Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Myanmar Border Attacks: Whodunit? – Analysis


On 9 October 2016, around 300 assailants, armed with swords, spears, and homemade weapons, launched a coordinated attack on several police outposts in Myanmar’s Rakhine State close to the Bangladesh border, killing nine police officers and wounding four others.

The Government of Myanmar has blamed elements from the locally-dominant Rohingya Muslim community for the attacks, naming a dormant Rohingya outfit – the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO). As an immediate follow-up to the attacks, additional troops from the Tatmadaw were deployed in the affected region to conduct extensive area sweeps and house-to-house searches. According to the home ministry, 30 ‘attackers’ have been killed by Security Forces (SF) in subsequent counterinsurgency raids.

If the Rohingya linkage is credible, then this would be the first serious occurrence of insurgent violence from within the long-persecuted, stateless Muslim minority community in Rakhine State. However, since the community has not exhibited outright radical proclivities or signs of organised extremism in the past, a closer scrutiny of the functional context to understand whether the attacks really emanated from within the mainstream Rohingya population or from exogenous sources is imperative.

Contours of Rohingya Extremism: The Old and the New
According to claims made by the government, the attacks were linked to a hitherto unknown Islamist terror outfit called Aqa Mul Mujahidin (AMM), which in turn is allegedly connected to the RSO. The only signs of the RSO’s resurgence have thus far been a single announcement on Facebook on a fringe account. The government has named a certain ‘Mr Havistoohar’ from a small village in the Maungdaw area as the ‘leader’ of AMM, claiming that he was trained by the Taliban in Pakistan.

According to Myanmarese intelligence, ‘Havistoohar’ returned to Rakhine to recruit and arm around 400 Rohingya men for attacks around Maungdaw. He is also said to have frequently crossed over into Bangladesh to receive funding from “Middle Eastern organisations,” and was assisted by a certain Pakistani national called ‘Kali’ who travelled to Maungdaw to train the recruits.

This preliminary assessment falls in line with the more categorical evaluation made by Indian intelligence officials who have identified ‘Mr Havistoohar’ as Hafiz Tohar, a 45-year old Rohingya man from Kyauk Pyin Seik village in Maungdaw. They categorise AMM as an offshoot of the Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami-Arakaan (HUJI-A), an Islamist terror group led by a Pakistani national of Rohingya origin called Abdul Qadoos Burmi (perhaps aliased as ‘Kalis’).

HUJI-A’s links to Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) are well known. Qadoos has been seen on stage with LeT chief Hafiz Sayeed in Karachi, at a conference organised to show solidarity with Rohingya Muslims. He fled to Pakistan in the early 1980s, and subsequently formed HUJI-A in 1988.Qadoos is understood to have trained Rohingya recruits in Pakistan and thereafter sent them to Bangladesh for further localised training in the hilly border with Myanmar.

Notably, LeT operatives from Pakistan were directly involved in training Rohingya recruits in this area. Indian and western intelligence, over the past one year, have posited that LeT commands a strong presence in Rohingya camps in Rakhine state through two key overground organisations, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JUD) and Fala-I-Insaniyat Foundation (FIF). Through these, LeT has picked up recruits for further training in Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Curiously, one analysis points to the involvement of another new organisation – ‘Harakah al-Yaqin’ (HAY) – constituted of “illegal immigrants from Bangladesh” who crossed over to northern Rakhine in the areas where the attacks happened. These militants, armed with AK-47 rifles, have posted videos on YouTube after the recent attacks, calling for solidarity to the Rohingya cause and jihad against Myanmar SFs.

A Preliminary Assessment
In light of the above, responsibility for the attacks cannot be pinned down with any certainty. However, the growing involvement of a transnational jihadist ecosystem is evident in the region. Of these, the LeT/HUJI-A supra-network is the most important with AMM and HAY being new operators. Given LeT/HUJI-A’s infrastructural build-up in south eastern Bangladesh, the possibility of an increasingly violent and sustained campaign has always remained feasible. The question then is, why has this longstanding infrastructure not been operationalised across the border in Rakhine?

One explanation could be the severe degradation of the LeT/HUJI-A ecosystem owing to the Bangladesh government’s crackdown on extremist groups. Furthermore, the weapons used in the attacks were crude and not military-grade, indicating localised mobilisation and training, as opposed to well-funded and armed jihadist networks of mobilisation, like the LeT/HUJI-A duo.

Worryingly, 51 firearms and more than 10,000 rounds of ammunition were looted from the police during the attack, pointing to the gathering of materials for a larger assault. This therefore seems to be a localised group facilitated by the LeT/HUJI-A complex acting to ease the resource crunch it is facing. It remains to be seen if this resupply of arms will be used in the future on Myanmar or Bangladeshi soil.

* Angshuman Choudhury
Researcher, Southeast Asia Research Programme (SEARP), IPCS

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The US is making a mockery of democracy, and China must be loving it

Leaders in Beijing are likely to be delighted at the good job being done by the American people and media to discredit the democratic process during the presidential election campaign

Some folks say the Democrats are going to be the winners in next month’s US election, some say the Republicans. From my view in Asia, where I’ve lived and worked for over 20 years, I say the Communists in Beijing will be the biggest winners. They must be revelling in the fun right now, witnessing just how depraved freedom and democracy have become.


I’m not going to waste my vote on either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, who are in a battle to finish second-to-last in two centuries of presidential candidates. I’m going to waste it on Xi Jinping (習近平) for US president. I realise Xi has a job already, but if he gets enough votes to win, “birther” issues aside, I’m betting his colleagues would give him a leave of absence to spend time in the White House, just as a gesture of goodwill to the American people. Because while Americans have done so much for Beijing over the past few decades, we’ve never done as much for them as with the 2016 election. In short, the US has done a better job of making a mockery of democracy than Beijing ever could.

The US has done a better job of making a mockery of democracy than Beijing ever could

One of the mantras of the Beijing propaganda machines is that American democracy is a fatuous popularity contest between unqualified candidates who run for office to do the bidding for their corrupt and venal capitalist backers, while China’s leaders are proven, competent meritocrats who are there solely to serve the people. Americans have now handed them Exhibits A and B and said, “See? This is what we’re talking about.” Last weekend, the one whose judgment doesn’t prevent him from engaging in locker-room talk with TV cameras rolling called on the one whose judgment doesn’t prevent her from emailing national security communiqués around the world using a “home-brew” email server to take a drug test before Wednesday’s debate. The locker-room one also told the world he thinks American democratic elections are rigged. It’s not just the candidates though. Supporting America’s self-destruction of democracy, not a few respected news sources are perceived by the public to have become openly biased, news morphing into opinion, and vice versa.

This is worse for American democracy than having two bad candidates; they’ll be gone eventually but the institution of a fair and free press was supposed to still be around. This is a horrible turn, the press giving away something money can’t buy: the perception of fairness. Why any journalist would feel the need to embellish a word Trump utters is hard to understand. His words need no interpretation, yet explaining to an American public why what Trump said is so bad in the worst possible terms seems to be part of the press’ job, as does sugar-coating Clinton’s flaws and the scandal that surrounds her. And it’s not just perception in Clinton’s case. WikiLeaks has released emails to and from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta that appear to show close collaboration between Clinton’s team and members of the elite press. Beijing has to love the double bonus of the US press trashing itself as it trashes the candidates.

But it’s after the election when America’s real problems begin in Asia, because both candidates have stated they won’t ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the trade pact the Obama administration spent years negotiating with 11 friends and allies around the Pacific, excluding China. An American failure to ratify it would, at a minimum, embarrass the leaders of the other TPP countries domestically and is likely to pave the way for Beijing to do more business with them, not less. Trump sounds like he might go as far as pulling out of Asia entirely, making noises about abandoning military alliances with Japan and South Korea.

Beijing has been making steady inroads on trade and regional politics for years, showing up with cash with no strings attached. They’re making friends with governments in Cambodia, Laos and, now, the Philippines. Meanwhile, America’s choices in November are down to a political neophyte, who sounds like he’d walk away from the region, and his opponent, who coined the term “pivot” to Asia when she was secretary of state, which now looks like American blather given what’s actually happening on the ground and in the sea here.

Beijing has to love the double bonus of the US press trashing itself as it trashes the candidates

Americans have seldom seemed to care much about how we look to the rest of the world, assuming, I suppose, that our good deeds last century were worth a lifetime of goodwill. Many Americans who live and work abroad know that is a mistake. America is not just losing the propaganda war to Beijing, it’s surrendering. For Americans who have been high on the notion of US exceptionalism, it’s time to sober up.

When I started working in the region in the 1990s, China’s economy was relatively small and in need of much work. Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, and the Southeast Asian countries were growing fast and people I interacted with had a generally favourable impression of America, even if they didn’t fully understand US politics and the press. When queried or challenged about apparent flaws in these, for example, during the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal, I used to be able to kick into a civic pride mode and explain how democracy was self-correcting, a free press was part of that, and things always came right eventually. Now, when friends ask me what’s happening at home, I tell them that I just don’t know. All I know is that we look ridiculous, and America’s rivals in Beijing hope we keep it up.

Robert Boxwell is director of the consultancy Opera Advisors

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition


How U.S.-Saudi Relations Got So Twisted

There is something rotten in U.S.-Saudi relations. It was probably unreasonable to think that a hereditary monarchy founded on a very conservative interpretation of Islam would regularly make common cause with a constitutional republic committed to secularism and individual liberty. But an always-awkward relationship has grown testy over the past fifteen years, and taken an even more ugly turn over the last two or three.

The latest tensions can be traced to sharp differences between the Saudis and the Obama administration over dealings in the Middle East, from how to handle the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, to different responses to the popular uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East. And then there is the Obama administration’s attempt to mend fences with Iran—Saudi Arabia’s bitter rival.

There is a lingering sense that the House of Saud’s decades-long funding of an extreme interpretation of Islam throughout the world has contributed to the rise of Islamic extremism, and even violence. And yet, the roots of actual terrorists’ rage and resentment, to say nothing of their theology, rarely trace directly to Saudi-funded imams or mosques, as the New York Times’ Scott Shane has reported. Meanwhile, the Saudis have battled both Al Qaeda and ISIS. The awkward fact that ISIS had adopted some of its ideas and practices from the Saudis elicited regret from a former imam of the Grand Mosque of Mecca.

So it would be wrong to blame the Saudis for ISIS. It does seem likely, however, that the Saudis, by promulgating their particular interpretation of Islam, have subtly shifted Muslim thought and teachings away from the liberalizing and tolerant brand that once flourished in most of the world—even, arguably, in the kingdom itself. According to Norwegian terrorism expert Thomas Hegghammer, “If there was going to be an Islamic reformation in the 20th century, the Saudis probably prevented it by pumping out literalism.” Another expert, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, a professor of Islamic studies at George Washington University, noted that an English-language version of the Quran distributed by the Saudis over the years included disparaging parenthetical references to Christians and Jews that were “a complete heresy, with no basis in Islamic tradition.”

That leaves the question of what, if anything, the U.S. government can do to change the nature and extent of Saudi proselytizing. Calling Saudi-funded Wahhabism “an insidious presence,” Farah Pandith, the former State Department official tasked with outreach to the global Muslim community, implored the world to take action. “We must get serious about destroying the ideological extremist narratives,” she wrote in the New York Times. “If the Saudis do not cease what they are doing, there must be diplomatic, cultural and economic consequences.” Her message may have been intended for nonstate actors and NGOs. After all, many would push back on the suggestion that the U.S. government “create imam training centers in Africa, Asia, Europe and North America that are free of Saudi funding and that offer a diversity of Islamic practices.”

For its part, the 9/11 Commission advised the United States against trying to reshape the theory and practice of a religion. “We must encourage reform, freedom, democracy, and opportunity, even though our own promotion of these messages is limited in its effectiveness simply because we are its carriers. . . . The United States can promote moderation, but cannot ensure its ascendancy. Only Muslims can do this” (see here, pages 375–6).

Here in the United States, public attitudes toward the Saudis, never very warm, have likely grown slightly cooler. The release of the blacked-out twenty-eight pages from a 2002 congressional investigation didn’t show a “smoking gun” of Saudi government complicity in the 9/11 attacks, but likely provided the impetus for the near-unanimous passage of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA). The legislation allows the families of 9/11 victims to directly sue the Saudi government. Where that all ends up is anyone’s guess.

There are limits, however, on how far members of Congress are willing to go in publicly criticizing the Saudis. My Cato colleague Emma Ashford wrote more about this here. And even though both chambers swiftly overrode President Obama’s JASTA veto, the Senate several weeks earlier had blocked a resolution concerning the sale of certain weapons to the Saudis, weapons that are being used with brutal effect in Yemen. The American people might not like the idea of Uncle Sam cozying up to oil-revenue-fueled autocrats, but they like the idea of oil-revenue-fueled genocidal maniacs (i.e., ISIS) and transnational terrorists (AQAP) even less. According to opponents of the resolution, including South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, U.S. and Saudi interests often align.

“The Middle East is a very complicated place,” Graham said. “But . . . Saudi Arabia shared intelligence with us that’s made Americans safe. They have allowed us to use their air bases in time of conflict. They are all-in against ISIS and they are a great ally against the ambitions of the Iranians. To those who wish to sever this relationship, be careful what you wish for.”

In short, Saudi Arabia isn’t America’s best or most reliable ally, but support for maintaining ties with the kingdom remains high. The relationship was “complicated,” President Obama explained to The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg earlier this year.

It still is.

Christopher A. Preble is vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute.


How Sri Lanka Demonstrates the Limits of the UN System


This is a classic example of pursuing an important issue in a forum that’s not equipped to handle it.

In recent years, the island nation of Sri Lanka has received considerable attention from the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council. Country-specific council resolutions were passed on Sri Lanka annually from 2012 to 2014. These resolutions dealt broadly with alleged wartime abuses, reconciliation and ongoing human-rights violations under the administration of the increasingly authoritarian Mahinda Rajapaksa, who ruled the island nation from 2005 to January 2015. Rajapaksa rejected all three of those resolutions and used developments at the council to drum up domestic political support.

Rajapaksa was ousted in January 2015 and the new government, led by Maithripala Sirisena, promised to rebalance Colombo’s foreign policy and implement a wide-ranging reform agenda. With this in mind, Sri Lanka cosponsored another UN Human Rights Council resolution in October 2015 that laid out a strong transitional justice agenda, including a truth commission and an accountability mechanism to address allegations of wartime abuses committed, by both Sri Lankan government forces and the separatist Tamil Tigers, during the country’s twenty-six-year civil war that ended in May 2009.

Colombo’s compliance with this most recent resolution will be reviewed in detail in March 2017, during the council’s thirty-fourth session. However, even if Sri Lanka were to make significant progress in the coming months, the bottom line is that the country’s transitional justice process will go beyond March 2017, even under the best of circumstances.

There are legitimate worries that, if Sri Lanka falls off the council’s formal agenda, then Colombo may be even less inclined to follow through on its previous commitments. After all, these are difficult, controversial issues; so, sustained international engagement and concomitant diplomatic pressure look more important than ever.

In this context, the passage of another resolution on Sri Lanka during that thirty-fourth session would be eminently helpful. But this is tricky for several reasons. For starters, Sri Lanka’s new government has been welcomed with open arms by a range of Western nations, including the United States—the driving force behind previous resolutions on Sri Lanka. In addition, the United States is not a formal member of the council this year, so a powerful ally may need to do a lot of the diplomatic legwork behind the scenes (something that would need to start soon if there’s any chance of another resolution on Sri Lanka even being tabled in the current political context). The U.S. presidential election adds an additional layer of complexity to the situation, and an outgoing Obama administration looks even less inclined to encourage continued scrutiny on Sri Lanka’s new government.

The UN Human Rights Council can be a good venue to raise awareness about human rights issues and encourage states to conform to international human-rights norms, although it’s not really designed to usher in dramatic changes. This isn’t to suggest that the United States should not devote diplomatic and financial resources there. It should—and it’s better for the United States to be a council member state than trying to influence diplomatic and political processes from the sidelines. However, the recent case of Sri Lanka underscores how messy and complicated multilateral diplomacy at this body can be. It also illustrates the inherent challenges of pursuing country-specific initiatives through a relatively short time horizon.

Taylor Dibbert is a freelance writer based in Washington, DC.

Image: View of the Human Rights Council during the urgent debate on Syria May 29, 2013. Flickr/Creative Commons/U.S. Mission Geneva

The Pope’s soft power vs. Putin’s war of religions in China

For the past few years, Russia under President Vladimir Putin has been worried about Chinese demographic and economic pressure pushing into poor and under-populated but resource-rich Siberia. Thus Russia allegedly supported a balancing action to extend Russian influence in China. The Chinese northeast had far more people and was developing much better than Siberia, but it had a weak spot: it was “spiritually poor,” with no religious belief to hang on to, and some people were harking back to their old pre-communist faith in Russian Orthodoxy.

Maoism had erased traditional beliefs and since the fall of Maoism, which had become a semi-religious creed, with the ultra-materialistic approach to economic growth and development, China has been a spiritual semi-desert. Most people held semi-superstitious ideas drawn from Buddhism and Taoism, some were drawn for a while to new religions like the Falun Gong, and there was an explosion of half-forgotten faiths, like Christianity in its different stripes and shapes and Islam.

In this atmosphere, Russia trained Chinese and Russian missionaries in seminaries and sent them to northwest China to help the revival of Russian Orthodoxy. Moreover Putin pressed the Chinese government to get a distinct official recognition for the Russian Orthodox Church in China. At the moment, the Orthodox Church is under the umbrella of the Christian Patriotic Association, which covers mostly Protestants. In China, these associations were established after the Communist Party took over the country to organize and keep an eye on the main religions in China. The officially recognized religions are Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism, and “other Christians” all listed under the Office of Religious Affairs. That is, all of the associations actually cover different schools and separate religions. For instance, Lamaist and Zen Buddhists are bundled together in one group (Buddhism); Sufi and Wahhabi Islam, too; Evangelicals and Mormons are under one umbrella (Christians). Only the Catholics have a coherent association of their own. In the late 1990s, the Falun Gong, initially registered as a sport association, insisted on being listed under the Office of Religious Affairs, separate from the Buddhist or Taoist umbrella, but their request was denied before the eventual official crackdown in 1999.

Bottom of Form

If Chinese home-grown religions are denied new separate associations, for the Russian Orthodox it is even more difficult, thus Beijing resisted all pressures from Moscow in this sense. Yet in a significant gesture, Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to meet Russian Patriarch Kirill in May 2015.

There are other implications in this story. If the Russian Orthodox Church is allowed to have its own association, other tiny minorities following Greek Orthodoxy in China would fall under its “leadership”. This could have international implications, as China could confirm an old Russian ambition to have its own version of Orthodoxy become the leader of all orthodoxies. In recent months, the Russian Church, comprising about half of the Orthodoxy worldwide, decided not to take part in the Pan-Orthodox Council in June in Crete. The council was also advocated for by Catholic Church in Rome. The Russian Church, whose Patriarch Kirill had met the pope for the first time ever in February in Cuba, had in principle agreed to the council at an earlier date.

A massive split runs through the Orthodoxy. One “factions” is making efforts to rebuild ties with Rome, as proven by the recent ground-breaking agreement on primacy and synodality some Orthodox churches signed in Rome in late September. Another part finds some of its national identity in its Orthodox Church. Here the borders between religion and politics become more blurred. The fight in Ukraine between Ukrainians and Russians runs also through a religious divide: the Catholic Ukrainians and the Russian Orthodox Russians. The same is true in Georgia, a country that feels threatened by Moscow. Georgian Orthodoxy is part of the national glue against Moscow and its version of Orthodoxy.

Here the Pope’s efforts to reach out across the wide Christian spectrum de facto collides with the many different political agendas in which leaders use the local religion for their specific political goals. Papal appeals to Christians to overcome theological differences, incomprehensible to most believers, clash with the reality of political-religions. Religions are being used now, as always, to cover up for political aims, and this can be legitimate.

Here there is an objective issue that may trouble Putin. The Pope reaches out to Protestants, Orthodox of every stripe and color, Muslims, and even to non-monotheistic Chinese in an objective political effort to put religion at the service of peace. Yet as we saw with China, religion is an important tool of Putin’s efforts to balance a growing neighbor. In Russia, without the ideological bond of communism, Orthodox religion has become an even stronger national tie. It has become part of its new national identity, and it may be used against enemies, including the Muslim rebels in Chechnya or the Orthodox Georgians. Then the papal appeals to unity of Christians and religions can de facto help to pre-empt the political use of religion for a specific cause.

Moreover, political leaders who used to think of religion in hard-nosed political terms may wonder whether the Pope’s political goal for peace is an end to itself or is an instrument at the service of other, subtler political aims. The Catholic Church has kept out of the religious wars that some Muslim extremists want to wage against the rest of Islam and Christianity. But some fanatics among the Orthodox and radical Evangelicals are eager to wage war on Islam as such. As the voice of the Pope reaches out to the heart of common Orthodox believers wishing for peace, so the voice of Orthodox fanatics reaches out to fringes of the Catholic Church blaming the Pope for giving up Christianity as a cultural identity.

The new super soft power of the church comes from a general situation in which America has not been able to become the total almighty superpower but is still the only superpower (see But it also has this Pope’s ability to surf over the many conflicting political agendas of states and parties in the world to reach out for peace.

This, one might say, was always the Vatican agenda, For centuries, however, Popes were encumbered in this task by the presence of their Pontiff state. Presently this effort is different. It is stronger than in the past because it does not conflict with the state interests of the pontiff state, but it is weaker because it is not supported by any real state or economic power.

Yet this new higher profile brings Rome to the centre of the world, as in the time of the conspiracies of the Renaissance. Are the Catholic conservatives enamored of Putin also actively supported by Putin? Or are the Russians right that behind the appointment of the American Greg Burke as spokesman of the Vatican there is the influence of the US conservatives? Is history repeating itself, almost like in the Renaissance? When Spain was strong, they had the Borgia pope; when Florence had clout, they promoted a Medici to the Holy See. But this logic is faulty, because the logic of the church prevails over the interest of every single nationality—this is how the church was founded and maintained for centuries. But growing media attention shows the risk of seeing in the nationality of each individual at the Vatican a different political agenda.

Here again the situation is very delicate. As the church is no monolith and the Pope doesn’t preside over 1.2 billion loyal subjects, many moves by the church are bound to be pushed and pulled in all directions for political goals by the single believers and the powers that directly or indirectly influence them. Unlike in the Renaissance, there is now freedom of speech and the pope wants more people to join the Catholic Church, not to split it further. That is, the pope seems to use the difference of opinion even about him to draw more people to the church rather than being upset about it and cutting people off from the church.

Furthermore, hard geopolitics is an old part of the Catholic game and evidence of the new soft superpower of the church. Of course the Vatican has suffered in the past many times because of pressures from different superpowers and the company of Jesus, from which this pope comes, was suppressed in 1773, almost on the eve of the French Revolution, because of political pressures. Then France was the major power defending the church at a time when other Catholic states were declining (Spain and Austria) and non-Catholic states (England, Prussia, Russia) were growing. France was extremely wary of the power and influence of the Jesuits and for years pressed for its disbandment. Because of this, the famously successful mission in China was withdrawn, but perhaps even more importantly, the Jesuit inroads in non-Catholic Europe were cut short.

By translating Chinese culture for Europe, the Jesuits reached out to countries that had broken out from Catholicism after the Protestant Reformation. Protestant England adopted a civil service model based on the experience of Chinese Mandarins as reported by the Jesuits; Gottfried Leibnitz, court philosopher of Prussia, changed modern science and thinking by studying the Yi Jing, brought again by the Jesuits. That is, the Jesuits used Chinese culture to bridge the gap in Christianity of the time.

But this actually encroached on the pivotal role France had acquired for itself in Europe as protector of the church. The Jesuits with their action were almost saying, we do not need the protection of one state because our diplomacy can expand the reach of the Holy See without being hooked to any single state. In this the Jesuits were reaching back to a time when Rome emerged through centuries as a centre of faith by constantly refusing the protection of the Byzantine emperor, who presided over Orthodox faith almost like President Putin looks over “his” Orthodox Church. Now almost in the same fashion, the pope is apparently striving to keep out of power politics, navigate over them, and thus establish a renewed role for the church that pushes for peace not power and in doing so goes beyond its traditional borders in Europe and America.

Some of the Catholic believers who oppose the Pope now perhaps fail to see this grand design and are willingly or unwillingly bending to the legitimate interests of single states. All of this is legitimate, but it is not the drive of the Vatican.

Written with Father Francesco Strazzari


I found this most interesting

I found this most interesting





In 1887 Alexander Tyler, a Scottish history professor at the University of Edinburgh, had this to say about the fall of the Athenian Republic some 2,000 years prior:  "A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a  permanent form of government.  A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury.  From that moment on, the  majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse over loose fiscal policy, (which is) always followed by a dictatorship."

 "The average age of the world's greatest civilizations from the beginning of history, has been about 200 years.  During those 200 years, these nations always progressed through the following sequence:

 >From bondage to spiritual faith;

>From spiritual faith to great courage;

>From courage to liberty;

>From liberty to abundance;

>From abundance to complacency;

>From complacency to apathy;

>From apathy to dependence;

>From dependence back into bondage.”


The Obituary follows:

 “The United States of America",  Born 1776, Died 2016  It doesn't hurt to read this several times.

 Professor Joseph Olson of Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota, points out some interesting facts  concerning the last Presidential election:


Number of States won by:       Obama: 19         Romney: 29

Sq. miles of land won by:   Obama: 580,000    Romney: 2,427,000

Population of counties won by: Obama: 127 m.  Romney: 143 m.

Murder rate per 100,000

residents in counties won by:    Obama: 13.2             Romney: 2.1

 Professor Olson adds:  "In aggregate, the map of the territory Romney won was mostly the land owned by the taxpaying citizens of the country.  Obama territory mostly encompassed those citizens living in low income tenements and living off various forms of government welfare."

 Olson believes the United States is now somewhere between the "complacency and apathy" phase of Professor Tyler's definition of Democracy, with some forty percent of the nation's population already having reached the "governmental dependency" phase..

 If Congress grants amnesty and citizenship to twenty million criminal invaders called illegal’s - and they vote - then we can say goodbye to the USA in fewer than five years .


Friday, October 21, 2016

Malaysia’s political malaise

In May 2008, the United Nations Commission on Growth and Development issued a report that attempted to distil the strategies and policies that produced sustained high growth in developing countries. It is clear from the report that politics and leadership are key to successful development. In particular, there are four cross-cutting issues that good leadership delivered: promoting national unity; building high quality institutions; choosing innovative and localised policies; and creating political consensus for long-run policy implementation.

Malaysia is among 13 nations (Botswana, Brazil, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malta, Oman, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand) that the report identified as having sustained growth rates of above 7 per cent for 25 years or more. These 13 countries had five strikingly similar characteristics: they fully exploited global economic opportunities; they maintained macroeconomic stability; they mustered high rates of savings and investment; they let markets allocate resources; and they had committed, credible, capable governments.

Malaysia has been governed by the same ruling coalition since independence in 1957. This coalition provided capable leadership to address the four cross-cutting issues that enabled high and sustainable growth. But the Najib Razak administration appears not only to be faltering in managing these challenges but is actively undermining these achievements to remain in power.

At the 13th Malaysian general elections, the Barisan Nasional coalition only managed to secure 47.4 per cent of the popular vote while the opposition coalition secured 50.9 per cent. This is the first time that the ruling coalition has lost the support of the majority of Malaysians. Najib took a presidential approach to the election and committed to spending an estimated US$17.6 billion of targeted development pledges and 1 Malaysia Programs. So it was a shock when the majority of Malaysians opted for a ragtag coalition that included an Islamist party and a socialist party led by a discredited leader.

Najib’s popularity had been on a downward trend, from a high of 72 per cent in May 2010 to below 50 per cent in January 2015. But the series of damaging allegations has not only damaged his reputation irrevocably, it has also cemented a negative perception of the government. The majority of Malaysians no longer look favourably upon their government and its institutions. The most recent survey — polled in October 2015 after Najib admitted receiving a US$700 million ‘donation’ into his private bank account — found that 4 out 5 Malaysians were unhappy with the current government.

More damaging perhaps is the fact that only 31 per cent of Malays — the bedrock of support for the United Malays’ National Organisation (UMNO), the dominant party in the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition — were happy with the government’s current performance. The fall among Malays is drastic. It stood at 52 per cent in January 2015 and had never gone below 50 per cent since the independent pollster Merdeka Centre began tracking this data in February 2012. More Malaysians are also of the opinion that the country is heading in the wrong direction. Significantly, this change in sentiment began in the beginning of 2014, several months after the 13th general elections.

In response, Najib has taken several measures to protect his leadership position. These measures have further undermined Malaysia’s national unity, institutions and policy process.

Despite the rhetoric of being the leader of all Malaysians, Najib has actively pursued a ‘Malay and Islamic’ supremacy strategy. And he has cosied up with UMNO’s mortal enemy, the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party. The rise of fundamentalist Islam — as in the rest of the world — is a threat in Malaysia. But Najib has sought to bolster his credentials by appealing to conservative Muslims. This has empowered and emboldened the conservative Islamic elements within Malaysia.

Policy making and implementation have been insulated from public scrutiny since the government of long-serving former prime minister Mahathir Mohamed. But under Najib it has even been insulated from scrutiny by the cabinet, let alone the parliament. All major decisions are made by the prime minister and implemented through a hybrid organisation within the Prime Minister’s Department.

Despite Najib’s active pursuit of policies that are detrimental to Malaysian foundations, his economic track record appears to be sound. Malaysia could become a high income country by 2020. Yet Malaysians remain unimpressed by Najib Razak.

Institutions are not built in a day and the impact of Najib’s measures on Malaysia’s longer term growth prospects remain to be seen. For now, other countries caught in the middle-income trap should closely observe the developments in Malaysia.

Greg Lopez is a lecturer with Murdoch University Executive Education Centre, Western Australia. His research interests are in the interaction between states, societies and markets in the ASEAN region.