My wishes to all my readers Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Maaf Zahir Batin!
And for the People of Gaza I dedicate this Pink Floyd number by Roger Waters ” Song for Palestine”…..
My wishes to all my readers Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Maaf Zahir Batin!
And for the People of Gaza I dedicate this Pink Floyd number by Roger Waters ” Song for Palestine”…..
The tragic and outrageous shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 on its journey from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur over Ukrainian airspace on Thursday is a direct consequence of the ongoing war in Ukraine. Even while offering solace to the family of the dead, the international community needs to fix the responsibility for the firing of the missile that brought down MH17 that was flying at 33,000 feet above sea level, with 298 people on board.
The blame game has already started among the Ukrainian government, the pro-Russian rebel forces fighting the separatist war in the eastern part of the country, and Russia itself. There have been previous instances of Ukraine’s military aircraft getting shot down in the same region. It is surprising that MAS and some other international carriers have been sticking to this dangerous airspace all these weeks and months and only now have decided to steer clear of the zone. The Ukrainian rebels, the prime suspects, were perhaps targeting another Ukrainian military aircraft expected at that time; they even claimed they were in possession of missiles and had shot down a military aircraft.
Big powers playing proxy, aiding rebels to defeat the incumbent is not new and the US did the very same thing through her CIA in funding and arming the Taliban – including anti aircraft Stinger missiles -to oust the Russians in Afghanistan. As an aftermath, the Taliban has arms and deadly Stinger missiles even till to day. Now it seems it is the Russian’s turn to suffer a similar odium. Russia should put an end to separatist rebels group. We should not forget that history is full of examples where countries have created groups for their benefits but later on these groups have created problems for these countries. Even Malaysia helped the Moro separatist in Southern Philippines at one time and now the same group is creating trouble in Sabah and things have back fired big time for Malaysia, while I’m writing this piece there is even a curfew being declared in the east-coast of Sabah. What goes around sure comes around…
This ghastly tragedy could not have come at a worse time for us in Malaysia. Hardly four months ago, MH370 mysteriously went missing while on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Even debris has not been found till to date and there is no clue on what happened to it.
The fallout of the war in Ukraine, in which Russia has played a controversial role, has now become an even bigger international issue with the shooting down of our MAS aircraft. Some countries have already called for the United Nations to play a more decisive role in ending this conflict and also taking charge of the investigation. There were a couple of other aircraft quite close to the site where MAS flight MH17 was shot down. Russian President Vladimir Putin was reportedly in the air at the same time. An Air India aircraft carrying Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a diversion to avoid this zone. Tragedies such as this only revive the demand for international aviation organisations to take a more active and dynamic role in tracking or monitoring flights in the interests of the safety of passengers. Airlines will have to accept such a monitoring mechanism sooner rather than later. The Ukrainian authorities have already begun a probe and have taken note of some Twitter posts purportedly put out by the separatists who they say are to blame. The immediate need is to order a full-fledged international investigation into this tragedy, as demanded by our Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, perhaps headed by the International Civil Aviation Organisation.
Unfortunately, no remedy is available to Malaysia or to MAS whose plane has been shot. Further, one wonders whether there is any remedy available to crew and passengers’ relatives. What can be done by the United Nations to avoid such attacks in future? It appears that United Nation is simply a helpless watcher, just as it is in case of Israeli attack on Palestine’s Gaza residents.
In this tragedy, we all must stand together as Malaysians. But again I say, what goes around sure comes around…
It is not the state government alone that can usher in prosperity and development within the state. Once the government has laid the foundation for a better administration and sense of security, many people can contribute to the state’s growth. And some of the steps taken by Chief Minister Musa Aman signal signs of a green revolution that could come to Sabah. With Sabah being predominantly an agricultural economy, and now the booming tourism economy, it would be good to have a fresh green revolution in Sabah.
Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman is going green, quite literally. A green foundation – YaHijau Malaysia (Yayasan Hijau Malaysia) and the “MyGreen Sabah”- is set to become a grassroots movement to encourage Malaysians to adopt eco-friendly lifestyles. After recording good progress in environmental preservation through its “Heart of Borneo” (HOB) initiative when it succeeded in increasing protected forest areas to 1.3 million hectares, Musa Aman has assured that he will continue to be committed to Sustainable Forest management (SFM) and eco-friendly development projects all over Sabah.
The Sabah State Government has set-up the Sabah Green Technology and Climate Change Committee which will be responsible for formulating policies and making recommendations on tackling green technology issues, environmental issues and climate change at the State level. The need to save Tanjung Aru Beach and Prince Philip Park which has already lost 60 to 70 meters due to erosion over the past 50 years is one of his priorities now.
To Save Tanjung Aru Beach and the Prince Philip Park, Musa Aman has come out with a master plan under the Tanjung Aru Beach Rejuvenation Plan, a fantastic plan and an unprecedented move! Tanjung Aru Beach will be moved seawards to improve wave exposure, and coarser beach and terminal structures will be put up to minimize loss of sand, among other measures. The objective is to push back the sea to regain the land that was lost to erosion over the years. Tanjung Aru Eco-Development (TAED) has been entrusted with reviving Tanjung Aru Beach. This would involve reclamation of 440 acres out of the total of over 700 acres. This mammoth project will cost RM1.5 billion and Datuk Victor Paul, the most experienced developer in Sabah who has an extremely good track record in construction, has been roped in. Datuk Victor Paul built the Perdana Park at Hone Place, Tg Aru entirely as part of his Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as a gift to the state and the people without requiring any form of payment or reward. It is believed that he spent RM50 million. He also built Metro Town, a township, all on his own and many other projects since The Berjaya government. Musa Aman has got the right man for the job.
The present Prince Philip Park in Tanjung Aru Beach covers 14.5 acres and with the revival project it will cover 27 acres. The present length of the beach is about 1400 metres with a width of 9 meters of sand during high tide and 25 metres of sand during low tide but after development, its new length will be 1420 meters with a new beach width of 50 to 110 meters. Remember, presently the beach has already gone down by 60 to 70 meters due to erosion, if left as it is in years to come Prince Philip Park will itself be claimed by the sea.
So under the Tanjung Aru Beach Rejuvenation Project, The government is giving back to the people 68% as public areas while the remaining 32% is earmarked for development. The revival project is to return the park and beach to its former glory, while at the same time attract investments from locals and foreigners, create job opportunities and develop the local economy. In doing so, the government through the Tanjung Aru Eco-Development (TAED) would be giving Tanjung Aru Beach and Prince Philip Park back to the people. It will be bigger, cleaner and well-designed unlike now. The public would also not only enjoy continued access to the beach, they would also NOT BE charged when visiting it.
And behind the beach and the park where the former Tanjung Aru Government Quarters used to be located, there is a piece of land that was sold by a former chief minister to the fugitive Teh Soon Seng. The state government under Musa Aman had to fight in the courts to recover this land. This parcel of land is were the residential and commercial property development inclusive of six hotels and resorts is to be built.
Musa Aman told a visiting group from Kuala Lumpur that good governance is to solve people’s problems. The administrative system is more of less the same across the country but there is need for change in the mindset for infusing service in the work culture.
The group, on a study tour of Sabah, called on Musa Aman and acquainted themselves on how Sabah tackles challenges before good governance.
Musa Aman said that team spirit is must for result and ‘Team Sabah’ fulfills this need. There is need for clear-cut instructions on policy matters and administrative setup to ensure the message percolates downstream and the action taken reports travels upstream. And development needs a positive attitude. He said that one reason for the success of Sabah’s good governance model is people’s participation.
He said that environment and development are complementary to each other; both are needed to lend speed. There is need for vision even for environment. He recalled that when Perdana Park was developed by Datuk Victor Paul, all kinds of accusations were hailed and even NGOs were criticising left, right, and center. But today, Perdana Park is considered the most progressive park of its kind in Malaysia where a musical fountain and purified water is provided free of charge. Heaps of praises are thrown by everyone and is now the most regularly visited site for recreation in the state capital. Built on a 16-acre area, Perdana Park is the very first recreational park in KK with a musical fountain performance. One has to learn how Sabah nurtures greenery and preserves wildlife to protect the environment despite so much difficulty and converts them into tourism. Sabah is fast earning Green Credit points as it has adopted a policy of harnessing Nature and not exploiting as is in vogue in the rich Western countries.
Egypt has a new President. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who was the country’s Army chief and Defence Minister. Al Sisi won a landslide victory in the presidential election held in the last week of May. He defeated his opponent, Hamdeen Sabahi, by securing 96.91 per cent of the votes polled.
Al Sisi’s victory was a foregone conclusion going by the immense popularity he gained after he, as Army chief, backed the huge countrywide protests against Morsi. He earned the reputation of being a strong leader when he served Morsi an ultimatum to resign within 48 hours. When the Muslim Brotherhood protested angrily by staging indefinite sit-ins in Cairo squares, he ordered a crackdown by security forces in which nearly 1,000 of Morsi’s supporters were killed. He was the de-facto ruler of Egypt even during the reign of the post-Morsi interim government, when a new Constitution was adopted. This is when the Muslim Brotherhood was outlawed and declared a “terrorist organisation.” In the run-up to the presidential poll, Al Sisi went to the extent of saying that the Muslim Brotherhood would cease to exist during his presidency.
His election confirms that Egypt has a military-guided democracy. But this should not make us jump to the conclusion that it is not democracy at all, simply military rule in a civilian garb.
The victory is landslide, and the election was free. But, it was not fair as the resources of the state were used to promote Al Sisi and the election took place against a background of brutal suppression of Moslem Brotherhood hundreds of whom have been sentenced to death making a mockery of the judicial process. Even 3 Al-Jazeera journalists ( Al-Jazeera channel’s Australian journalist Peter Greste, Egyptian-Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmi and Egyptian journalist Mohamed Bahewere) were not spared and they are under a farcical trial and could be jailed for 15 long years and have been imprisoned since December on charges of broadcasting false news.
The real winners in this presidential election in Egypt is Israel. Al Sisi is only a stooge in the hands Israel and America. He is happy as long as he gets US$1.55 billion from America as an aid that will help in amassing arms and ammunition to kill the players who forced President Hosni Mubarak. But, what the west wants is a safe haven for the Jewish population of Israel at the cost of the poor Palestinians who were driven out of their homeland.
Based on what I have been reading, Al Sisi is going to end up becoming another dictator whom the Egyptian will not be able to overthrow for a long long time.
This is real scientific breakthrough guys, scientists have used laser beams 60,000 billion times more powerful than a laser pointer to recreate scaled supernova explosions in the laboratory to investigate one of the most energetic events in the universe.
Supernova explosions, triggered when the fuel within a star reignites or its core collapses, launch shock waves that sweep through a few light years of space.
“It may sound surprising that a table-top laboratory experiment that fits inside an average room can be used to study astrophysical objects that are light years across,” said Professor Gianluca Gregori of Oxford’s Department of Physics.
“In reality, the laws of physics are the same everywhere, and physical processes can be scaled from one to the other in the same way that waves in a bucket are comparable to waves in the ocean. So our experiments can complement observations of events such as the Cassiopeia A supernova explosion,” said Gregori, who led the study.
The Cassiopeia A supernova explosion was first spotted about 300 years ago in the Cassiopeia constellation 11,000 light years away, its light having taken that long to reach us.
The optical images of the explosion show irregular ‘knotty’ features and associated with these are intense radio and X-ray emissions.
Whilst no one is sure what creates these phenomena one possibility is that the blast passes through a region of space that is filled with dense clumps or clouds of gas.
“Our team began by focusing three laser beams onto a carbon rod target, not much thicker than a strand of hair, in a low density gas-filled chamber,” said Jena Meinecke, an Oxford graduate student who headed the experiment.
The heat generated was more than a few million degrees Celsius and caused the rod to explode. The dense gas clumps that surround an exploding star were simulated by introducing a plastic grid to disturb the shock front.
“The experiment demonstrated that as the blast of the explosion passes through the grid it becomes irregular and turbulent just like the images from Cassiopeia,” said Gregori.
The research was published in the journal Nature Physics.
Politics aside, you could probably count Musa Aman as a rather popular personality. No other state’s population rallies around its Chief Minister as does Sabah for Musa Aman. Sabahans are proud of the national appeal he has, and the bad press that he was given in the early days of his chiefministership does not really matter to them. We must look at why that is.
The first thing we observe is his charisma. He is the most talented politician of his generation, if by talent we mean the ability to attract people to him. The connection he has with his audience is almost unmatched. He is one of the three best communicators in Malaysia, the other two being Anwar Ibrahim and Mat Sabu.
All three men has also been known to combine humour, drama and colloquial speak. All three, and not accidentally either, are entertainers. Performers of high calibre. Musa is very comfortable with large crowds. His quality can only by hinted at to those who don’t understand and speak Sabahan Malay. He speaks Sabahan Malay, touched by the accent of neither the rough parts of Keningau and Beaufort, nor the urban slang of Kota Kinabalu.
The second thing is that he is not a race/religious-based leader. Like Lim Guan Eng and Tan Sri Khalid and unlike Tan Sri Adenan Satem, and Shafie Apdal, or even Salleh Said Keruak, Musa’s electoral popularity does not come from belonging to a community. Musa is a Dusun/Pathan from the Gunsanad family originating from the Sundang, the Sodomon family in Keningau and the Aman family from Beaufort. It is not numerically significant in Sabah in electoral terms, and not a vote-bank he can rely on. In any case he neither makes reference to it, nor does he have the reputation for promoting fellow Dusuns or Muslims. Despite his Dusun background, he has been able to rally around him the votaries of Muslims, which in Sabah are mainly the majority.
The third thing is that he has it together organisationally. His attention to details can be compared to the Former Penang Chief Minister Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu, who was as meticulous in running his everyday administration as Musa is. I have never been admitted to Musa’s office for an appointment a single minute later than scheduled. If he says he will meet you at 8, it will be exactly then when an assistant comes to fetch you from the waiting room.
His fourth quality is the ability to judge which events are likely to be popular, and jargon that will and can capture the imagination. This is an important political talent in a nation where slogans are used everywhere. On admittedly a much smaller scale, in this sense he is like Anwar Ibrahim, who through his career coined words and phrases that did not exist before, such as “Professor Kangkung” and “Pandi Kutti”. Musa’s contribution are things like “Halatuju Sabah”, and “Vibrant Borneo”. He can encapsulate much meaning into a couple of throwaway words. And he can get the media to use them, a sign of success. And it is true that there have been other great organisers who became chief minister of Sabah, like Tan Sri Harris Salleh.
Hence, it is rare that any politician is really able to embody all four elements –charisma, broad appeal, organisational ability, and political talent.
Even the most contentious issue, the 5% oil royalty, which has been a source of unhappiness to every Sabahan since the Petroleum Development Act of 1974 and how Musa a Sabahan views it, is so profound. Musa is certainly aware that it is time to review the oil revenue-or profit-sharing agreement between Sabah, the federal government and Petronas, the national oil company. Presently, the federal government is the sole shareholder of Petronas.
The Petroleum Development Act of 1974 came into play after Petronas signed the first production sharing contracts with Shell, Exxon and other foreign oil companies in 1976. Under a complex mechanism, Petronas sets aside 10% of gross revenue from oil and gas production for cash payments to the federal government and oil-producing states. Out of this money, the federal takes half and the states keep the balance. The Federal Government gets a flat annual dividend of RM 28 billion. Last year it got 30 billion ringgit out of a profit of RM 63 billion. Sabah expects about only RM 800 million in petroleum royalties this year.
But, it receives about four times more than its 5% oil royalty from the federal government for its social and infrastructure development under each succeeding five-year Malaysia plan. Federal grants are estimated at about RM 350 million. The state has got slightly more than RM 10 billion to carry out 424 projects under the first phase of a rolling plan of the 10th Malaysia plan which started last year.
So hear this very carefully, Sabah contributes a little more than a quarter of Malaysia’s crude oil production of about 635,000 barrels a day. Petronas’ profits over the years from Sabah’s oil and gas could be in billions up to now. So, it is not late for The Federal Government to consider more participation of Sabah State Government in Petronas itself which is raking the billions from Sabah. Converting Sabah’s share of oil and gas revenue into equity with Petronas will be very fair. Start with 20%, let Sabah government have 20% ownership in Petronas.
This does not in anyway cause any financial burden to the Federal Government, Petronas will just have to issue share certificates to Sabah State Government and there is no cash transaction. And every year instead of “cash payments” or “royalties”, Sabah would receive dividends as shareholders with Petronas. Besides, Petronas continues to be profitable and is the most diversified company having investments in almost every corner of this world and Petronas is the only company in Malaysia which is a Fortune 500 company. Last year, the conglomerate paid RM 5.4 billion in “petroleum proceeds” to the federal and state governments.
Giving Sabah a stake in Petronas would surely help their integration in Malaysia. After almost 50 years, it is still not too late to start. This would certainly help to diminish Sabahans’ sense of loss of their natural resources.
For long, Sabah was considered a “poverty” state, what with extreme destitution, a massive influx of illegal immigrants and corruption being considered synonymous with the state. But all that is now history. The state is now on the fast track to shed its “poverty” tag, having achieved one of the highest GDP growth rates in recent years. The iconic changes have been ushered in by the Musa Aman-led government after he took over the reins in 2003.
The metamorphosis has not gone unnoticed in the country as well as abroad. Sabah is now considered a state on the move, thanks to improvement in governance, law and order, infrastructure and financial discipline. “My first three priorities are governance, governance and governance,” Musa had once said. The stress on governance was primarily because of his finding that Sabah had suffered not just because of bad governance but also due to a lack of it. After taking oath as the chief minister, he embarked on the journey of development with justice. Till recently, it was beyond the people’s imagination that Sabah could embark on a trajectory of development, and an inclusive and equitable one too.
Profile of the state started changing since late 2003. Plan expenditure leapfrogged from RM1.22 billion in 1984 to RM3.84 billion in 2013. The annual growth rate of Gross State Domestic Product, which averaged 2.42% between 1999-2000 and 2004-05, jumped to 7.36% for 2013. Even tourism receipts of RM 6.35 billion for 2013 was the highest record where 3.3 million tourist arrivals of which 2.29 million was domestic arrivals. This growth rate and the consequent transformation in the economic profile of the state made the country sit up and take notice, since it had surpassed many developed states.
“Sabah’s turnaround illustrates how a handful of seemingly small changes can yield big results in Sabah’s most impoverished and badly governed districts. Sabah is a textbook case of how leadership determines development. At a recent speech at the premier assembly with members of the State and Federal public service personnel at the auditorium Menara Tun Mustapha, Musa said since the people have given the mandate to the Barisan National to lead the people in Sabah, it was imperative for civil servants to deliver and ensure the success of policies and programmes that had been planed.
In the same speech he also talked about prudence, he being in the East-coast of Sabah in Brumas a week ago, visiting Yayasan Sabah subsidary the Sabah SoftWoods, and the next day he had to go for Deputy Education Minister Datuk Mary Yap Kain Ching’s Chinese New Year Open House in Tawau. He could have driven down from Brumas to Tawau which was just an hour’s drive and stayed at the Promenade Hotel’s suite with a few other rooms for his security personals. This could have easily cost the state RM five thousand, but he refused to spent that money and instead stayed on at YS Guest house for free. He was similiarly requested by former deputy chief Minister of Sabah, Tham Nyip Shen to come down to Tawau and stay in comfort at the hotel but Musa adamantly refused. Now we know how Musa accumulated more than RM3 billion in cash reserves for the Sabah state government.
Remember, under Musa, Sabah has been given recognition by the Auditor-General for its financial administration and 9 agencies, including district offices and departments, all having been given four-star rating. Many who had given up on Sabah are constantly astonished by the ‘turnaround’ of the state. Musa Aman has achieved the status of a miracle worker. How did he manage to resurrect the state? Musa works well under Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and his younger Foreign Minister brother Anifah is also a political ally of Najib. Putrajaya sees him as someone who is reliable and the Prime Minister even once said to Musa, “I have been to all the states but when I think about Sabah, I can sleep well.”
Musa is a professional manager. His years as a banker, businessman and Sabah Finance Minister has certainly proven to be of great help to Sabahans. But more than a minister or chief minister, Musa thinks of himself as a politician. A professional politician. Although he exudes an air of supremacy but he is still humble. When he took over as chief minister in 2003, he would often remind civil servants that his ministry had the greatest stake in the performance of the government, not the bureaucracy. If the government achieved success, his ministry would get all the credit; if it failed, his ministry would have to bear all the blame. In short the bureaucrats wouldn’t have lost their jobs – He would. So, from the outset, he concentrated on driving the bureaucracy. During the years when Sabah had so many chief ministers at the helm, the bureaucracy had stopped thinking because the leader never provoked them, or taking action because it was not expected of them. Problems remained unresolved in the absence of ideas. Implementation of programmes lagged for lack of exertion.
The twin problems Musa faced were of his people suffering and him having to propel a paraplegic bureaucracy to join him in his attempt to resolve that suffering. In the initial few months of his first tenure Musa held long meetings with officers of all departments. He tried to understand where things stood, where they were going wrong, and in the process also gauge the quality of senior bureaucrats: how much each bureaucrat understood his job, whether he had new ideas to offer, how much of a leader he was; who was a charlatan, who had a social conscience, who was earnest, who was a shirker.
Musa used a hands-on approach in all areas. That was his style. He would not be there just to frame policies and draw up programmes and leave the implementation to the bureaucracy. He did not believe in the conventional method of governance as it had come to be followed in post-Independence Sabah. He believed implementation was the key. Governments usually faltered on implementation. Ministers would call officers to meetings and lecture them on policies and programmes, and there the involvement ended. Once the officers saw the chief minister individually involved, they got involved themselves. There was somebody watching them. Musa regularly monitored the progress of the programmes. That kept up the momentum.
Sermons did not help; what worked was the delegation of powers. Responsibility would still be considered a burden by officers if no authority was given to them. Musa framed a policy delegating authority down the line from the minister of a department to the junior-most officer for approval of projects of a progressively declining amount. Authority for approval of projects and freedom of action alone, however, could not have brought about the success in his ‘Halatuju’ development framework for the state which focused on tourism, agriculture, and manufacturing. There was a wholly new driving force he had created that worked wonders. Musa was even successful in further preventing occurrence of another Lahad Datu Style intrusion by bloodthirsty crackpots from Southern Philippines. The Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) has stepped up security measures, with heightened alert from the military and police, in the 10 districts placed under the Esszone.
Sabah is far from becoming a paradise despite these initiatives.
The best that can be said of the transformation Musa Aman has brought is that he has pulled Sabah back from the dead. That is a significant accomplishment in itself. At last Sabah has shown stirrings of life. But there is a long way to go but Musa has put the Sabah administration back on an even keel and brought changes to the state.
In a recent development, unscrupulous elements are trying to drum up religious sentiments in Sabah to disrupt harmony among peaceful Sabahns. So I asked Musa what his take is on this. Interestingly, he said “Sabahans must get on with their lives and not be carried away by certain quarters who are trying to create chaos and confusion. Sabahans must take heed of the experience of countries that fell into abyss from prosperity due to distrust and lack of respect for each other’s religion and belief. The present generation and leadership should strive for excellence to be inherited by the next generation, instead of destruction, sufferings and misery.”
Musa said about the changing Sabah: “The state is experiencing all-round development because of our policy of ensuring that the benefits of development first go to those at the bottom of the social ladder. Over the years, we rose above the feelings of race and religion, and have worked tirelessly on the agenda of inclusive development of the state.” Musa believes in the maxim of “miles to go before I sleep”. He once told me “I work 24×7 without a break, thinking often of the philosophy of uninterrupted service day and night. I understand this will need to go on without any let-up, so that more and more people join hands to bring a brighter future. I am not fully satisfied with the work done. But one has to remain dissatisfied only to move ahead with vigour. I feel satisfied seeing the happy faces of people, who are now living without any fear.”
The Academy Awards are most closely associated with expensive, red carpet dresses and banal acceptance speeches. There is rarely space for the edgy, politically meaningful, or foreign. This year, however, one Oscar nominee for best documentary feature, “The Act of Killing,” resurrects one of the great “forgotten” mass murders, some would say genocide, of 20th Century Asia.
The murderous Khmer Rouge in Cambodia is well known to have killed up to three million people. Estimating the death toll of Communist Party misadventures in China continues to produce internationally acclaimed books with figures as high as 45 million for the famine that resulted from the Great Leap Forward. And yet, while killings by communists are well publicised, the killing of communists, has received far less attention.
However, between 5,00,000 and three million communists, or people branded as communists, were slaughtered in Indonesia between 1965-67, a massacre that has been airbrushed out of Indonesian history textbooks and the world’s consciousness at large.
“The Act of Killing” — co-directed by American filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer, and produced by Errol Morris and Werner Herzog — examines this little documented, or even acknowledged, part of Indonesian history, to deeply disturbing effect.
The facts behind the massacres remain shrouded in obfuscation, propaganda and resultant historical amnesia. What is known is that an attempted coup on the night of September 30, 1965, led to the killing of six Indonesian generals. In the days and weeks that followed, the Indonesian Army fingered the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) as the perpetrators, unleashing a killing spree in which hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of suspected communists were murdered.
The army is known to have instigated many of these murders, although large parts of the civilian population were implicated in them as well, through their mobilisation via religious and social organisations. There was also alleged U.S. involvement, with the CIA having possibly provided the Indonesian Army with lists of names and other details for thousands of communists.
Prior to the massacres, the PKI had emerged as the largest communist party in the world outside the Communist bloc, with over three million members and up to 18 million followers. It was a formidable political force, well disciplined and organised. After the 1965-66 killings, the PKI was wiped out and even the contemporary democratic Indonesian political landscape has a gaping hole for a Left.
In the film, Oppenheimer stays clear of the complex historical details that engendered and enabled the massacres. Instead, he looks at the impunity enjoyed by some of the perpetrators, who, almost 50 years later, remain unpunished, unrepentant, and eager to recount their tales of bloodshed.
Set in a city in northern Sumatra, the movie abruptly switches from a lighthearted, almost cheery mood, with ageing gangsters joking about, and singing songs, to unvarnished horror, as they detail their brutal killings and carry out surreal re-enactments. The movie has an off-kilter feel, with the lines between fact and fiction blurring disorientingly. It is after all a documentary about a movie that the gangsters agree to make about mass killings that they undertook which are officially unacknowledged in Indonesia.
The question that looms large upon watching “The Act of Killing,” is why the massacres of 1965-66 remain buried in the rubble of history, rather than dug up and confronted. The Suharto-led military dictatorship that came to power in the midst of the murders, and that consolidated its power as a result of the elimination of its communist rivals, developed a narrative that stressed the cruelty of the communists and painted them as the aggressors rather than victims.
Schoolchildren were forced every year to watch a gory, propaganda movie, “Pengkhianatan, or Treachery,” that focused on the September 30 killings of the six generals by so-called communists and reinforced the idea that the nation was saved from communist terror.
“I saw so much stuff about communists being the bad guys that it somehow became the ‘truth.’ There was no access to any other version of reality,” explains 29-year-old Ray Hervandi, who went to school in Jakarta.
What is startling however is that even more than 15 years after the downfall of the Suharto regime, the killings of the communists remain largely unvisited. Today, Indonesia is a vibrant democracy with a general election scheduled for later in the year. And yet, there are no revisionist histories, no political party that has made a cause of the murders, and little discussion in the mainstream media about the “genocide.”
Release and reactions
That is, until “The Act of Killing” began to attract attention. The movie has not been released in theatres in Indonesia out of fear of an outright ban. It has however been available to download online for free, and also been shown in private venues across the archipelago. The Oscar nomination has predictably garnered interest, but much of the reaction within the country has been negative. If the film is to win, it will likely be discomfiting for, rather than celebrated in, Indonesia.
Teuku Faizasyah, a government spokesperson, was quoted by the Jakarta Globe newspaper claiming that the portrayal of Indonesia in the film was “as a cruel and lawless” country, and “not appropriate, not fitting.” “Much has changed since the 1960s,” he said.
However, Andreas Harsono, a journalist and human rights activist, points out that it is precisely because “not that much has changed (since the Suharto-era),” that the communist massacres remain so difficult for the political establishment to address.
He points out, for example, that the current Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, is in fact the son-in-law of Sarwo Edhie Wibowo who was the military commander of the Special Forces unit that quelled the 1965 coup.
Mr. Harsono, who was born only a few months before the massacres began, says he has not been able to finish watching “The Act of Killing” in its entirety despite repeated attempts. It brings back an image that has haunted him since he was seven years old, when an employee in his father’s electronics company in East Java took him to the banks of the Jompo river and told him how the river had run red with blood. The employee recounted having seen a baby crying with hunger as it tried to suckle the breast of its slaughtered, dead mother.
There have been sporadic attempts in Indonesia at coming to terms with the massacres. During his brief presidency (October 1999-July 2001) Abdurrrahman Wahid, the leader of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), a religious organisation that played a major role in the killings, asked for forgiveness from surviving ex-communists on behalf of the NU. No other national-level politician has followed his example, despite Indonesia’s Human Rights Commission having released the results of an investigation into the slaughter, in 2012. The commission found that “crimes against humanity” had occurred and that the military was responsible. It urged further investigation by the attorney general’s office. But, state authorities largely rejected the report and the attorney general has failed to take up the case.
Mr. Harsono makes the point that “The Act of Killing’s” detractors in Indonesia, who criticise it as a “foreigner’s” fetish, are often unaware that the movie is in fact co-directed by an Indonesian. The co-director, as well as the more than 60-member strong Indonesian crew, have all chosen to remain anonymous. “There is an Indonesian who has also made this movie, and he must remain nameless, because even today he fears for his life. What does that say about Indonesia?” asks Mr. Harsono.
By Azmi Sharom, The Star
Things are being blown out of proportion over the issue with some viewing it through race-tinted glasses. Are they blind to the fact that the people who are annoyed at the kangkung remark are from all ethnic groups?
I DON’T like water morning glory a.k.a water spinach a.k.a kangkung. There’s a metallic tang to it that I find displeasing.
I much prefer kailan or bayam – the former fried with salted fish and the latter in a watery soup.
What has my taste in vegetables got to do with anything? Nothing really.
Just as the recent, rather humorous, jabs at the Prime Minister have nothing to do with his ethnicity.
It has plenty to do with his alleged insensitivity to the price hikes in the country (which affect every single Tan, Din and Harvin) and it has plenty to do with the fact that kangkung is funny (even its very name makes me giggle); but I can’t see where the Prime Minister’s ethnicity comes into play.
So, how is it racist?
I guess some people view the world through race-tinted glasses.
These are the people who are calling for a demonstration to defend the Prime Minister.
I must say their poster calling for participants in this demonstration looks very exciting.
It has a very macho-looking chap carrying not one but two parang and an equally macho call for all Malays to come out and defend their race, their king, their religion and who knows what else.
I am of course in favour of demonstrations and public protests; it is after all a fundamental right as guaranteed by Article 10 of the Constitution. But Article 10 also says, and rightly so, that any assembly must be peaceful and without arms.
This “Defend the PM” demonstration uses a poster with a chap carrying machetes. Aren’t machetes weapons? Are they asking people to bring their parang? Or is it just for dramatic artistic effect?
I am sure they will have a good explanation and surely the police should ask for it.
The Government has shown itself to be very sensitive to any symbols of violence. After all, the Registrar of Societies made a huge hue and cry about the fact that Parti Sosialis Malaysia used a closed fist for its party symbol.
A closed fist is violent, apparently. It conjures up images of pugilism, I guess.
But if a closed fist is violent, then isn’t a parang even more violent? Thus, I would be most surprised if the police do not swoop down on these organisers with the same vigour and energy that they use when swooping down on the organisers of other demonstrations.
For example, the anti-price-hike demo on New Year’s Eve was scrutinised and demonised by the cops because it was thought to be potentially dangerous.
The police even feared that there were going to be grenades in Merdeka Square.
The organisers did not say “bring grenades” and their posters did not have grenades on them but the cops wanted to be safe rather than sorry I suppose.
Therefore, I would expect nothing less from our men and women in blue than a complete and thorough investigation of people who actually have a weapon-wielding man on their invitation to a demo.
Especially in the light of several folks (again wearing those special spectacles) saying that this kangkung issue could lead to race riots.
Race riots? Because people are angry at price rises?
Are these people blind to the fact that the people who are annoyed at the kangkung remark are from all ethnic groups?
There is no racial issue here. The only racial issues are the ones being made up by the desperate people whose only pathetic claim to relevance depends on them making everything into a racial issue.
I don’t believe that Malaysians are going to fall for this idiocy. But having said that, a few may not care about reason and logic and all it takes is a handful to create trouble.
Surely a government maintaining the peace would seek these true trouble-makers out. Or do different rules apply? We’ll just have to wait and see.
> Azmi Sharom (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a law teacher. The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.
Hello all you marvelous people!
We are currently at the 47 hour mark. Just shy of two full days to go! Amazingly we only have 7.5% more to go!! We are extremely pleased that we are now so close to our goal! We could never have gotten this far without the support and pledges of all our wonderful backers. So for each and every one of you, on behalf of the production, our forebears and our generations to come, THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH!!
We feel that you are all now part of this production and together, I have faith that we can make this happen. The journey may be ending but the glorious light at the end of the tunnel is just within reach! We need just that little push left to close the gap between almost making our goal and successfully meeting it. And honestly people, I think we can do it!
I know it may be a lot to ask of all of you who have steadfastly stood by us, believed in us, believed in our story and more importantly believed in the possibility of heralding a difference to situations in Sabah by way of a simple tale, but we are passionate about this project and we hope that you have been infected by that same passion that courses through our veins. So please, if you have the funds to spare consider increasing your pledges just to get us through to reaching our target, and if you have yet to do so please support Di Ambang: Stateless in Sabah by pledging any amount to our Kickstarter campaign.
Here’s to making it happen!!!
(AT THE TIME THIS UPDATE IS POSTED US$9410 HAD ALREADY BEEN PLEDGED BY BACKERS)