Ceramah Perdana Pakatan Rakyat – Melaka
Tarikh : Sabtu 26 April 2014
Masa : 8.30malam
Tempat : Jalan Tun Kudu Bukit Katil, Melaka (Berhadapan Dewan Tun Ali).
Semua dijemput hadir.
Ceramah Perdana Pakatan Rakyat – Melaka
Tarikh : Sabtu 26 April 2014
Masa : 8.30malam
Tempat : Jalan Tun Kudu Bukit Katil, Melaka (Berhadapan Dewan Tun Ali).
Semua dijemput hadir.
An open letter from Dennis Ignatius
25 April 2014
Dear Mr President,
It has been widely reported that you won’t be meeting Malaysia’s Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim during your visit to Malaysia that begins tomorrow.
If this is indeed true, it would be an astonishing betrayal by a country that has often portrayed itself as a world champion of democracy and human rights.
It also sends an unmistakable signal to corrupt and abusive governments everywhere that disrespect human rights. The curtailing of democratic governance will be overlooked in exchange for pro-American policies.
Mr President, you should re-read the US Declaration of Independence and remind yourself of American’s guiding principles, particularly the part about being endowed “with certain unalienable Rights… [including] Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The inalienable rights of Malaysians are under threat today, as never before. All democratic nations should therefore be rightly be concerned.
If such rights are only for Americans, America has no right to claim moral leadership in the world, but if they be for all men, as America’s founding fathers clearly intended, you, Mr President, have a moral obligation to passionately affirm and defend them, both in word and deed, wherever you go.
It cannot be that you are unaware of what is going on in Malaysia – the corruption and abuse of power, the tainted elections, the harassment and jailing of opposition leaders, the racial and religious incitement, the intolerance of dissent and the narrowing of our democratic space.
No, one has to reach the unhappy conclusion that you have chosen to remain silent, to close your eyes, to shut your ears to what’s going on in order to maintain good relations with the Najib Abdul Razak Administration, for political and economic gains and strategic advantages.
Moderate Islamic democracy?
To provide yourself with political cover, your administration has taken to referring to Malaysia as a “moderate Islamic democracy”. That is nothing more than a chimera built on Malaysian government propaganda.
In the first place, there is no such thing as an “Islamic” democracy or a “Christian” democracy for that matter; a nation is either democratic or it is not. And increasingly, we, Malaysia, are not.
Of course, the majority of our people are Muslim and proud of it. However, that does not make us an Islamic state. If you care to study our constitution, you will find that we are, constitutionally, a secular state.
Listen to what our founding father, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra, had to say when he read Malaysia’s proclamation of independence in 1957 in our name: “We will be forever a sovereign democratic and independent state founded upon the principles of liberty and justice and ever seeking the welfare and happiness of its people…”
Foreign leaders who refer to Malaysia as an Islamic state or an Islamic democracy, therefore, do enormous damage to our secular constitutional foundations.
As for moderation, Thomas Paine once remarked that “moderation in principle is always a vice”.
We don’t need moderation in the pursuit of justice or moderation in the number of people tortured and killed in our prisons ,or moderation in the fight against corruption or moderation in the harassment of racial and religious minorities.
These are not moderation, but vice. They are suffocating our democracy, destroying our freedom, undermining our institutions and looting our national wealth.
A government that exploits everything
All this to say, Mr President, is that the so-called moderate Islamic democracy that you speak of is simply non-existent. What we have is a government that cynically and opportunistically exploits both religion and the trappings of our democracy, which remain, to stay in power.
As for Anwar Ibrahim, whether it is convenient for you or not, he is the leader of the opposition. The multiracial and multi-religious coalition he leads (Pakatan Rakyat) won the majority of the popular votes cast in our last general election.
As your own State Department would no doubt have briefed you, only fraud and gerrymandering kept him from taking his rightful place as prime minister of our nation.
Anwar Ibrahim, therefore, has a greater claim to speak for Malaysia than anyone else. If you want to understand our hopes and aspirations, speak to him. Ignore him and you trample upon our long struggle to build a better and more just nation.
Whatever it is, you cannot come to our country and treat the parliamentary opposition leader in such a callous and contemptuous manner. It is like spitting on our democracy! It is like going to Myanmar and refusing to meet Aung Sang Suu Kyi.
Furthermore, given the persecution, harassment and recent sentencing of Anwar Ibrahim on trumped-up charges of sodomy in a trial that has almost universally been condemned, your refusal to meet him will be seen as an endorsement of the Najib Administration’s manipulation of the justice system to incarcerate a political opponent and stymie hopes for democratic change.
Remember what you once said, Mr President
You might as well be on hand to turn the key to Anwar’s cell and lock him up for what might be the last years of his life.
If you keep silent at this time, if you decline to meet him, you are as guilty of this travesty of justice as Malaysia’s government is.
Martin Luther King Jr., one of your own heroes, said, “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”
And, Mr President, you yourself once said: “When the United States stands up for human rights, by example at home and by effort abroad, we align ourselves with men and women around the world who struggle for the right to speak their minds, to choose their leaders, and to be treated with dignity and respect.
“We also strengthen our security and well being, because the abuse of human rights can feed many of the global dangers that we confront – from armed conflict and humanitarian crises, to corruption and the spread of ideologies that promote hatred and violence.”
During your visit, Mr President Barack Obama, you will have a historic opportunity to align yourself with the struggle for justice and democracy in Malaysia. I hope you will seize this opportunity, and walk your talk.
DENNIS IGNATIUS is a former Malaysian ambassador.
U.S. President Barack Obama is due to travel to Malaysia on April 27, 2014. This will be a historic visit that should seek to accomplish U.S. goals in the region but also demonstrate the value of democracy and rule of law.
While this trip is seen as an opportunity for the U.S. to make headway on initiatives such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, it is also an opportunity to demonstrate U.S. adherence to democratic values. A meeting between Obama and de-facto opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim can help America on both ends.
In a nation that is split along ethnic lines of Malay, Chinese and Indian, Ibrahim’s opposition coalition of Pakatan Rakyat holds the popular support of a majority of Malaysians. The results of Malaysia’s 13th general elections, held on May 5, 2013, marked the first time since 1957 that the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition’s support fell to less than 50 percent of the popular vote. Though BN lost the popular vote, it maintained control of national parliament, winning 133 of the 222 contested seats through gerrymandered electoral districts. Ibrahim’s popularity and leadership as the opposition leader should not be underestimated; indeed, it should be cultivated.
Recent public opinion research in Malaysia indicates a continued slide of the government and its leader’s performance based on unpopular public policies. The public opinion research firm in Malaysia, the Merdeka Center recently released a survey conducted between March 7 and March 20. The survey revealed that only 38 percent of respondents think the country is headed in the right direction. Regarding the government’s handling of the economy, the survey results are similar: 39 percent are satisfied while 56 percent are dissatisfied. The Merdeka Center survey also showed that 44 percent are dissatisfied with Prime Minister Najib Razak’s leadership. The level of dissatisfaction with Najib is the highest since the Merdeka Centre first tracked his performance in May 2009, a month after he took office.
With Malaysian government approval ratings diminishing and the window of political will closing, the U.S. will need to explore other partnerships that can offer hopes of success for TPP or at least mitigate strong opposition to it. By meeting with Ibrahim, this conversation can begin anew.
According to a press conference Ibrahim held in August 2013, the opposition Pakatan Rakyat bloc opposed the TPP trade agreement and believed it was not in Malaysia’s national interest. Among reasons cited for opposition, Ibrahim pointed to the lack of transparency of the process, noting “the extent of secrecy in the TPP is extremely worrying.” Much of the information he received about the TPP was “through leaked position papers of TPP countries” and analyzing existing American free trade agreements. Marginalizing Ibrahim and his opposition bloc will only further their concerns and add future challenges to public support for the TPP trade agreement in Malaysia.
Obama will be the first sitting president to visit Malaysia since President Lyndon B. Johnson traveled to Kuala Lumpur in 1966. Johnson was a pivotal figure in the American civil rights movement and is often credited with championing the push for greater equality – and expanded democracy in America. Nearly 50 years later, Obama now has an opportunity to demonstrate his commitment to democracy and rule of law in Malaysia by meeting with Ibrahim.
Ibrahim’s conviction and subsequent five year prison sentence last month was disturbing. A similar charge filed against him in 1998 was largely seen as politically motivated and ultimately resulted in the Federal Court overturning the conviction. The timing of last month’s ruling was of particular concern given Ibrahim’s intent to contest the March 23, 2014 Kajang state by-election in Malaysia’s richest state, Selangor. Winning this election would have positioned Ibrahim to demonstrate his leadership.
Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore summarized the conviction of Ibrahim well: “It is extremely disturbing that the government of Malaysia — by continuing to press this case beyond the bounds of reason, let alone the bounds of justice — has used the courts to short-circuit the political process.”
As Ibrahim looks to appeal this ruling, it is essential that the Federal Court, Malaysia’s highest, view this case in a transparent and fair manner that upholds the rule of law and affords Ibrahim full protection of his legal rights. By meeting with the opposition leader, Obama would send a strong signal that America is supportive of the rule of law.
Anwar Ibrahim said recently that a meeting with Obama would have been “consistent with U.S. democratic ideals and its foreign policy of promoting freedom and justice.” Indeed, it would be.
25 April 2014
Eulogy by Anwar Ibrahim on the occasion of the memorial service for the late Karpal Singh, Tiger of Jelutong, on 24th April, 2014
Just as many of us had gone through in the early hours of 17th April, when the thunderbolt struck from out of the blue, the unintended wake-up call came with the devastating news. Stunned, shocked and stupefied. That is how I would sum up my immediate reaction.
And after getting hold of myself but still shaking I twittered my first expression of condolence, deep sorrow and devastation over the loss of “our indefatigable fighter for justice, the legendary Karpal Singh.
Later in the day, I sent out a press statement declaring there is none more valiant in life than this great mortal whose body may have perished but his spirit shall live on with us.
Indeed, on this occasion where we gather to do honour to the memory of our dearly beloved brother Karpal who, though physically departed, has left us his eternal presence for all the sacrifices he has made, all the labour of love he has given and all the pain and suffering he had endured for us.
“Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden.”
The profound sadness of his departure can never dissipate for when something that is more precious than the worldly treasures of the world is taken from you, there can never be a replacement.
As the nation has lost a most dedicated servant, so too, the people have lost a selfless, courageous and noble defender of their rights and liberties. And even as the legal fraternity has lost one of its sharpest minds, above all and speaking here personally for myself, I indeed have lost a true friend, kind in words, noble in deed.
When in more challenging times he had given me some tongue-lashing in public, I knew there was never an iota of malice or ill-will. Which is why I took it with an open heart, looking at it as an affectionate slap on the wrist from an elder brother to his younger sibling.
I can never thank him enough for all the help he had given me these last fifteen years and I will never forget those regular visits he paid me during my time in the Sungai Buloh prison. I certainly cannot even begin to entertain the possibility of repaying him for the kindness and generosity he had shown me.
He called me at 6.30 on the eve of that fateful morning. He told me he was worried about the Federal Court appeal that was pending. Having been accustomed to the devious machinations of the powers that be, he said he was particularly troubled by the unprecedented speed at which the appeal records were sent to his office. But when I too started sounding agitated and worried, he immediately switched back to his usual cool and confident self, no doubt intending to put me at ease. Such was his magnanimity of spirit that when push comes to shove, Karpal would always be on your side.
So, we ended our long chat with his trademark parting shots: “Anwar, you carry on. Don’t worry. I’ll do my best!” Seven hours or so later, with those parting words still ringing in my ear, I heard the news. The angels had taken him away.
He was a man of unimpeachable moral integrity – absolutely fearless as far as mortals are concerned, forgiving to a fault and being so full of milk of human kindness, was utterly selfless in helping the oppressed and the victims of injustice.
If justice is about fairness as indeed it is, then Karpal Singh personified it. Hence, he never used underhand tactics or dirty tricks when defending his clients. He always told me: “Anwar, we will fight them tooth and nail but it will be a clean fight. No cheating. No evil schemes.” That is why the fact that I was not given a fair trial was so repugnant to him that he vowed to make sure that I would be acquitted and freed no matter how long that might take.
Last Sunday, we witnessed thousands of Malaysians paying their last respects to Karpal and there is no doubt in my mind that in his life time, worldly titles did not matter to him at all. What would really matter is the high esteem the people have of him. And true to that, a sea of people stretching for miles came on the day of the funeral to send him off, showing their love, affection and respect for this great man.
As Horatio says to Hamlet upon his death, I now say to my dearly departed brother Karpal:
Now cracks a noble heart.—Good night, sweet prince,
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!
24 April 2014
We refer to the statement dated 23rd April 2014 by the office of the Chief Registrar of the Federal Court rejecting the extension of time for filing Petition of Appeal, asked for by the late Karpal Singh’s firm; and insisting that a notice of motion (Notis Usul) be filed.
This is an unreasonable and incorrect stand for the Federal Court to take.
They are fully aware that the final date for filing the petition of appeal is 24th April 2014. This means that there was no time for any motion to be filed and heard before the time limit expired on the 24th April. Despite this the Federal Court refused to allow the application for extension of time and asked Anwar’s lawyers to file a motion.
The court did not even indicate that they would be prepared to fix an urgent date to allow the motion for extension be heard before the expiry of the time limit. The court had rejected the written application for extension without consideration or sympathy for the special circumstances surrounding Karpal’s Singh’s sudden and tragic death.
In fact the court had full powers to allow the written application by Karpal’s firm for an extension of time. The court could easily have allowed the extension under its inherent powers as stated in Rule 137 of the Federal Court Rules 1995. Rule 137 allows the Federal Court to do whatever “necessary to prevent injustice”. Surely this power ought to have been exercised in view of Karpal’s sudden death and the urgent deadline; and particularly so as this is a case of great public interest.
The inherent powers in Rule 137 exist precisely to cater for situations like this. It was simply impossible for Anwar’s lawyers to put in a motion and get it heard before the expiry of the time limit.
We reiterate that the rejection of the written request was unjustified and constitutes a grave injustice in the circumstances of this case.
PARTI KEADILAN RAKYAT
By ANDREW KHOO
When U.S. President Barack Obama visits Malaysia this weekend, he will be the first American president to do so since Lyndon Johnson in 1966. Kuala Lumpur will seek to take advantage of the much-anticipated trip to showcase Malaysia as a moderate Muslim-majority democracy, a model of interracial and interreligious diversity heading for developed-nation status by 2020. It will present itself as an ally in combating arms proliferation and transnational crime, and friend of the U.S. in Asia.
President Obama should not accept this fiction or defer to the Malaysian government because of regional security concerns. Instead, he would do well to note the sorry state of its human rights and call for greater respect for civil liberties.
Since the last general election in May 2013, when Prime Minister Najib Razak’s governing coalition was returned to power but lost the popular vote, racial and religious extremism has been on the rise. Pro-government extremist groups have responded to self-perceived slights and insults against the ethnic Malay majority and Islam by declaring that they are prepared to shed blood to defend their honor and sanctity.
These groups have made direct references to May 13, 1969, an infamous date in Malaysian history when race riots between Malays and Chinese led to killings in several cities and towns, and emergency rule. A 1996 fatwa forbidding the practice of Shia Islam has recently received renewed attention, leading to raids on and arrests of Shia adherents. Followers of the Ahmaddiya Islamic sect have also lately been targeted. Their prayer sessions and religious activities have been interrupted by Muslim religious authorities enforcing the state-sanctioned version of Islam.
A Malaysian Court of Appeal held in October 2013 that a Roman Catholic Church newspaper could not use the Arabic word “Allah” to refer to God. According to the court, use of the word was exclusive to Islam and not intrinsic to the practice of Christianity in Malaysia. Language has become a flashpoint in Christian-Islamic tensions. One Muslim group even suggested that using the Malay language to advertise an Easter concert meant that Christians were attempting to convert Muslims, which is an offense. The group openly questioned the very celebration of Easter, calling it un-Islamic.
Freedom of speech is also under threat. In an attempt to improve Malaysia’s human rights, a coalition of civil society groups submitted recommendations to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights back in September 2013. In January 2014, the government called these “haram,” or sinful, and declared the coalition unlawful.
Additionally, the government has renewed its use of the Sedition Act, a colonial-era law that makes it unlawful to “cause disaffection” against the government or the hereditary rulers. It has been used on everyone from politicians to social media commentators.
Clearly the public wants genuine reform. There was tremendous clamor for clean, free and fair elections in 2012, when hundreds of thousands risked tear gas, water cannons and arrest to participate in the BERSIH 3.0 peaceful protest in Kuala Lumpur. Yet the government has hardly been receptive.
Recent changes in legislation introduced by Prime Minister Najib Razak are the opposite of needed reform. They include outlawing street demonstrations, requiring a 10-day prior notification period for public assemblies, and introducing two-year without-trial detention orders, renewable indefinitely, for those alleged by the government to be involved in serious criminal offenses.
Individuals facing trial for unlawful assembly from the 2012 rally and subsequent protest gatherings have been predominantly political opponents of the Malaysian government. The most notable dissident is former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, recently convicted for sodomy, which many saw as a trumped-up charge.
Prime Minister Najib Razak has promoted Malaysia internationally as a leader in a global movement of moderation. But these actions show the government is anything but moderate. Mainstream newspapers, many of which are owned by political parties within the government, brazenly promote such double-speak. Those who dare to criticize put themselves at risk of vituperative attacks from extremist groups, police investigation and politically motivated prosecution.
President Obama needs to deftly use his public appearances and statements to demonstrate concern about what is happening in Malaysia –and to say what many Malaysians fearfully cannot. The usual mantra of moderation can no longer conceal the escalation of extremism and repression.
Mr. Khoo is co-chair of the Malaysian Bar Council’s Human Rights Committee. He writes in his personal capacity.
TOKYO, Japan – The top White House national security aide Susan Rice will meet Malaysia opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim when President Barack Obama’s regional tour reaches Malaysia, a senior US official told Agence France-Presse (AFP) Thursday, April 24.
Obama is set to arrive in the Malaysian capital on Saturday, April 26, in what will be the first visit to the country by a sitting US president in nearly half a century.
He faces a political balancing act: he will be keen not to alienate his hosts and a key Southeast Asian ally but Washington has made clear its disquiet about the revival of long term charges against Anwar and is concerned at what it sees as a deteriorating political situation.
Anwar, who was convicted of sodomy in March and whose opposition is engaged in a fierce political battle with Malaysia’s longtime government, had been told that Obama would not be able to see him personally.
But the decision to make national security advisor Rice available will send a clear signal, as she is the most senior foreign policy official other than the president on Obama’s four nation Asian tour.
Anwar told AFP earlier this week that he was not upset he would not get time with Obama but added that such an encounter would have been “consistent with US democratic ideals and its foreign policy of promoting freedom and justice”.
Washington has expressed disquiet about what it says are politically motivated charges to keep the veteran opposition leader out of Malaysian politics.
In March, a Malaysian Court of Appeal overturned Anwar’s 2012 acquittal on sodomy charges, finding him guilty of having had sex with a former male aide in 2008 and sentencing him to five years in jail.
Anwar remains free pending an appeal to Malaysia’s highest court. A former deputy premier with the ruling coalition, Anwar has cultivated strong friendships in Washington, where he is lauded for his calls for reform.
The 66-year-old said there was “opposition from the Malaysian government” against him meeting Obama.
Prime Minister Najib Razak’s Barisan Nasional (National Front) coalition has ruled Malaysia since independence from Britain in 1957.
In elections last year, an Anwar-led opposition won the popular vote for the first time, but Barisan Nasional retained control of parliament due to what critics say is gerrymandering.
An annual report by the US-based academic study Electoral Integrity Project published in February ranked Malaysia’s elections 66th out of 73 for democratic integrity.
AFP. 25 April 2014
Sorry to ruin this, but when you read poetry by Jalal al-Din Rumi or any other Sufi figure’s poems, the wine is not literal, and Layla is not actually a woman. It is quite a depressing realisation to witness great Sufis such as Rumi become reduced to drunkards raving about their current love partners or unable to get over losing their past ones. This is precisely what modern pop culture’s misappropriation of Sufi poetry about love has done.
The reason we love poetry so much is because it is a venue where we let our imaginations soar. The best poets are ones that most people can identify with in some way. Poems that speak to universal meanings can be flexible in their applications to different contexts, thus becoming a place of solace for the readers. However, this activity becomes disingenuous when the poet and the context in which he or she wrote are manipulated to suit one’s own projections. For example, Rumi’s poetry can be summarised in one line that was recorded in pre-Islamic poetry: “Verily, everything other than God is a falsehood.” But it seems that today, Rumi quotes are cited in the context of, “Verily, everything other than my girlfriend or boyfriend, including God, is a falsehood.”
The misuse of Sufi poetry is symptomatic of modern culture’s combination of materialism with self-spirituality. The theme that runs through the New Age movement is about experiencing the “Self” because it is the way to experience the “God” or “Goddess” within. As noted by Peter Pels in his 1998 article ”Religion, Consumerism and the Modernity of the New Age”, the New Age emphasis on self-spirituality is rooted in late 19th or early 20th century occultism.
It is a detraditionalised form of faith that internalises religiosity, turning an individual’s reliance to be on “inner voices”, and in turn rejecting any outside authority. The Self reigns supreme in place of anything external to it. It is therefore ironic that religious Sufi symbolism, which was used to express annihilation of the Self in the presence of the Divine, is now being used to express the elation of the Self in the presence of another’s.
By worshipping the Self, the New Age movement gave rise to a form of neo-paganism, which survives through appropriation and consumption of religious symbolism. Given the individual nature of the consumption process, ultimate meanings intended from religious symbols are exchanged for relative experiences of Self-worship, which ironically render the symbols ultimately meaningless.
Moreover, given the tandem development of the New Age movement in popular culture alongside popular religion, it can be expected that popular misuse of religious symbolism will have an impact upon the religious. As religious symbols are presented outside of contexts they were created to serve within, they begin to lose their significance for the religious in an insidious way that desacralises the Sacred and grants sanctity to the secular.
The misappropriation of Sufi poetry can be seen as resulting of unfamiliarity with how Sufis made their indications. For example, the intoxication of wine refers to the loss of one’s sense of rational self in the sea of Divine Love. The tavern is the experience of being overwhelmed from being surrounded by Divine Presence. Layla is an Arabic female name that linguistically refers to the darkest night of the month, and in Sufi poetry refers to the hidden realm that lies behind outward appearances of this world.
A Sufi line of poetry that talks about becoming intoxicated from a single sip of wine served in the tavern before Layla appearing naked, is not talking about getting drunk and losing one’s mind out of love for a woman before proceeding to fulfil lustful desires after her.
The abundant use of metaphors and various rhetorical devices in Sufi poetry has polarised Muslim theologians ever since they began. Some of their statements taken literally are in direct contradiction with basic foundational beliefs and practises in Islam. This polarisation was exacerbated with Sufi symbolism that would invariably lead to misinterpretations if one were not familiar with it.
Wine, tavern, and Layla are among the recurring symbols that in popular culture are understood at the literal level first before they are taken as metaphors. However, as many Sufi poets and saints have warned, their poetry begins at the metaphoric level to indicate literal meanings other than what first comes to mind, all of which revolve around the Divine. It is interesting to note that out of fear of misappropriating their symbols, various Sufi figures have warned against reading their works without the guidance of a teacher.
It is not uncommon to find within the Sufi tradition phrases like: “We are a people of metaphors, not of literalism,” and “Metaphors for us are what literalism is for others.” For this reason Al-Ghazali (c. 1056-1111 AD) said that no one has attempted to explain the essence of what Sufis talk about except that they fall into explicit error. He also said, “Know that the wonders of the heart are outside of sensory experience.”
Hence, if one seeks to gain a closer understanding about what Rumi and other Sufi poets were talking about, they must suspend their own material and worldly projections and put such poetry in its proper metaphysical context.
In a culture of materialism and illusory appearances, Rumi and other Sufi poets’ works are meant to serve as indications that there is something more than what we experience with our senses. Their poetry was not about escapism through intoxication or loss of self-awareness for the sake of another material being. Rather, their message was to serve as reminders about the Formless Being by which all forms come into existence.
When Rumi speaks about the love of lovers, he refers not only to the love they share between each other, but about the love they both share towards the Being that transcends their beings. In this, the lovers become united as they share a common desire to transcend beyond each other’s sense of Self and Self-worship. Unless this is appreciated, the depths of Rumi’s words will not be realised, as they should, and we risk the complete loss of their significance.
The 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth was marked by a set of Royal Mail stamps, a gala performance by the recently established Royal Shakespeare Company, a new biography by A L Rowse and a rollicking Anthony Burgess novel about his love life. Fifty years on, this seems like a modest commemoration. It was the Beatles and Disney’s Mary Poppins that were making the cultural running in 1964.
This week, by contrast, it is a racing certainty that every major news outlet in the world will have something to say about the Bard of Avon’s 450th birthday, which falls on Wednesday. And this is only prologue to the wall-to-wall programme of celebrations, productions, exhibitions and documentaries being planned for 2016, the quatercentenary of his death. Shakespeare has become a global icon, not merely a local heritage product whose presumed birthday conveniently coincides with St George’s Day.
At the time of his death, he was a much admired dramatist. But Francis Beaumont, who passed away a few weeks before him, was equally admired, on the basis of far fewer plays. The centenary of Shakespeare’s birth fell soon after the theatres reopened with the Restoration of the monarchy, following the period when the Puritans had closed them down for the duration of the Civil War. His plays formed a staple part of the repertoire, but those of Beaumont and John Fletcher were performed more frequently. Shakespeare only pulled ahead of the pack in the Georgian era. It was around his 200th anniversary, under the auspices of the great actor David Garrick, that he took on his status as National Poet and exemplar of artistic genius. He has never fallen out of fashion, but in the past 25 years or so his reputation has become truly stratospheric. In Britain and around the world you can see more Shakespeare than ever before. It may indeed be that his reputation has reached its high-water mark and can only recede.
At the time of the 400th anniversary, which fell in the interim between the closure of the Old Vic and the opening of the new National Theatre, there was only the RSC and regional rep. Now there is the Globe, a plethora of West End productions — Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet and Martin Freeman as Richard III hard on the heels of Jude Law as Henry V and David Tennant as Richard II — and an extraordinary wealth of smaller-scale Shakespeare by Propeller, Cheek by Jowl, The Tobacco Factory, Filter and dozens of other innovative touring companies. In North America, at least two dozen cities have a summer Shakespeare festival. Modern cinema has produced everything from a Samurai Macbeth to several Bollywood Romeo and Juliets.
The success of Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V in 1989 heralded a revival of Shakespeare on screen following a period in the doldrums. But an even more important turning point was the triumph of Shakespeare in Love at both the box office and the Oscars. Tom Stoppard’s brilliant screenplay drew such strong parallels between the Elizabethan theatre and modern Hollywood that the film contrived to turn Shakespeare into a celebrity. It made him our contemporary at precisely the moment when culture was taken over by a rage for the now, a cult of the new.
Our age of novelty and celebrity, of 24/7 entertainment news and ever-renewing digital information, leaves little time for the measured appreciation of Shakespeare’s more demanding contemporaries such as Ben Jonson and John Donne, let alone the epic poetry of other classic authors such as Edmund Spenser and John Milton, who were once as admired as the man from Stratford. It is only Shakespeare whose language and characters have taken on a life of their own, enabling his work constantly to accommodate itself to the new. There is a quotation for every occasion, a character parallel for every figure in public life.
Shakespeare — along with Jane Austen — is becoming the token representative of a cultural past that is otherwise forgotten. The danger is that if we lose the ability to place him in the context of his age, we may cease to understand him. Students struggle with aspects of his language because they no longer share that knowledge of the Bible and classical antiquity which Shakespeare expected of his audiences. When Hamlet says that he is not like Hercules or when Shylock calls Portia “a Daniel come to judgment,” most Elizabethans would have understood the allusion. Soon we will all need a footnote.
On the other hand, the passion for Shakespeare has become a way of opening up his world and keeping it alive. Over the past couple of years, I have had the good fortune of being consultant curator for the British Museum’s 2012 Cultural Olympiad exhibition “Shakespeare Staging the World”, of writing the script for Simon Callow’s one-man show Being Shakespeare, and of presenting a global online course exploring the collections of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-upon-Avon. In each case, I’ve been amazed by the enthusiasm, the inquiring spirit and the knowledge of thousands of people, from teenagers to octogenarians.
How knowledgeable should we expect our schoolchildren to be about Shakespeare?
During the Government’s recent overhaul of GCSEs, I was asked to join a consultative group advising on the English Literature syllabus. It quickly became clear that the minister wanted to prescribe two Shakespeare plays for every 16-year-old in the land. I argued, to the contrary, that there should be one Shakespeare play and one play by anybody except Shakespeare. It cannot be in Shakespeare’s interest for teenagers to associate him with compulsion, for his plays and his alone to have the dreaded status of set books.
That said, recent years have witnessed great progress in the way in which Shakespeare is taught. Back in 1964, the tendency was to parse the text on the page and pay little attention to the theatrical life of the plays. There was a degree of mutual suspicion between academic critics and theatre professionals.
All this has changed. Much of the best modern scholarship has focused on the practicalities of performance in the Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre, while the history of Shakespeare on stage and screen has become a thriving sub-discipline in its own right. The education departments of the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Globe are getting into schools and persuading teachers to get pupils on their feet, speaking the lines aloud and fitting the word to the action.
The crucial next step will be the adaptation of Shakespeare to the digitised classroom of the future. By the time the 500th anniversary is celebrated in 2064, textbooks will have been replaced by some version of the tablet computer. There are already exciting initiatives in the creation of Shakespeare apps for the iPad, most notably a project led by Sir Ian McKellen and the director Richard Loncraine, in which the plays can be simultaneously read and seen, with all sorts of contextual and explanatory information reachable at a click.
In a verse preface to the First Folio of the complete plays, his friend and rival Ben Jonson predicted that there would come a time when Shakespeare would be held in as high regard as the great writers of antiquity. “Triumph, my Britain, thou hast one to show,” he wrote, “To whom all Scenes of Europe homage owe.” Shakespeare’s Britain stood on the threshold of the modern world. Britain’s Shakespeare was a creation of the 18th and 19th centuries, an era when the nation and thus the national poet moved on the world stage. There is, wrote Maurice Morgann, one of his 18th-century admirers, “nothing perishable about him … the Apalachian mountains, the banks of the Ohio, and the plains of Sciota , shall resound with his accents … when even the memory of the language in which he has written shall be no more.”
Now it is not just “all scenes of Europe” but almost all countries in the world that pay homage to William Shakespeare. His works are our most enduring cultural export.
Malaysia has yet to decide whether to publicly disclose an initial report submitted to international aviation authorities on the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, the country’s director-general of civil aviation said on Wednesday.
The Southeast Asian country has filed the preliminary report as required by the International Civil Aviation Organization, Azharuddin Abdul Rahman told a news conference. He didn’t specify when it was filed or offer any details of the contents.
“We have issued the preliminary report and we have sent it to ICAO,’’ Mr. Azharuddin said. “We have not make any decision yet whether to release it to the media or public.”
Such reports are usually disclosed, in the public interest, although that isn’t required. Asked whether Malaysia would eventually disclose details of the investigation into the disappearance, Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said at the news conference that “with the public interest globally, I think there’s no way that we can avoid making it public.”
Reports to the ICAO, a U.N. body based in Montreal, are required from the country conducting an investigation within 30 days of an accident and would include the sequence of events and other technical aspects.
The Boeing 777-200 disappeared March 8 with 239 people aboard during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, and the search is focused on a portion of the Indian Ocean based on analysis of satellite data and possible pings from the flight recorders. No confirmed wreckage has been found.
Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is convinced he will go to jail for his sodomy conviction, probably for even longer than the five years he was given, as he said the judicial process is staked heavily against him.
The de facto PKR leader, who disclosed that foreign leaders like former US Vice-President Al Gore and Irish President Mary Robinson had advised him during his recent trip to London not to return to Malaysia and be jailed, said the refusal of the Federal Court registry yesterday to allow him an extension of time to file his petition of appeal against the conviction was just the latest legal hurdle he had to overcome.
The deadline for filing the petition is today (Thursday).
“It is definitely harassment and an abuse of process,” he said.
“I’m just waiting. I don’t know how much time I have.
“A month, two months before they send me to jail,” said Anwar, who was in Kuching to speak at the Reformasi 2.0 rally last night.
Anwar also spoke on the harassment he said he had to deal with when his appeal was heard in the Court of Appeal.
He said the courts advanced the hearing of his appeal by a month to “fit in” the dates of the Kajang by-election.
Anwar was to have been Pakatan Rakyat’s candidate in the March 23 by-election in Selangor that was called after the incumbent, Lee Chin Cheh, unexpectedly resigned on January 27.
However, the Court of Appeal’s “swift” decision in overturning a High Court ruling and finding him guilty meant he was not eligible to contest.
His wife Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail replaced him as the PR candidate.
PKR legal bureau head Latheefa Koya yesterday said even with the deadline today, the Federal Court registry asked Anwar to file a formal application, which included a notice of motion, to ask for more time to file the grounds of appeal.
Karpal Singh, who was Anwar’s lead counsel in the case, was to have filed the appeal.
Karpal was killed in a tragic road accident along with his personal aide last Thursday.
Latheefa described the court’s refusal as highly inconsiderate and showing a lack of sympathy and understanding over the tragic death of Karpal.
Anwar, meanwhile, said the refusal meant his new lead counsel Datuk Sulaiman Abdullah did not have enough time “to go through the files and files of notes”.
“It appears the Federal Court is bent on rushing the appeal and this can be seen in their failure to grant an extension of time,” Latheefa added.
Anwar’s latest brush with the court prompted him to warn that other key opposition leaders could suffer the same fate as he did.
He said with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak “manipulating the Attorney-General and judicial system”, opposition leaders like Batu MP Tian Chua, Pandan MP and PKR strategic director Rafizi Ramli, Seremban MP Anthony Loke and PAS deputy secretary-general Dr Syed Azman Ahmad Nawawi were “all on the list of people to be charged and jailed”.
A STRATEGIC “pivot” or “rebalancing” towards Asia and the Pacific is central to American foreign policy under Barack Obama. So it is more than embarrassing that the president has had to cancel trips to the region at short notice—most recently last October, when the partial shutdown of his administration forced him to pull out of two regional summits. This gives added significance to his tour of Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines from April 22nd. It is the chance to reassert America’s military and economic commitment to three treaty allies, one prospective “strategic partner” (Malaysia) and to the region as a whole, as it struggles with the implications of China’s rapid rise.
That reassurance is needed all the more after America’s failure to intervene in Syria and, especially, its failure to contain Russian expansionism in Ukraine. Both episodes feed into a perception of a declining American appetite for keeping the peace, and of a declining ability to do so. Countries such as Japan and the Philippines, facing an assertive Chinese approach to disputed territory, are naturally concerned. If America will do so little for Ukraine, will it risk lives and treasure for uninhabited rocks in the East or South China Sea? In theory, circumstances are so different that America’s Asian allies should have no cause for concern. Unlike the Syrian opposition and Ukraine, the Japanese and Filipinos have mutual security treaties with America.
Indeed, if America did involve itself militarily in another conflict in the Middle East or in eastern Europe, its Asian allies would fret that the “rebalancing” was deemed, as they had feared, a lower American priority than other parts of the world. It is a battle for regional reassurance that America, it seems, simply cannot win.
Other problems complicate things further. One is the poor state of relations between America’s two most important allies, Japan and South Korea. Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, seems as unpopular in Seoul as he is in Beijing. His decision last December to visit the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo, where war criminals are honoured, confirmed South Koreans in their view of him as an unrepentant historical revisionist, in denial about the atrocities Japan inflicted on their country during its colonisation. So, rather than co-operating with Japan in dealing with an immediate threat from North Korea and a potential longer-term one from China, South Korea prefers to make common cause with China to condemn Japan for its failure to confront the past. It took a big effort to persuade Park Geun-hye, South Korea’s president, to join a trilateral meeting with Mr Obama and Mr Abe at a nuclear summit in the Netherlands last month. Coaxing them to work together when he is not in the room will be even harder.
Another difficulty lies in distinguishing strategic support for a country from political support for its current rulers. America finds much to admire in Mr Abe: his determination to drag the Japanese economy out of its deflationary morass; in particular, his promise to take on domestic lobbies by joining American-led regional trade talks, the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP); his desire to see Japan play a bigger role in its own defence. But it also deplores the often revisionist attitude to Japan’s history that, for Mr Abe and his supporters, animates these policies.
Similarly it finds Malaysia a model of moderate Islamic democracy and its prime minister, Najib Razak, the friendliest leader it has had in decades. But Malaysian politics is poisonous. Anwar Ibrahim, the leader of the opposition, which won the popular vote at last year’s election, is appealing against a sentence handed down last month of five years in jail for sodomy. Many Malaysians believe the prosecution is politically motivated.
Mr Najib has taken Malaysia, too, into the TPP. Another problem facing the “rebalance” is that this, its most important economic dimension, is in trouble. The impetus of Mr Obama’s tour itself may generate a breakthrough in the shape of agreement between the TPP’s two biggest economies, America and Japan. But ratification of the TPP will face domestic political obstacles in a number of countries, not least America itself. Many in Asia have noticed that Mr Obama seems loth to spend much domestic political capital on this or other aspects of American commitment to the region. Mr Obama may have trouble convincing his friends in Asia that America’s rebalance is genuine.
China, for its part, is keen to cast doubt on America’s regional staying power. Yet, oddly, its own government seems convinced by it. It sees the rebalance as an attempt to encircle China and counter its rise. Some of this resentment emerged in testy exchanges when Chuck Hagel, America’s defence secretary, was in Beijing this month. China blames America for encouraging Japan and the Philippines to confront it over disputed rocks. Its leaders worry that America’s decision to deploy two more Aegis-class destroyers to Japan to counter the threat from North Korea is in fact directed against China. It has noticed that America supports the Philippines in its legal challenge to China’s claim to most of the South China Sea, and has just signed an agreement with it allowing more of its troops into the country. And Congress is likely to authorise the sale of four pensioned-off frigates to Taiwan.
Be careful what you wish for
China’s reaction is perhaps the most fundamental of all the factors making the rebalance so tricky. America insists it is not trying to contain China or thwart its rise. But if that is so, how to convince Asian allies of an unshakable military commitment to the defence of islands, reefs and rocks of no obvious relevance to American security? And if America is in fact trying to stand in the way of China’s rise, then its Asian allies would also take fright at a dangerous confrontation between the region’s two big maritime powers. The rebalance, meant to reassure them without alarming China, risks the opposite: alienating China and scotching promising areas of co-operation, yet leaving its neighbours, America’s friends, more nervous than ever.
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