Community Leadership / Governance / Malay-Muslim Community

The Politics of Being Dominant and Dominating

I write this note not merely to explain the circumstances behind my departure from the Board of Directors of the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP) and stepping down as Chairman of the Board of Centre for Research on Malay and Islamic Affairs (RIMA).

More importantly, I am compelled to set out the approach taken by the State to suppress critical views.

This is troubling and goes entirely against the grain of reported statements by Deputy PM Tharman Shanmugratnam that the Ruling Party will be an open political party that “is dominant but not dominating”, but one that seeks to galvanize a diversity of views and ideas, including critical opinions.

The gist of the following account is set out in an Email that I had written to both AMP and RIMA Boards on 22 Apr 2013. The contents of this Email remain unchallenged.

I received a surprise phone call from Mr Azmoon Ahmad, Chairman AMP on 20 Apr 2013.  He informed me that he received separate phone calls from two Ministers to the effect that they were concerned about (1) my participation as a speaker at the Hong Lim Park protest; (2)  my participation as a panelist at a Workers’ Party Youth Wing Youthquake Seminar and (3) my critical leanings on social media.  Mr Azmoon had relayed a message that he said he received for me to “take it easy” and refrain from such activities.  Otherwise, the Government will withdraw all funding from AMP.  This puts AMP in a difficult situation.  Mr Azmoon also painted the alternative that if I were to continue with my civil society activities, he suggested that I “disassociate” myself from AMP.

I considered this carefully and decided to withdraw from both the AMP and RIMA Boards with effect from 22 Apr 2013.

I was appalled by the threats of withdrawal of funding from AMP being made on account of activities I have done in my personal capacity and not in my capacity as an AMP/RIMA director.

More fundamentally, the threat of withdrawal of funds (meant to benefit the Community through AMP’s programs) on account of what appears to be political reasons is deplorable.

I could not, as a matter of principle,  see myself functioning as an activist in AMP or RIMA’s Board in an imposed non-critical state, in return for continued funding of AMP’s programs.   This goes against the grain of any aspiration of thought leadership by AMP. In fact, this goes against the spirit of the founding of AMP.  AMP was set up as an independent platform in light of the perceived issues with Mendaki then. This certainly went against my own personal belief and conviction that made me serve AMP in various capacities since since 1998, in the belief and conviction that AMP, as a movement of professionals, would serve as the conscience of the Community.

I therefore could not associate myself in an organization that, time and time again, allows itself to be threatened with the withdrawal of funding in instances where its activities or proposals were perceived to be threatening.  For instance, State funding of AMP’s programs were cut in the wake of a proposal for a collective community leadership during AMP’s 2nd Convention in 2000.  Threats of funding cuts were also made in reaction to a proposal for an independent Community Forum made by AMP during its 3rd Convention in 2012, as that was seen as a threat to the State-sponsored Community Leadership Forum (CLF)  – which ironically, was perceived to be set up as a reaction to the Collective Leadership proposal made earlier by AMP.

In the current instance, my participation in Hong Lim Park and the WP Youth event as a civil society activist had nothing to do with AMP and RIMA – inasmuch as there are other events where I speak in my personal capacity.  I had made it clear at these presentations that I spoke in my personal capacity.  It is perplexing to link these involvement with my position in AMP or RIMA.

I fear that the current situation entrenches an unhealthy precedent – that the Government continues to keep AMP in line through threats of withdrawal of funding. The intrusion into the personal involvement of directors of AMP in civil society is overbearing and contradicts any stated objective to welcome diversity and critical discourse.

The readiness to use the threat of withdrawal of funding when the State feels displeased or threatened also ignores this important fact –  that these funds are being used to fund programs which benefit thousands of beneficiaries – be they low-income families, youths at risks, students. The interests of these beneficiaries seem to be readily steamrolled.

As a parting shot to both Boards,  I reminded the AMP and RIMA Boards that  AMP exists for the Community.  It relies on Community funding and donation by persons who believe in the cause of AMP. And so, AMP has a moral duty to act as a conscience of the Community.  Even if it means that it has to be critical of policies.

I leave AMP with fond memories  – having presented at Convention 2000, being the founding President of Young AMP, chairing AMP and the 2012 Convention, and then chairing RIMA. And so it was with a heavy heart that I decided to withdraw from the Boards of AMP and RIMA, having put in 15 years worth of time and effort for AMP.

But it is a decision I must make, out of a broader and bigger principle that I must uphold.  I hold the conviction that Singaporeans must be allowed, and even encouraged to speak up on the many issues that are of grave concern to them. Singaporeans must reclaim the space in civil society and play a direct role in shaping the future of the Country.

I am reminded of this speech, made by Mr Lee Kuan Yew himself in 1960, at a University of Malaya in Singapore Students’ Union dinner:

“Indeed, if they are citizens, it is their duty, as respected members of our society, to express and canvass their views on what should or should not be done in the government of their country.  They are citizens who – at very high cost to the state  – have had their minds trained and sharpened in their various disciplines.  They should and ought to undertake the responsibility of leading and formulating opinion on the political issues of the country.”

So while I agree with DPM Tharman’s aspirations for the Ruling Party to welcome a diversity of views, including critical views, I fear that there is a chasm between aspiration and current practice.

I wonder how much of DPM Tharman’s views, which Singaporeans had found refreshing, actually resonated with his Cabinet colleagues and  the rest of the State machinery.


34 thoughts on “The Politics of Being Dominant and Dominating

  1. “Allowing constructive criticism is important because it help us to communicate our needs and perspective to the relevant agencies.”

  2. Kita memerlukan Melayu yang boleh berfikir untuk meningkatkan mutu masyarakat Islam bukan tunkang angguk untuk kepentingan diri.

    • I have been an exremely VOCAL part time social activist at certain seasons in my life; those were the FINEST moments of my life. My wife was there in the rain in Perth when Perth (Western Australi) participated in the GLOBAL 4.28 in 2011?2012? We participated in PEACEFUL marches from Langley Park to the Malaysian Embassy at the Adelaide Terrace (about 350 meters), all 500 plus Malaysians.
      No one coordinated the event, no on synchronized the event in the sense that we just all WANTED to express our solidarity with other Malaysians around the WORLD.
      These democratic expressions of HOPE for a Better Society receives broadbased support from doctors, engineers, architects, nurses, hopeless bums like myself and we were also featured in many TV media, online social media, etc.
      No one has lived until you soak your clothes in the rain or storm or stand in some PONDED area and listen to fiery speeches to realie that life does not consist of merely food on the table and shelter!
      To PROGRESS, game changing moves ought to include the FREEDOM to SpEAK!

      • It is in the interest of all that we want every member of society to actively participate in the shaping for a better society. However, it is the diversity of views expressed means that participants have to seriously evaluate others’ views in relation to own views and accept the better views in order to build a better society – meaning many participants must accept their views might not be preferred in the understanding of other participants’ views all in the spirit of making for a better society rather than insisting on personal agenda. Modern societies in the world have so far failed in doing this to some extent and hence democracy fails to ensure diversity could really build a better society but a divided society.

  3. How ironic that you should quote from a man responsible for the very system of suppression that you were critical of in your article.

    • It just shows that the originator of the quote himself has double standards (or at least, his party does). I don’t think it’s unintentionally ironic, it’s pointing out their hypocrisy.

    • Goes to show whatever is in his advantage will be make use of. LKY is asking the intellectuals of his day to stand up be counted to fight colonialism. When the very same people are standing up to fight for democracy, justice and equality so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for this very nation we belong to, we are deemed Seditious. We are deemed anti-government. We are deemed xenophobic.

      Without the same people who understands the problems and ask nicely for the government not to press on and to seek reconciliation and progress together, we are being brushed off as noise.

      If the intellectuals of LKY’s day stands up to support him to fight for this nation, then be counted as one in our country’s hour of need and for its citizenry to be taken seriously.

      Shameful indeed!

  4. Pingback: The Politics of Being Dominant and Dominating  |  The Temasek Review - Temasek Review Emeritus - The Temasek Review - The Online citizen - The Real Singapore

  5. Syabas Encik Nizam. Tetapi sayangnya, anda telah masuk ke dalam perangkap mereka. Inilah yang mereka idamkan – orang seperti anda tak patut duduk sebelah mereka!

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  8. I haveuch respect for you. A man of principle, honest and honourable. It takes real courage, the type of courage you never knew you had until a real test like this comes a long, to make the decisions you’ve made. Pls keep your blog going.

  9. Why am I not surprised?… Lest our Malay professionals/leaders in non-govt bodies are disillusioned (and I hope they are not), this is another example of the level of political awareness and awakening the ruling party is prepared to accept. I am just a man in the street, not a professional; but I think I will know when the time has come for us to begin to trust our elected community leaders. In the meantime, Mr Nizam may not need this… but he has my sympathy; he can be a victim… or our community’s sacrifice …

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  11. Reblogged this on Gazali Unplugged and commented:
    The irony:
    “I am reminded of this speech, made by Mr Lee Kuan Yew himself in 1960, at a University of Malaya in Singapore Students’ Union dinner:
    “Indeed, if they are citizens, it is their duty, as respected members of our society, to express and canvass their views on what should or should not be done in the government of their country. They are citizens who – at very high cost to the state – have had their minds trained and sharpened in their various disciplines. They should and ought to undertake the responsibility of leading and formulating opinion on the political issues of the country.”

  12. Problem started when AMP received funding from the Government. For all its aspirations and principles, it should know better about being funded by the ruling party mechanism.

  13. Dunia ni banyak yang tamak dan banyak yang corrupt… Mereka akan cuba segala upaya untuk membisu kan dan memati kan semangat mereka yang ikhlas hendak membantu… Jangan lah terpedaya dan termakan dengan ancaman dan tipu helah mereka… Terus kan buat yang terbaik untuk membantu kaum dan ummah kami agar mereka dapat bangkit dan menempuhi cabaran hidop dengan lebih baik… I understand how you feel brother… Sometimes you feel that your principles and ideals have been compromised… That you are a munafiqun or a hypocrite…. Orang yang munafiq tidak akan kisah dengan fakir miskin atau masalah ummah nyer… So try to remember all those people whose lives you have touched and who are grateful to you for all the help you have given them in their desperate times of needs… We need you bro… The Muslim and Malay Community here need you… We do not need a yes man puppet like Ibrahim Yacoob and his Mendaki stooges who waste alot of money doing unproductive programs that serves to enrich most of their friends and families yet fill up the headlines of Berita Harian daily… We need a fighter who is willing to fight for the plight of our community… Hope you reconsider your decision and keep on fighting the good fight… Insya Allah tuhan akan mempermudah kan urusan mereka yang ikhlas untuk membantu dan mereka yang amal maaroof nahi mungkar… Take care… Assalamualaikum…. 😉

    • Salam. I supported fully what Pipe Piper mentioned. Stop being their puppet, we have our own grounds and priciples from the great prophet, kitab suci,dan para wali. mainstream like mendaki n muis hanya wayang yg selalu di tayang mengikut arahan manusia dan sasaran agenda politik , tuhan semesta alam menjadi no.2.

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  15. Going on is good. Simply because going is great. Not about anything else. What is conflict at one level, should be perceived as harmony at a greater level. Conflict and differences is perfectly healthy. Opposition is as equally important only because you can’t have agreement without Opposition. You can’t have one without the other. While our views and sentiments are different as different can be, they all points towards one same direction. It is only when we play the game call black and white, right or wrong, good or evil that we see ourselves differently and feel threatened by good pure honest and sincere Opposition views. Then we will play the game called black must lose and white must win. See! How ridiculous it is.

  16. I think, to a certain extent, MENDAKI, AMP, RIMA or what have you, or even SINDA and CDAC encourage the feeling of separateness.The boundaries should disappear. It is a complete a waste of time and resources. Those funds could be used to support the needy, the unemployed and the elderly.
    Please know you do not have to understand why someone wants to do and think the way they do. In fact, “I do not understand any of these, and it is fine” is quite the greatest understanding anyone could have. You should not be dissuaded from your mission, just because others are not with you.
    Stay focused on what you are for rather than what you are against.

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  20. I find there is no short cut to societal problems. Real solutions are found in only when the stronger are willing to share their fruits with the weaker and the weaker do not want to just enjoy others’ help as entitled but to try to help themselves no matter how little they could do.

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  22. Hello! Frankly speaking do we seriously expect any organisation in the world (even the Republican/Democratic Party or even a corporate body) to accept us as their senior members and could speak publicly in private capacity against the organisation? I do not think so. It is also very different between speaking against own organisation and speaking differently from own organisation. As such, just move on and no need to be sore about AMP or PAP/Govt. You still have the same democratic right as any US citizen!

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