking opportunities overseas, he said.

Workers, on the other hand, had to be psychologically prepared to upgrade their skills over and over again throughout their working lives.

Latest comments

If you still dreaming of getting Singaporean to have more babies, Dream on it you never success. Why ...ask yourself that the "Baby Bonus" what the real benefits. Make sure your MYCS or Feedback really doing the ground work cos they are not telling you the TRUTH. You can even give a 3-4 days Off to have couple make baby...forget it.

[Love these sort of comments. They hint at some obvious fact but they don't come out to say it. Or they hint at secret knowledge but they don't share it. As good as saying nothing. This sort of comments are just "farts". They make a sound, they stink, but you learn nothing from it except that the farter is very inconsiderate.]

My Dearest Mr PM, basically we are very tired of the PAP same old selfish and self interest from the older to the younger MP or NMP, basically you all know the facts that cost keep raising and your excuses that everything around us or the world is rising cost. Don't push the blame to others, just look at that same Coconut Tree around you all. Just say that you needed the money to pay your MP or NMP for their salary and allowance. Btw everyone grows old and Death is the reality so just cannot wait for "HIM" to kick the bucket. Like the old Chinese saying "When the Trees Fall, all the Monkeys run away." Sorry for being Rude but at one stage I have respect for the Party but NOW after 45 year in age, you all are just TOO MUCH, Greed at the expense of the Citizen. And for Fellow Citizen, this is not to a Joke, and seriously you guys have the Pen & Pencil decide something not out of what you feel for them, but for HEAVEN Sake your children, family and relatives too are Concern People that is effected by this Group of Government which tend to that advantage of matters. Look around you and decide not for yourself but the socities as a whole. If they have really cared for you all then why foreign telant, why cost cut, look at the ERP around you and many more to come. Please for the sake of our children and friends, give the Opposition a Chance in Life, give them beyond 5-10-15 years. Dont expect them to do miracle but give them a Chance. Remember the old rumor of PAP (Pay and Pay) well that ramour don't come from nowhere. The basic saying Smoke come from nowhere except the present from sources like heat, sunlight and materials. So for Haven Sake Wake UP.
Posted by: colin1965 at Tue Jan 26 10:07:22 SGT 2010

[And then the rambler. And at the end of it... nothing. Accusations without evidence. Sound bites and cliches. Nothing new. Nothing at all. Just one long fart.]

"We cannot indefinitely expand our workforce by importing more and more workers from abroad."And the desperado who has been massively importing foreign workers for the past 10 years is ... Lee Hsien Loong and his merry men. Full mark for hypocrisy.
Posted by: augustus_cesar at Tue Jan 26 09:32:41 SGT 2010

[And if Singapore employers did not want these foreign workers, would they come and would Singapore have to issue work permits and build dormitories for them? Is the Govt going to employers and forcing them to hire foreign workers? Or are the employers going to the Govt and pleading for the Govt to raise the cap on foreign workers? The reason for foreign workers are 1) there are not enough Singaporeans to take up the jobs or are willing to take up the menial jobs, and 2) employers like foreign workers because they work hard, for low salaries, and can easily be exploited. Blame Govt? Sure why not. You don't know any better.]

To encourage young Singaporean couples to start a family, it stands to reasons that one needs to re-assess the present policies of allowing the runaway housing prices.What indeed is Singapore real GDP without the exuberances of real estate(asset inflation) and its related hyped activities eg one may need to check on :a)how many registered and unregistered property agents were there in Singapore 10 years ago as compared to now.In other words,how many productive Singaporean are being enticed into property agency activities thereby deprived the able manpower supply for the real economy activitiesb)how many 50sqm so-called micky mouse box(condo unit) in Year 2000 as compared to nowc)is micky mouse box(condo unit) conducive for young couples to start a family d)does the long waiting list of applicants for HDB new flat under the over-driven BTO(build-in time lag) of Build-To Order) conduce one to start a familye)is there a need to revise upwards the household combined income ceiling of HDB applicantsf) should one not review the policy of foreigners' buying re-sale HDB flatsg)why tear down houses and condominium under the disguise of "en bloc" for which these houses condominum are otherwise more than fit for dwelling --it is a waste of resources and only adds to fuelling up the runaway property prices beyond the reach of young Singaprean couples.
Posted by: samudera1993 at Tue Jan 26 08:16:17 SGT 2010

[The simple fact is that even if flats were immediately available, would the birth rate go up? This housing lag-birthrate link is false and stupid. People using this argument is attempting to blackmail the govt. If this is really true, then the Govt should introduce a scheme to allocate flats on delivery of a child. So when a married woman is carrying her first child at the 6th month of pregnancy, they can select a flat, and one month before estimated date of delivery, they will be given the flat. We should see more pregnancies and births then.

Raising the income ceiling is another stupid idea from people who don't think things thru. At the current income level, there are already so many applicants for HDB flats. If you raise the income ceiling and allow more people to buy direct from HDB, then there would more applicants and the queue gets longer.

BUT in the long term, this may work. Overall, price is determine by supply and demand. short supply = higher prices. If the income ceiling is raised, more people will join the queue and waiting time will increase. But if the buyers exiting the resale market are not competing in the resale market anymore, then the resale market will ease.

Since HDB pegs their selling price to the market, HDB prices will also ease.

BUT we will have the problem with subsidies - low prices, and long queues. Unless HDB ramp up construction of new flats.

The fact is that HDB flats are highly subsidised. That's why people want them. They are a no-lose investment. You buy a flat today and if you were allowed to sell on the open market immediately, you get to pocket tens of thousands of dollars.

The success of this subsidy system may well be the seed of it's own spectacular destruction!

As for "en blocs" schemes, if these worked as planned, they are a way to a) enrich owners of the property, while b) facilitate re-development of older property to a higher density (plot ratio). So leaving the current residences untouched and undeveloped means for e.g. that 300 families can live there. But with redevelopment, the site can now house 600 or even 900 families. In at least one case, 600 units were demolished and 1800 units developed in its place. That's more homes for more people.]

A new economic strategy. The devils are in the details.Land and labour constraints in red dot are nothing new. It has existed since 1965.Is this another major U-turn in Policy by MIWs and their Ministers realising that gunning for growth at all costs alone is not the panacea to sustaining our economic growth and per capita income?If GIC and TH can grow our investments to receive passive income even though we might have an ageing and declining population, but we have to remember the passive returns will be huge on per head population on a 2.5m as compared to a population of 5m, isn't it?Is growing the population able to help us to sustain growth, and to sustain and increase our per capita income? But who can guarantee that our investments overrseas by GIC and TH will be safe and able to generate quality passive income for SG year after year?The Swiss is a land-locked country with investments overseas for the past 100 plus years and they have some big international product names giving them income and a quality Swiss-standard of living that many countries including SG are trying to copy but many cannot, including SG up till now.What is the Swiss magic that SG is unable to duplcate?What are their overseas investments? Where are they parked and what is the total passive income from overseas?What are their international brand names? They don't have SIA and PSA, but SG hasWhat is their population 100 years ago and now?What is the composition of their population? What is the percentage increase in their ageing population compared with now and that of 100 years ago?MIWs and their Ministers should wake up. Please wake up and look at what is already there for SG to copy and duplicate and not try to rebuild the wheel when the wheel is already in rotation in Switzerland for the past 100 years or more.
Posted by: CCLCCLCCL at Tue Jan 26 07:42:47 SGT 2010

[CCL is basically a self-absorbed idiot who fashions his ramblings upon the style of the Ultimate Warrior from the good old days when WWE was WWF. In this case for e.g. he draws in the issue of passive income even tho, there was no mention of this in PM's discourse. In any case, if passive income were to provide each Singaporean Citizen with $1000 pm, we would need $1.8 trillion in reserves generating a steady return of 2.5%. Even if we just provide for the elderly at 1/4 of the population eventually, it would still be $450b, which is twice what our reserves are currently estimated. In any case, his comment is to copy the Swiss. No study, no argument as to why the swiss model will work in our case, no analysis of strengths and weaknesses, just the swiss did it, let's copy them, without considering the current world order and circumstances. In any case, he does not provide any actual ideas or suggestion. He's like the parent scolding the child, "our neighbour Ah Keong can get "A" why you cannot? Go and learn from him, study like him and get an "A"! If he can you also can!"

In anycase, PM's point was that we can't grow the same way we used to by sheer application of labour. Now we must ensure that the labour units are more efficient, more productive. The next comment is a little more to the point.]

Productivity was in the IN thing in the 90s, after Paul Krugman argued that growth of economies in East Asia, especially Singapore, was from high capital investment and increasing labor force participation, and that total factor productivity had not increased. Krugman argued that in the long term, only increasing total factor productivity can lead to sustained economic growth.But it was soon forgotten with the government's perverse attention on the quantum of economic growth, rather than its quality. Perhaps it was because the ministers and senior civil servants have their bonuses pegged to GDP growth and not any other indicators?
Posted by: pappy at Tue Jan 26 07:03:41 SGT 2010

[No you twit. "Increasing labour force participation" is another phrase for "increasing employment rates." At less than full employment, it would have been potentially disastrous to increase productivity at the expense of jobs. Social stability requires people to be employed and plugged into the economy. However at some point employers should have started to scale up their production methods to raise productivity and reduce dependence on foreign workers. Instead they asked the govt for more leeway to employ foreign workers. To an extent the Govt had to agree because a lot of the work were being shunned by Singaporeans. Rightly or wrongly, these Singaporeans should have been upgraded so that they can be more productive and command higher wages, but they were not.]

Sorry, Fill My Cups event was a play on DJ's moniker

Jan 25, 2010

I REFER to last Thursday's letter, 'Wrong to promote women as sex objects', by the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware), on its displeasure over the Fill My Cups promotion held at OverEasy bar on Jan 16.

The party was primarily a guest DJ event that originated as a play on the DJ's name, DCUP. It was never our intention to create an event to, in any way, diminish or denigrate women but a tongue-in-cheek play on the DJ's moniker.

The women who participated came dressed as they pleased, whether clad in a tank top or turtleneck, and were visually assessed by four individuals behind a booth, three of whom were women. None of the women was turned away because she did not meet any set standards and all who participated (regardless of size) received the promised privilege.

Upcoming events intend to reward customers who possess the biggest biceps, the smallest shoe size and the longest hands. As with this promotion, we hope these will not be viewed through a discriminatory lens but rather seen as a celebration of individuality and uniqueness.

In the light of Aware's comments, The Lo & Behold Group sincerely apologises to all who were offended by the event. We fully understand the relevance of Aware's contentions and can see how our intentions could have been easily misconstrued.

Aware suggests that choices should be made based on a particular social context. We feel that such context is an individual preference and that people should not be made to feel guilty for making their own choices.

We hope Aware will extend to us the tolerance to express ourselves in ways different from its own ways, to be able to laugh at ourselves once in a while and not be too quick to shade this event in a discriminatory light.

As an alternative to Aware's view, we believe society has evolved sufficiently to look beyond equating a woman's assets as sex objects. Furthermore, we believe that recognition of one's physical assets does not detract from an individual's ability to gain respect through other attributes.

We respect Aware's opinion, but it is more important not to undermine the patrons who chose to participate in the event. They are modern, confident individuals who know their place in society and that their self-worth is not based solely on their 'assets'. We respect and stand by them.

Cheryl Ho (Miss)
Spokesman for The Lo & Behold Group

[Bravo! This is an example of a great response to a petty knee-jerk complaint. The reply was intelligent, respectful, but also showed self-respect for the programme as well as for the women who participated in their promotion. In acknowledging AWARE's opinion, it did not betray their customers. And finally, Miss Ho (not Ms) signed off as the "Spokesman" not Spokesperson, or Spokeswoman. Bravo!]

Good leaders respect each individual

Jan 25, 2010

Foreign Minister George Yeo delivered the inaugural Fullerton-St Joseph's Institution Leadership Lecture last Friday. We carry today an edited excerpt of the transcript of the lecture.

THE world is going through exciting transformations. Just two weeks ago, in my constituency on the shore of Bedok Reservoir, we unveiled a piece of the Berlin Wall - an icon from the end of the Cold War, marking the opening of a new chapter. The symbolism goes beyond just the division of Germany or the lifting of the Iron Curtain. It is much deeper.

What caused the collapse of the Soviet Union, symbolised by the collapse of the Berlin Wall? You remember United States President Ronald Reagan, who was ever the breezy optimist? He decided to take the Cold War to its limit with his 'Star Wars' initiative. That really broke the Soviet 'camel's back' because he pushed precisely in the direction in which the Soviet Union was weak at - electronics and space technology.

I was in the Air Force then and got to know the Israelis very well. I remember from 1980 to 1983, I must have visited Israel close to 10 times. In the period after the war over the Bekaa Valley, they showed me gun sight videos of the MiGs and Sukhois that they shot down with their F-16s and F-15s. It was like shooting ducks in a carnival.

Yes, the Israeli pilots were good but that would not have accounted for the 100 to zero outcome in air-to-air combat. And the MiGs were good aeroplanes for dogfights, in some ways more manoeuvrable than the F-15s and F-16s. The Soviet missiles were not inferior to the American missiles. But where the Soviets were weak was in their electronic warfare and systems management.

When it came to producing steel or generating electricity or laying railway tracks, the Soviet command economy was very good because you could mobilise people and command them to do things. But the development of electronics, of electronic warfare, required the cooperative efforts of a large number of individuals. You cannot command the writing of good software. Good software requires creative individuals and individuals who network with one another, coming together, understanding each other's strengths and weaknesses. So it was really that technology that determined the outcome of the Cold War but it did more than that. It created a phenomenon called 'disintermediation', a term used in the financial industry.

Old banks found that with electronic systems and globalisation, they could be bypassed through all kinds of new financial instruments not regulated the way traditional banks were regulated. Over the years, bright minds in America, Europe and elsewhere developed all kinds of new financial products, dissolving the old boundaries between banks and non-banks - in effect, an entire non-bank sector even bigger than the regulated banking sector, which in the end became a major cause of the 2008-09 financial collapse.

United States President Barack Obama recently took the advice of former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker and has said the US has got to tighten the regulation of banks and make banking simple again. Well, I am not sure if it is that easy to achieve such an outcome because the technology continually allows people to bypass regulations and hierarchies.

The fact is hierarchies are breaking down, dissolving into messy networks and this affects everything. It affects the relationships of teachers with students; of parents and children, employers and employees, ministers and ordinary citizens. With the revolution in information technology, everyone has choices they never had before.

You ask a kid anything now, you give him a textbook, he will Google, he will check, he will find alternative views and teachers are often put on the defensive. Well, you can try and shout down the student, say, 'Shush, quiet,' but can you win the respect of the students? Or is it not wiser to say, 'Look, what does Google say? What does Wiki say?... let's have a discussion.'

And in the process, instead of fighting disintermediation, instead of trying to protect hierarchies that are no longer sustainable, you begin to operate the network.

Because of this profound change from hierarchical structures to network structures, there has to be a change in the way leadership is exercised. One key aspect of this is the style of leadership. Let me go back to my old responsibility as minister in charge of broadcasting.

With the technology now available to us, broadcasting has fragmented, audiences have fragmented. Each of us has in our pocket a narrowcast capability, both to receive and to transmit. I myself have become my own broadcaster - or perhaps I should say 'narrowcaster'.

In the old days, you could say: 'Let's watch a movie at Capitol.' But today Capitol doesn't exist. And if you go to Cathay or Lido, which movie are you talking about? It is a world of cineplexes.

As for television, in the old days it was either Channel 5 or 8. Today that is meaningless. After dinner at home, eyeballs are looking at different things.

I remember once watching a movie, I think it was Harry Potter, the lights were dimmed before the screen came on. Looking at the people sitting in front of me, almost everyone was staring into his telephone or handheld equipment into a different world. We can call it mass customisation but I think that has too 'industrial' a ring to it. Really we're talking about 'multiple narrowcasting'.

But are we completely fragmented? Have we lost our sense of commonality? No, there are times, occasions, when our common humanity rises up to the fore and we are together. But when that subsides, we are each doing our own thing.

Now leadership in this new 'network world' requires a different style and it requires a more democratic style. If people have no choices, you can put them in a room, force them to look at the same PowerPoint presentation or the same blackboard, read the same textbooks, take the same exams - and if they fail these exams, that's it, they'll be penalised.

Today, it is a case of: If I'm not happy with this system, if I'm not happy in Singapore, I go elsewhere. If you won't employ me, I find some other employer. If I don't like you as an employee, I can find some other employee.

In such a world - and I'm not talking here about one-man-one-vote, which is, I think, a gross oversimplification of what democracy means - but the original idea of what Abraham Lincoln expressed at Gettysburg - 'government of the people, by the people, for the people' - that is a very important conception of leadership in the Internet world.

In other words, leadership not as a one-way relationship - of the leader having the ideas, the plan, and others following like clone armies in Star Wars.

In this day and age, clone armies are weak armies. Mindless supporters are worthless. Leadership becomes a chemistry among people, enabling them to draw energy from one another. And for that to happen, leadership has to respect each individual in his own right and according to his own nature.

Brother Joe McNally, who founded LaSalle College, never taught me but he was always there hovering around. I got to know him when I became a patron of LaSalle College in 1988, when it was still only two classrooms at St Patrick's School. I found him a great inspiration.

After he retired, he threw his CPF into LaSalle College which got him into trouble with the brotherhood. I think a complaint went up to Rome about his lack of financial discipline. But he had faith and he always said 'God will provide' - and God eventually did provide, but through people like us who were his friends.

His first love was the arts. But following the vow of obedience, he had to teach when he was a Brother. But when he retired he decided to go back to the arts, and he did sculptures.

One day, he had an exhibition at the art museum at the old SJI building. I stopped by to appreciate one of his pieces in bronze of a Christian Brother hovering over a young boy. That young boy stood erect but was not intimidated. I asked Brother McNally: 'What is the meaning of this?'

Now, Brother McNally never believed in corporal punishment. He said it was always important to respect each child as an individual and relate to him as an individual. Without that respect for the individual, there is no chemistry. The wick is not lit until the individual is respected as an individual. And in a network world, that respect for diversity, for individuality, is very important. Those who can accomplish that in large numbers, energise the network and are energised by the network. Then you have real force.

The old hierarchies no longer work. You give a big speech in a big hall, it will get reported in the media, but the ferment doesn't take place. Old ways have got to be set aside. And there is a messiness that one must live with, an untidiness that is a part of the landscape.

So accepting a certain messiness, a certain uncertainty, a certain unpredictability, is part of the new leadership requirement. Parents now find it more difficult to deal with their children because you can lock them up in their room, you can take away the computer but you can't take away their cellphones. And in any case, when they leave the house they are connected again. They know more things than they are prepared to admit to their parents. And we have to accept that as a matter of cause.

The relationships of ministers and permanent secretaries to the citizenry, of priests to the laity, of employers to employees - all this will have to go through a profound transformation. Because of legacy, some will make this transformation more effectively than others. A Darwinian process is at work.

In the last US presidential elections, I was talking to a strong supporter of Mrs Hillary Clinton at the beginning of the campaign and he assured me that Mrs Clinton would win the Democratic nomination because she inherited a well-oiled fund-raising machine from her husband. But Mr Obama bypassed the traditional networks, got Facebook to help him, reached large numbers and very quickly built up an arsenal bigger than Mrs Clinton's. And he was able to do that only because he tapped younger people, he tapped new sectors that others thought were not productive.

I dare say watching companies, watching families, watching churches, mosques - those who make the adjustment quickly, would increase their power, would increase their reach. Others who find it difficult will shrivel and wither away. And even countries will face the same Darwinian pressures.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Mahathir: WTC collapse a controlled demolition

Jan 23, 2010

KUALA LUMPUR: Former premier Mahathir Mohamad yesterday persisted in claims that the Sept 11 attacks were staged, suggesting that the collapse of the World Trade Center was the result of controlled demolition.

His latest posting on his widely read blog cites conspiracy theorists' claims that the twin towers had collapsed in 'too clean' a manner.

'The collapse of the two towers was typical of demolition of skyscrapers by experts in America,' he wrote.

Tun Dr Mahathir also claimed to have met a janitor who worked in the twin towers. The man, he wrote, had said there were explosions that appeared to be unrelated to the plane crash.

The remarks came right after he said on Wednesday in a speech that the Sept 11 attacks were staged as an excuse to 'mount attacks on the Muslim world', adding that 'if they can make Avatar, they can make anything'.

The remarks have drawn sharp criticism from analysts, opposition politicians and netizens alike. They could not come at a worse time, said Dr Ibrahim Suffian, director of Merdeka Centre, an independent pollster.

Noting that they would not help the country's image in a time of religious tension, Dr Ibrahim said Dr Mahathir should have known the difference between the fiction of the movie Avatar and the reality of the attack.

'Conspiracy theories aside, people actually died in that suicide attack. Dr Mahathir's statement is disrespectful to the victims for it to be described that way, with reference to a Hollywood movie,' he said.

The statement also drew criticism from opposition politician Lim Kit Siang, who said that Dr Mahathir would have created 'an international incident' between Malaysia and the United States if he was still the prime minister.

The former premier's statement also sparked strong reactions from netizens, with many slamming him for his statements on their blogs and on Twitter.

Malaysian Assembly of Mosque Youth (Pemuda Masjid) de facto leader Mohd Nawar Ariffin took a more neutral stance, saying that more discussions should be held on the former premier's allegations.

The US Embassy has not commented on the matter.


[An example of people choosing to believe what they want to believe. Dr M and the Iranian President should form a club. They are two of a kind.]

The "Allah" issue and Islam in M'sia

Jan 24, 2010
What's in a name?
Translation - openness to expression, thought of other cultures - is key to an open society
By Janadas Devan,

I once received an e-mail from an unknown correspondent in Britain. Dated May 29, 2008, it read:

'A friend here in the UK recently bought some tropical fish and part of the padding around the polystyrene box was pages from The Sunday Times of January 13th, 2008. This contained only a part of your article entitled 'One God, many names' but I found it very interesting nonetheless. I have so far been unable to find any more of your article in the other padding papers and a search online has also proven fruitless. I should be extremely grateful if you could e-mail me the entire article.'

Writing is a solitary business. One never knows how something one writes is going to be received. This uncertainty is compounded for journalists because their writings tend to be ephemeral. Newspapers, as they say, become fish-wrap within a day.

So you can imagine my thrill when something I wrote literally did become fish-wrap - and was read half-way round the world for precisely that reason! As I later learnt, my correspondent's friend had bought tropical fish imported from Singapore. That was how an article that first appeared here became fish-wrap and was uncovered five months later in Britain. Things can go viral electronically; and they can go viral fish-wrapally.

I had forgotten about this incident till this month, when the occasion for the article that became fish-wrap - a quarrel in Malaysia over the use of the word 'Allah' - took a dangerous turn. Amid pockets of Muslim anger over a Malaysian High Court ruling that a Roman Catholic publication can refer to 'God' as 'Allah', many churches in the country, one Sikh temple and one mosque were attacked.

'Heresy arises from words wrongly used,' declared banners held by protesters objecting to the court ruling. They are mistaken. The heresy here arises from a claim of monopoly on words.

To begin with, most of those who insist 'Allah' is uniquely Muslim or Arabic seem unaware that the words for 'God' in Arabic, Hebrew and Aramaic are so closely related as to be virtually indistinguishable. The Abrahamic faiths - Judaism, Christianity and Islam - have different conceptions of God, certainly, but etymologically-speaking, the Arabic Allah shares the same root as the Hebrew Elohim and the Aramaic Alaha.

Elohim derives from eloh (Hebrew for 'God'), Alaha is an emphatic form of alah (Aramaic for 'God'), and Allah ('The God') is linked to ilah (Arabic for 'God').

'All three of these Semitic words for 'God' - eloh, alah and ilah - are etymologically equivalent,' writes Dr Umar Faruq Abd-Allah, a Muslim scholar. If one heard Elah or Alah in Aramaic (pronounced Al-aw) it would sound almost exactly the same as Allah in Arabic (pronounced Al-lawh or Al-lah, depending on the context).

It is difficult to say Christians cannot say 'Allah' when Arab Christians have been doing so for thousands of years and when Christ, who spoke Aramaic, would probably have said Alah, Elah or Alaha. Both Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34 tell us that at the ninth hour on the cross, Christ cried out Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani, 'My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?' - Eloi or E'li being the personal possessive of Elah, and which probably should have been spelt Elah-i or Alah-i. Still, it would be as meaningless to say Christians have a better claim on the distant common root of Elohim, Elah or Allah, because Christ came before the Prophet, as it would be to say Jews or Muslims do.

Which brings one to another consideration that has not been mentioned in the current controversy: Many great ages of thought, including of religious thought, have also been great ages of translation. The initiates of various religions might believe they are in possession of mysteries unique to themselves - an assumption as old as the pagan mysteries, with the Greek word for 'to be initiated' into the mysteries, muein, meaning originally 'to keep silent' - but the history of religious thought has been anything but silent or secretive.

Take, for instance, the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, the so-called Septuagint, in multi-cultural Alexandria in the 3rd century BC. 'It is easy to perceive how passionate Hebrew meanings were gradually imported into the cold and clear-cut Greek words', writes Owen Barfield in History In English Words - until classical Greek was transformed into the instrument that later conveyed so remarkably the New Testament.

Take eidolon, the Greek word for 'idol', which originally referred to any sort of mental image, including mental fancy. In the Septuagint, the word acquired the condemnatory colouration that the Hebrew Scriptures ascribed to idolatry - a colouration that remains to this day.

Or take another example, 'paradise', paradeisos in Greek - which initially referred, of all things, to the enclosed park of a Persian nobleman! That did service for the Garden of Eden in the Septuagint, and later heaven.

Thus Greek words that could only have meant 'folly', 'integrity' and 'dirt' to Plato were re-shaped to convey 'sin', 'righteousness' and 'defilement'. Thus concepts such as 'God', 'soul', 'life', 'death', 'spirit', 'self' and hundreds of others were 'first resolved by the chemical action upon them of similar concepts from the minds of other nations and races,' notes Barfield, to take on finally the form they have today. In the beginning was the word - and it has been translated numerous times since.

Or consider that perhaps greatest age of translation, Arab civilisation from the 9th to the 13 centuries. It was the Baghdadis who translated the work of the Indian mathematician Brahmagupta, containing the early ideas of al-jabr, Arabic for 'algebra'. It was Muhammad ibn-Musa al-Khwarizmi, the father of al-jabr, who developed this work, and whom we commemorate every time we do algorithms. Originally Arabic words like 'zero', 'cipher', 'almanac', 'alchemy' - not to mention 'tariff' and 'magazine' - all testify to the debt Europe, and thus modernity, owes the Arabs.

Ernest Renan, the French philosopher and historian of early Christianity, once observed of medieval versions of Aristotle, they were 'Latin translations from a Hebrew translation of a Commentary of Averroes (Ibn Rushd) made on an Arabic translation of a Syriac translation of a Greek text'.

Translation - openness to the thought and expression of other cultures - is the essence of an 'open society'. And the Arabs got there first before the Europeans did. What a comedown from that to lists of words said to be exclusive to only one religion.

'Heresy arises from words wrongly used'? No, it doesn't. It arises instead from people insisting on a monopoly on words and refusing the chemical action of similar concepts from the minds of other nations and races.

To combat this monopoly, to retain the features of an open society, we need ideas and words to spread virally faster than fish-wrap, faster than electronically.

A Malaysia that burns down churches, temples or mosques is unthinkable.

Jan 23, 2010
Just do it, says ex-model to be caned
Malaysian woman caught for drinking beer has lost her job and husband since case began
By Elizabeth Looi, Malaysia Correspondent

KUALA LUMPUR: The former model set to be caned for drinking a beer has lost her job and her husband. Now, she just wants to take her punishment and move on.

'My life is almost destroyed, and I just want to start all over again,' Ms Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, 32, told The Straits Times.

'I wish to go to Mecca to perform my umrah (pilgrimage), and go back to modelling as I am into Islamic fashion.'

The Malaysian from Perak made international headlines when she was ordered to be caned six times and fined RM5,000 (S$2,060) in July last year for drinking alcohol in public.

She would be the first woman caned in Malaysia under Islamic law. The punishment is enforced only in Pahang, Kelantan and Perlis. Civil law does not allow caning for women.

The Pahang Syariah High Court abruptly postponed her caning in August until after the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The religious authorities there upheld her caning sentence in September, but did not set a date for it to be carried out.

So her life has been put on hold as she awaits the final word from the court, Ms Kartika said in an exclusive phone interview on Thursday.

Even though she is free to leave Malaysia, Ms Kartika decided to stay put because she does not want to give the impression that she is running away from the punishment.

'So, I will wait patiently until the punishment is over, but I hope it will be soon,' she told The Straits Times.

The court's caning order has caused serious damage to Malaysia's international image as a moderate Muslim country. But some Muslim groups have backed the sentence and asked critics not to interfere with laws meant for Muslims.

There have been other cases of Muslims, including women, who were caught drinking, but almost all of them pleaded not guilty and appealed against their sentences.

Ms Kartika was among the few who pleaded guilty, and insisted on not appealing against the sentence despite the advice of government officials, including senior ministers. She said she was willing to accept the punishment to show her respect for the religion and the law.

Her lawyer Adham Ibrahim said he had been in touch with the authorities to speed up the punishment. But the Pahang palace was also concerned about the unique case, which was widely reported by the international media, he said.

In the meantime, the wait continues.

Ms Kartika went through another painful episode this week when her marriage to Singaporean Mohamad Affandi Amir, 38, ended in divorce. The couple, who were married for 13 years, formally split on Wednesday. She now lives with her parents in Kuala Kangsar, Perak.

Ms Kartika confessed that her marriage had been rocky even before her arrest for drinking. But the episode had taken a further toll on their relationship, she said.

Her husband had been supportive, she stressed. But she had failed to 'be a good wife' since her case went to trial as she was always in Malaysia, and he was left alone in Singapore.

'He felt the pressure too, and we are both very sad that things have to turn out this way. But I guess it is for the better since I don't want to see him suffer any more,' she said, her voice filled with sadness. 'I still love him, but it will be difficult for me to accept him back now because I haven't been kind to him.'

But she is grateful that he gave her custody of their two children.

For now, Ms Kartika is focusing on writing a book about her trials and tribulations. She said she started to pen her thoughts after her sentencing, and plans to publish it someday.

'I am focusing on my book now,' she said. 'It is about my daily life, my feelings, my thoughts and the challenges that I have had to go through every day since my case started.'

Friday, January 22, 2010

Jet claim flies in the face of facts

Jan 22, 2010

By William Choong,
Senior Writer

IN 1990, Mr David North became the first Western journalist to fly one of the most advanced Soviet aircraft then - the Sukhoi-27. The former United States Navy fighter pilot and editor-in-chief of Aviation Week and Space Technology made a quick assessment: The Su-27 was more comparable to America's improved performance F-15 Strike Eagle, rather than to the earlier model F-15.

Apparently without the privilege of flying one, Professor Azmi Hassan - a geostrategist at the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia - made a similar claim: US-made fighters like the F-5, F-15 and F-16, like those in the Republic of Singapore Air Force, 'cannot beat the Su-30', an advanced variant of the Su-27. Also, the Russian Su-30 is better than the US-made next-generation F-22 Raptor, Prof Azmi wrote in the Utusan Malaysia last month.

The thrust of his article was simple: Malaysia should purchase 18 Su-30s to replace its ageing inventory of MIG-29 aircraft.

But the article left out some obvious facts: For one thing, Malaysia already has 18 Su-30s. And to argue that the Su-30 is better than the F-22 - a stealth aircraft with cutting-edge capabilities - is patent nonsense, say experts.

To some extent, one could compare the airframe performances of two aircraft from roughly the same generation.

It has been reported extensively that the Su-30 beat American aircraft such as the F-15 in Red Flag exercises in the US, thanks to its manoeuvrability and high angle of attack. In a widely watched YouTube video, for example, a US Air Force pilot concedes that Su-30s in the hands of competent Indian pilots will 'regularly defeat' earlier versions of the F-16 and the F-15. (He did, however, highlight some of the Su-30's weaknesses).

But the assertion that the Su-30 is better than other US-made aircraft is too simplistic, argues Mr Dzirhan Mahadzir, the Malaysia-based correspondent for Jane's and a former lecturer at the Malaysian Armed Forces Defence College. 'This is the kind of statement that amateurs or those with limited knowledge of military issues make,' he said.

One cannot pitch one aircraft against another, given that air forces fight in 'systems', or suites of capabilities. These include airborne warning and the ability to rearm, refuel and deploy aircraft into combat quickly.

It is a truism that a platform - that is, an aircraft - does not equate to an effective capability, notes Dr Alan Stephens, a visiting fellow at the University of New South Wales and a former pilot with the Royal Australian Air Force.

'It's the total system that matters. For example, if the Battle of Britain were refought today with the Luftwaffe flying Hurricanes and Spitfires and the Royal Air Force (RAF) flying Bf-109s, the result would still be the same,' he said, referring to the RAF's excellent early warning radar network and superior leadership.

Individual skill is another important factor, argues Professor Bernard Loo, a defence analyst at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. 'A half-past-six weapon in the hands of a skilled operator is better than a top-notch weapon in the hands of a half-trained monkey,' he says.

[Great! We're calling M'sian pilots monkeys! :-) ]

'The bottom line,' he adds, is as follows: 'Unless and until the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) uses its combat platforms in a coherent system, their possession of technically superior platforms will not change the strategic situation in South-east Asia one iota.'

More importantly, Prof Azmi's argument that 18 Su-30s will make the RMAF the dominant air power in the region is faulty. Even if it is valid - and many experts beg to disagree - the statement misses the whole point about air power.

As early as 1921, air power strategists such as Giulio Douhet, an Italian air force officer, argued that air power, like other forms of military force, was merely a means to an end in a strategy to crush an opponent's will. To paraphrase Carl von Clausewitz, mere hardware is nothing without an overarching grand strategy.

Moreover, there has been growing circumspection about air power, particularly after the Vietnam War. In his 1996 work, Bombing To Win: Air Power And Coercion In War, Mr Robert Pape argued that American air power had achieved little - and would achieve little - in coercing America's enemies.

Utusan Malaysia - an Umno-owned newspaper that has seen its circulation fall in recent years - has a penchant for making controversial statements. In October 2000, for example, a reporter asked then Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew where the 100 AIM-120C air-to-air missiles (AAMs) Singapore was buying from the US would face. He replied: 'The missiles will face nowhere, but they are there to welcome whoever intends harm.'

[Such a stupid question. Air to Air missiles means the missiles are fired while in the air, and intended to hit a target in the air. That means, the missiles will be facing whatever direction the plane carrying it happens to be facing at any given time. LKY must be thinking, what an idiot. And even for Surface to surface missile (SSM), current technology really doesn't require them to face any direction as the guidance system would direct the missile to its target that would either be pre-programmed before launch, or may be modified in flight. M'sia must still be using ballistic rockets and calling them missiles.]

Nobody took exception to the remark until four days later, when Utusan carried a front-page story headlined 'Kuan Yew: Sila Serang Singapura', or 'Kuan Yew: Please attack Singapore'. (Interestingly, Mr Lee had referred to a letter to the New Straits Times by Mr Dzirhan, arguing that the US-made missiles put the Republic on a par with Malaysia's AA-12 Adder AAMs).

[Gotta love the Utusan journalist for their creativity. Hope they don't creatively start wars.]

It is bad enough that Prof Azmi's commentary is full of faulty logic and bereft of any theoretical heft. It would be worse if his comments were to impair the otherwise good political and military relations between two neighbours.

Wrong to promote women as sex objects

Jan 21, 2010

I REFER to Monday's report ('Drinks based on bra size', Breaking News, ST Online) of a promotion organised by a bar, OverEasy, at One Fullerton. OverEasy is run by Lo & Behold, which also runs Loof and White Rabbit.

The bar invited women to enjoy free alcohol based on the size of their breasts. The event was reportedly well attended and women who had bigger breasts received more 'free' drinks.

There is nothing free about letting a room of people gawk at your breasts. Even if a woman is willing to pay the personal price of loss of dignity, there is still a cost suffered by other women.

The women who participated have contributed to the objectification of women, to reducing a woman's value to her breast size, and have helped reinforce the belief among men that this is not only acceptable, but welcome. Staging this event in itself is extremely distasteful.

Just because sexism is profitable does not make it right. For the organisers to say the event was merely for 'good fun and not sexist or sleazy' is insincere. The indignity is suffered only by one gender.

It is unfortunate there are women willing to make this choice so light-heartedly. The individual woman may view her participation as an act of empowerment. Perhaps she feels she should use whatever assets she has to secure favours for herself. In our sex- and youth-obsessed culture, it is not surprising some women would grow to be so cynical.

Yes, women have the right to choose, but individual choices are made in a social context. And in our current social context, women have a much harder time to be esteemed as individuals above and beyond their value as sex objects.

This event perpetuates the notion of women as sex objects and makes it that much more difficult for each woman who wants to be valued for her character and contribution, rather than how she stacks up to a distorted image of the ideal body.

The personal choice (of the participants) and the private choice (of the corporation) has had a detrimental social impact.

Choice works both ways. The organisers may have packed their venue that evening, but they may well have lost future business at OverEasy and their sister establishments.

Dana Lam (Ms)
Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware)

[No arguments about the sleaze factor. And the fact that some women chose to participate undermines their own dignity, respect and standing. But I disagree that only the women are victims. The men are also diminished. But ultimately, render unto caesar what belongs to caesar and to god what belongs to god. The people at such establishment are in a different social context, one where overt sexuality is welcomed, encouraged, and in this case rewarded. Sex and alcohol has a long-standing relationship. There is no point in making moral judgments. It just makes you seem like a prude and a killjoy. ]

Racism, Colourism, and Discrimination. Or why Michael Jackson needed to lighten his skin tone.

Jan 21, 2010
Does race matter? Yes, even when it's not official
By Andy Ho, Senior Writer

THE offspring of inter-racial marriages may now have their 'race' hyphenated. The decision to offer this option has reignited calls from some quarters to do away with race categories altogether.

A reader suggested that Singapore should emulate Brazil's cross-colour conviviality, which experts attribute to a longstanding official policy of silence when dealing with race. Thus, racism does not exist in Brazil, she argued.

Brazilian exceptionalism began in 1889 and 1891 when the government burnt all documents pertaining to slaves. In this way, half a million slaves emancipated in 1888 entered a society that already had large numbers belonging to a hybridised race (mulatto).

With few white women around, the Portuguese colonialists took local ones. Over time, there was a large mulatto population, giving rise to much racial ambiguity. Today, the mulatto may describe himself or herself as claro (light complexion), moreno claro (medium-dark complexion), moreno (dark complexion), pardo (brown), and so on.

In such a context, rigid racial segregation was difficult, so the authorities did not categorise people based on their descent or ancestry. To this very day, race is not used in official Brazilian data collection, analysis and discussion. If we did away with race as Brazil has done, my reader argued, racism in Singapore too will disappear.

But is Brazil's 'racial democracy' real? Its southern regions are relatively white or light-skinned while the north and north-east are relatively darker. And significantly, there are very high levels of inequality: Non-whites fare badly in educational achievement, vocational earnings, career progression and life expectancy.

While blacks and mulattos dominate in music and sports, whites rule in most other fields, especially commerce and industry. Little wonder Brazilians themselves generally regard a fairer skin as better.

This idea of racial democracy was first promoted in the 1930s by Gilberto Freyre, especially in his rambunctious work entitled Casa-Grande & Senzala, translated as The Masters And The Slaves - a romanticised account of sugar-mill towns that were practically owned by one white man, who was, in effect, the patriarch of his black workers, first slaves, then servants.

Freyre argued that the Portuguese were less racist than other colonialists. Their Iberian-Catholic tradition facilitated the establishment of a 'polygamous patriarchal regime' where 'widely practised miscegenation tended to modify the enormous social distance between the Big House (Casa-Grande) and the slave hut (Senzala)'.

This racial mixing resulted in so many shades that discrimination based on ancestry became well nigh impossible. This then led to a racially harmonious society. In Brazil, therefore, social classes are economic, not racial, Freyre argued.

Today, riled at the socio-economic disenfranchisement they suffer in Brazil, black activists pooh-pooh this idea of a racial democracy. A job advertisement requiring someone with 'good appearance', they point out, is understood to mean a white person.

In the 2006 Race In Another America: The Significance Of Skin Color In Brazil, Professor Edward Telles paints a nuanced account of the current state of race affairs in Brazil. A sociologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, Prof Telles documents the shift in public opinion, from one that subscribed to the myth of racial democracy to one that perceives a racially divided society.

While Brazil's rates of inter-marriage and residential integration are high, this is true only among the poor. Thus, while there might be a racial democracy for 80 per cent of people, the privileged class remains irrevocably white. Prof Telles finds that the inequality between whites and non-whites in Brazil is far worse than that in the United States.

Abject poverty among non-whites has led to crime that is so bad regular police patrolling the streets have to don bulletproof vests daily. According to Time magazine, 6,000 were shot and killed in Rio de Janeiro last year - 1,000 by the police.

Since the fairer-skinned are more privileged, many have 'self-whitened', Prof Telles notes. More blacks are self-identifying as brown while more browns are self-identifying as white. Hence, parents of one colour may have offspring who self-identify with a lighter colour.

Despite being shorn of official race categories, there is hyper-consciousness about fine gradations of skin colour. These gradations have to do with how much African ancestry one has. There is a deep structural racism in Brazil that is only minimally covered over by the fig leaf of a seemingly friendlier system of colour stratification.

Because there are no legal categories of race in Brazil, there are also no laws to combat racial discrimination which undeniably exists. By contrast, official practice in Singapore leads to bright-lines among the races. But the very same laws that inscribe these lines also make it possible to recognise and address racially discriminatory practices.

In this way, having legal categories of race may not be so pernicious after all.

Does race matter? Yes, even if we think we're colour-blind
By Shankar Vedantam

LAST week, US Senate majority leader Harry Reid found himself in trouble for once suggesting that Mr Barack Obama had a political edge over other African-American candidates during the US presidential campaign because he was 'light- skinned' and had 'no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one'. Mr Reid was not expressing sadness but glee that Americans were still judging one another by the colour of their skin, rather than - as Dr Martin Luther King Jr dreamed - by the content of their character.

The Senate leader's choice of words was flawed, but positing that black candidates who look 'less black' have a leg up is hardly more controversial than saying wealthy people have an advantage in elections. Dozens of research studies have shown that skin tone and other racial features play powerful roles in who gets ahead and who does not. These factors regularly determine who gets hired, who gets convicted and who gets elected.

Consider: Lighter-skinned Latinos in the United States make US$5,000 (S$7,000) more on average than darker-skinned Latinos. The education test-score gap between light-skinned and dark- skinned African-Americans is nearly as large as the gap between whites and blacks.

The Harvard neuroscientist Allen Counter has found that in Arizona, California and Texas, hundreds of Mexican-American women have suffered mercury poisoning as a result of the use of skin-whitening creams. In India, where I was born, a best-selling line of women's cosmetics called Fair and Lovely has recently been supplemented by a product aimed at men called Fair and Handsome.

This isn't racism, per se: it's colourism, an unconscious prejudice that isn't focused on a single group like blacks so much as on blackness itself. Our brains, shaped by culture and history, create intricate caste hierarchies that privilege those who are physically and culturally whiter and punish those who are darker.

Colourism is an intra-racial problem as well as an inter-racial problem. Racial minorities who are alert to white-black or white-brown issues often remain silent about a colourism that asks 'how black' or 'how brown' someone is within their own communities.

Colourism may live underground, but its effects are very real. Darker-skinned African-American defendants are more than twice as likely to receive the death penalty as lighter-skinned African-American defendants for crimes of equivalent seriousness involving white victims. This has been proven in rigorous, peer-reviewed research into hundreds of capital punishment-worthy cases by the Stanford psychologist Jennifer Eberhardt.

Take, for instance, two of Dr Eberhadt's murder cases, in Philadelphia, involving black defendants - one light-skinned, the other dark. The lighter-skinned defendant, Arthur Hawthorne, ransacked a drug store for money and narcotics. The pharmacist had complied with every demand, yet Hawthorne shot him when he was lying face down. Hawthorne was independently identified as the killer by multiple witnesses, a family member and an accomplice.

The darker-skinned defendant, Ernest Porter, pleaded not guilty to the murder of a beautician, a crime that he was linked to only through a circuitous chain of evidence. A central witness later said that prosecutors forced him to finger Porter even though he was sure that he was the wrong man. Two people who provided an alibi for Porter were mysteriously never called to testify. During his trial, Porter said the police had even gotten his name wrong - his real name was Theodore Wilson - but the court stuck to the wrong name in the interest of convenience.

Both men were convicted. But the lighter-skinned Hawthorne was given a life sentence, while the dark-skinned Porter has spent more than a quarter-century on Pennsylvania's death row.

Colourism also influenced the 2008 presidential race. In an experiment, Dr Drew Westen, a psychologist at Emory, and other researchers shot different versions of a political advertisement in support of Mr Obama. One version showed a light-skinned black family. Another version had the same script, but used a darker-skinned black family. Voters, at an unconscious level, were less inclined to support Mr Obama after watching the advertisement featuring the darker-skinned family than were those who watched the ad with the lighter-skinned family.

Political operatives are certainly aware of this dynamic. During the campaign, a conservative group created attack ads linking Mr Obama with Mr Kwame Kilpatrick, the disgraced former mayor of Detroit, which darkened Mr Kilpatrick's skin to have a more persuasive effect. Though there can be little doubt that as a candidate Mr Obama faced voters' conscious and unconscious prejudices, it is simultaneously true that unconscious colourism subtly gave him the advantage over darker-skinned politicians.

In highlighting how Mr Obama benefited from his links to whiteness, Senator Reid punctured the myth that Mr Obama's election signalled the completion of Dr King's dream. Americans may like to believe that they are now colour-blind, that they can consciously choose not to use race when making judgments about other people. It remains a worthy aspiration. But this belief rests on a profound misunderstanding about how our minds work and perversely limits our ability to discuss prejudice honestly.

The writer, a Nieman fellow at Harvard University, is a Washington Post reporter.


[And some naivete and idealism...]

Ethnicity no longer dominant in defining S'poreans

MR LIANG Kaicheng's letter on Tuesday ('Double race option checks racism and develops national pride') wrongly attributes several instances of ethnic conflict to nationalism without preservation and protection of racial identities.

In fact, it was the very emphasis on such identities that led to these conflicts.

The race riots of 1964 (Singapore) and 1969 (Malaysia) are possibly the most familiar examples of the potential of the promulgation of a system of racial identities to divide rather than unite.

The herd mentality of which Mr Liang writes is not as natural as he thinks because racism depends on how intensely race is defined as a category.

It follows from a narrow view of the CMIO (Chinese, Malay, Indian and Others) system that, for instance, every individual native to China would be part of a herd, when the 'Chinese' category may easily be further sub-divided.

It is inaccurate to privilege any one system of ethnic classification over all others. Thus, even the new system of hyphenated racial categories cannot be said to properly describe anyone, as Mr Liang asserts.

My knee-jerk reaction was to wish to have my nominal race changed to Andhra Pradeshi-Cantonese-Hokkien to reflect my ancestry, but even that would not do justice to the deeper history of the people of China and India.

Most importantly, Mr Liang assumes that ethnicity, regardless of the system by which it is defined, must be the dominant feature in the construction of one's identity.

Perhaps, when Singapore was a fledgling immigrant community, policies which defined people according to their descent, such as the Raffles Town Plan, were a quick and easy way for the colonial administration to handle the diversity of a group of unfamiliar peoples.

However, the insistence that ethnicity should continue to be the defining feature of identity today goes against what Singapore has accomplished as a nation-state in building a common identity.

As a citizen of a mature nation, I do not need to be rescued from the cracks of our CMIO template because I have never seen the need to define myself in terms of such a template.

I am disturbed that such a template exists and that my identity card defines my race as anything other than Singaporean.

Benjamin Joshua Ong

["Singaporean" is not a race. That's a nationality. Racism is an expression of natural tendencies to help in group members as part of natural selection. Even within Singapore and between Singaporean, there will be discrimination. The way to overcome discrimination is to get to know individuals as individuals, not simply as a member of a race. The stupid defence against allegation of racism - "I'm not racist! Some of my best friends are <fill in the race here>" - is actually an intuitive understanding of how to overcome racism. In our minds, we have come to accept that a person is friend - someone we know and trust - and it has nothing to do with his race or colour.

When you get wary when you pass a group of foreign workers, that is a form of racism. Your brain engages stereotypes and makes snap assessment and you expect some difficulties or potential for difficulties simply on the basis that they are foreign workers. We can idealistic wish away racism. But that is not the Singaporean approach. We can try to do away with race or racial profiles officially, but mention low income or poor education and we can picture in our minds over-representation by the minorities.

Heck, when I read the newspapers about a father or step-father sexually abusing his daughter/step-daughter, I look for signs or hints as to the race of the family, and even if I find none, I will have strong suspicions that the family is a particular minority. That's stereotyping at best and racism at worst.]