Archive for December, 2009

29
Dec
09

 

ROYAL COMMISSION

The call by Opposition leaders Lim Kit Siang and Dr Syed Husin Ali for a royal commission to investigate the allegations of corruption against Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in Barry Wain’s book Malaysian Maverick: Mahathir Mohamad in Turbulent Times is typical of the knee-jerk reaction that Malaysian politicians are well-known for. Instead of  trying to understand the substance of the issue and seeing it for what it really is, they take the easy way out by echoing each other in a politically – motivated stand.

To invoke a royal commission to substantiate the findings of  a book written by the journalist- turned- researcher at a Singapore think- tank is to instigate the whole nation into giving credence to one writer’s perception and interpretation of Malaysian political history. The assumption here is that the researcher’s credibilty is so highly respected and his allegations so expertly substantiated that they warrant a royal commission of inquiry to serve the national interest. 

Writing a sensational book alone does not make one a credible researcher or writer. Defaming the leaders of both the government and the Opposition may be politically expedient in the highly-charged mood of local politics in the run-up to the next general elections. There may be groups with vested interests who churn out these character assasination slurs to influence those who are gullible and believe in rumours and loose talk. However, a larger section of the Malaysian electorate are rational and expect the validity and truth of these charges and counter charges to be proven with evidence or in a court of law.

The onus is thus on Barry Wain to provide reports and documentation of  Dr Mahathir’s alleged corruption and misappropriation of public funds to the tune of RM 100 billion as appendices in his book if he wants to be hailed as a credible researcher. Otherwise, he will remain as a sensationalist political analyst who is tempting fate by exposing himself to a string of libel charges not only by Dr Mahathir but the other individuals implicated in his book.

The onus is also on the Malaysian public to accept that one writer’s interpretation of local politics (past and present)does not spell the doom of the nation’s history. In the quest to respect  freedom of speech and basic human rights, there must be a greater tolerance of differing viewpoints and perspectives on the nation’s development. The Malaysian journey has been and will continue to be strewn with the good, the bad and the ugly both in terms of national policies and procedures as well as the individuals managing them. And we must accept that there will be many more writings on the politics and history of the nation – some defamatory, some complimentary. History will place us where we deserve to be as a nation! History will place our leaders where they deserve to be warts and all!

For the moment, it is imperative that Malaysians are given the right  to read Barry Wain’s book and judge for ourselves whether he is a credible writer/researcher and not just a stooge of the Opposition!

By Norman L. Rosenberg | Jan 1, 2008
The law of libel has a long, often bewildering, history. In almost any era, the legal literature contains numerous complaints about the irrationality, complexity, and venality of libel law. The Supreme Court’s direct involvement with the law of libel, which began only in 1964 with New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, extended this legacy of confusion.  From the outset, the ambitious scope of libel law encouraged problems. According to an often‐cited definition, common law libel covers all written communications that “tend to expose one to public hatred, shame, obloquy, contumely, odium, contempt, ridicule, aversion, ostracism, degradation, or disgrace, or to induce an evil opinion of one in the minds of right‐thinking persons, and to deprive one of their confidence and friendly intercourse in society” (Kimmerle v. New York, N.Y., 1933). Including both civil suits for damages and criminal prosecutions, libel law also has a close (though little‐used) relative, slander, which covers spoken defamation.

In theory, the law gave plaintiffs a favorable legal arena in which to confront detractors. Common‐law procedures allowed persons claiming injuries to reputation to take the offensive. Once it was established that a publication had been communicated and fell within the broad definition of libel, common law presumed damage to reputation. At this point, courts also required, in effect, that defendants “prove their innocence” by offering some type of legal justification for their libels. Evidence of truth became the most common defense, especially in civil suits, but courts gradually came to recognize a variety of “privileges,” even for libelous falsehoods.

These common‐law privileges acknowledged that libel laws, if strictly enforced, could seriously curtail public discussion. The most general privilege, “fair comment,” permitted defendants to publish libelous opinions about matters of general interest, such as the quality of artistic works or the qualifications of political figures. It did not extend to false statements of libelous facts, and plaintiffs could defeat fair comment, and other “conditional” defenses, by showing that defendants had exceeded their privilege by publishing with “malice.”

During the nineteenth century, some state courts also recognized a broader, though still conditional, privilege in political libel cases. Under what came to be called the “minority rule,” defendants could escape strict liability for libelous falsehoods when making nonmalicious criticisms of the “public” conduct of political officials and candidates for office. The citizenry’s need to learn about corruption and its general interest in free speech, proponents of this rule argued, outweighed the reputational concerns of individual politicians.

Until 1964, however, most states confined the scope of these conditional privileges. During the early nineteenth century, some even limited the defense of truth by requiring that plaintiffs demonstrate they had published even libelous truths “with good motives and for justifiable ends.” More typically, courts required defendants, including members of the press, to prove the truth of libelous political statements. And, as with fair comment for opinions, the conditional privilege for libelous political falsehoods could be defeated by evidence of “malice,” generally defined as ill will or hostility toward the persons defamed. Any wider privilege, it was argued, would threaten not only individual reputations but could discourage good people from entering or remaining in public life. Strict protection for the reputations of the “best” people, in short, was said to safeguard the public’s interest as well.

Although doctrinal discussions invariably involved consideration of such general constitutional and public values, the actual impact of libel laws, over the course of American history, remains difficult to assess. Because of the time and expense that litigation required, wealthier citizens and political figures comprised the vast majority of plaintiffs. In spite of the pro‐plaintiff tilt in libel law, even these people complained that the popular political culture encouraged more vituperation than black‐letter law technically allowed. Except at specific times and in certain places, jurors generally seemed more sympathetic to defendants, especially newspaper publishers, than to plaintiffs. Still, publishing interests constantly complained about overly strict libel laws, arguing that even the occasional lawsuit (and rare criminal prosecution) dampened the critical tone of public discussion.

Despite numerous complaints, efforts to make dramatic changes gained little headway. Legal elites did tighten libel doctrines during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, while simultaneously fighting back, in most states, efforts to adopt the minority rule on libelous political falsehoods. But stricter doctrines generally failed to make libel a commonly invoked restraint. In 1947, after studying the everyday operation of libel laws, the renowned libertarian Zechariah Chafee, Jr. reported that, despite looking “bad on paper,” libel laws worked fairly well in practice. For more than 150 years, the Supreme Court took a similar position. The law of libel, according to decisions such as Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire (1942) raised few, if any, First Amendment concerns.

In New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, however, the Supreme Court constitutionalized libel law. Arising out of the civil rights struggle and involving a $500,000 judgment under Alabama’s common‐law rules, Sullivan clearly showed how a group, southern segregationists, could use libel laws to stifle political expression. In addition, by the early 1960s, a tide of large libel judgments, much higher than any handed down by juries in the past, seemed at hand. According to critics of libel law, the threat of costly litigation and expensive judgments might encourage journalists to avoid controversial issues, self‐censor their publications, and thereby “chill” public discourse. Some libertarians, including Justices Hugo L. Black and William O. Douglas, consequently urged an end to actions by political figures and, eventually, to all libel suits involving subjects of general public interest.

The majority of the Supreme Court, led by Justice William Brennan, mounted a less drastic, though still sweeping, revision of libel law. Sullivan and subsequent decisions brought a number of major changes. First, the Court held that First Amendment requirements overrode the majority rule of strict liability for libelous political false hoods. When sued by politicians, libel defendants enjoyed a new constitutional privilege that could be overcome only by evidence of actual malice. Second, this new malice standard differed from the old common law one of ill will. Malice now meant publication with knowledge of falsehood or in “reckless disregard” of a statement’s veracity. Third, Sullivan not only placed the burden of proving constitutional malice on plaintiffs but required them to offer “clear and convincing” evidence on the issue. Moreover, in order to assure adherence to Sullivan’s standards, the Supreme Court claimed power to review all aspects of any political libel case, including its factual basis, on the theory that judges, rather than jurors, could best safeguard free‐speech values.

Post‐Sullivan decisions—though handed down by a Court staffed with new, presumably “conservative” justices—introduced other innovations. After briefly applying the actual malice standard to any libel suit involving a subject of general public interest (Rosenbloom v. Metromedia, 1971), the Court took the more complex step of linking levels of constitutional protection to the status of different kinds of libel plaintiffs. Thus, after *Gertz v. Welch (1974), public officials and “public figures,” at least in libel suits against the media, had to meet Sullivan’s standards. But if individual states thought appropriate, purely private plaintiffs could recover under less stringent doctrines, as long as they showed some degree of fault, such as negligence, by libel defendants. In addition, the Court held that statements of pure “opinion,” as opposed to libelous misstatements of “fact,” were now absolutely privileged.

The resultant complexity pleased few people. Still confronting what they considered a flood of libel suits—especially by prominent figures from politics and mass culture—media executives helped to create the Libel Defense Resource Center as a clearinghouse for monitoring lawsuits and legislative changes. Although they lacked such organization, critics of the media countered with claims that libel law reforms were leaving public officials and ordinary citizens at the mercy of irresponsible journalism.

Meanwhile, commentary on the new doctrines, and proposals for further simplifying them, became a cottage industry. According to one tally, between 1973 and 1983 there were 718 reported lawsuits and nearly 450 law review articles about libel law. For their part, several academic studies suggested that the post‐Sullivan years had not seen any dramatic reduction—and, perhaps, a slight increase—in libel suits; that defendants ultimately prevailed in the vast majority of suits; but that litigation costs and the amount of damages awarded in successful suits were both continuing to soar. Although this vast literature generally concluded that constitutionalization had helped protect First Amendment values, neither legal scholars nor directly interested parties could agree on how best to clarify the libel law muddle.

See also Speech and the Press.

Randall Bezanson , Gilbert Cranberg , and John Soloski , Libel Law and the Press: Myth and Reality (1987). Norman L. Rosenberg , Protecting the Best Men: An Interpretive History of the Law of Libel (1986). Rodney Smolla , Suing the Press for Libel: The Media & Power (1986)
© Oxford University Press 1992, 2005
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24
Dec
09

 

MORAL CORRUPTION

On the eve of the new year every Malaysian should look deep into his or her mind and heart to come up with honest answers on how to tackle the outstanding moral issues plaguing the nation! On the top of the list is corruption and the sheer audacity of the people who perpetuate it both in the public and private arenas.

Let’s face it! No amount of KPIs and NKRAs in the government’s transformation programme is going to eradicate corruption if the people do not see that we ourselves are responsible for the sorry state of moral depravation in the country. No amount of reports and arrests is going to stop the scourge if Malaysians do not accept the fact that immorality starts with each one of  us and penetrates the places we inhabit be it the government, the private sector, the political arenas, the community or the home.

It is convenient to point our fingers at the government and enforcement agencies like the police and MACC and accuse them of not being effective! It is easy to say they are selective in prosecuting only the small fish while the big fish get away with greater abuses of power and misappropriation of the rakyat’s resources. Computing the losses in ringgit and sen and putting the officers responsible behind bars is only the end game of legal enforcement when justice must be seen to be done. 

What about the average person who has been party to the smaller, undetectable acts of bribery and corruption in their lives? What about those of us who know it exists among our family, friends and colleagues and choose to ignore it? Or worse still, those who think there is nothing wrong in going around the rules and regulations to take advantage of  the loopholes in the law for their own personal advantage. What about the lawyers and legal counsels who cleverly interpret the man-made tenets out of duty to their clients and manage to get away with horrendous crimes like rape and murder?

Every Malaysian should introspect our own moral values and principles before we make snide remarks about the lack in others! No doubt there are numerous modern developments that require us to think differently about the issues of human rights, societal liberties, democratic processes, freedom of speech etc. In the quest for private space to do our own thing we sometimes forget that we are in fact impacting society in greater ways than we care to admit. It’s not only the deeds of public figures and celebrities that need greater scrutiny! Our own daily lives have to undergo greater moral inspection!

For the tenets and principles of 1 Malaysia to work, we must start by going back to the basics of the  moral teachings in our religions and holy books. There’s no point in having grandoise plans for economic revival and technological innovation if Malaysians don’t care a damn about right and wrong! There’s no point in telling the world we are a great nation when our morality is in shambles.

At the close of this eventful year, let’s each of us sit back and review our own standards of  morality! Let’s each of us decide to be a moral people that make up a moral society!

20
Dec
09

 

TRANSGENDERS

I grew up with a deep respect for transgenders!

In Seremban Busu Kassim and Mak Chik Embi were very much a part of our family’s social life, especially during weddings and cook-out sessions. Both were sought after for their skills in turning out the most wonderful  lauk and kuih and wedding craft like bunga telur and pelamin. They were the wedding planners and events organisers of yesteryear, executing their customers’ orders with the greatest attention to detail and an astute business sense – especially Busu Kassim!

Busu Kassim was a formidable person not only in his physical stature and gruff speaking voice but also in his outstanding culinary skills. I remember being in awe of him each time he came to the house in a crisply- starched baju kedah and kain batik sarong with the short hair slickly oiled and the wide, thin lips smeared orange with sirih dye. His tanned face would be patted unevenly with bedak sejuk and his dark eyes lined with celak as he rasped and perspired having travelled across Seremban town squeezed in a beca

We could see he was not particularly fond of children in the way he swept past us without even a glance as he greeted Che Jah my mother. The two got along really well and respected each other’s specialities. Every year she would faithfully place  Hari Raya orders for his halwa maskat which I didn’t really care for despite the fact that it was touted as the best in Negeri Sembilan. When there was a family wedding or special dinner to prepare  for Busu Kassim would be summoned to hold sway over his minions as they sweated over a kawah of  nasi minyak and huge belanga of kari daging, kurma ayam and a cauldron of rendang minang – all cooked over open fire and tasting delicious. My mother would hold sway over them in turn as she churned out her sabut-baked kuih bakar!

Mak Cik Embi was a gentler soul who was persuaded to become the family cook to spare her the trouble of  looking  out for business opportunities as she got older. And so she moved into the back quarters of 4 Lake Road with her adopted daughter Bariah who became my favourite playmate. And so she cooked for the family some of our most delicious daily meals of ayam masak kicap, ikan goreng berlada, peria udang and kobis masak lemak putih. She made perfect karipap, kuih genggang and kuih kesui for afternoon tea.  

Mak Cik Embi was much taller and slimmer with thick,  coarse hair cropped short. She had the loveliest pair of light brown eyes, with a rim of grey which I now discover is a sign of high cholesterol. And she had the widest of smiles, a grin almost that showed her one gold tooth to perfection. An added bonus was that Mak Cik Embi latah, breaking out into spurts of uncontrollable verbal and non-verbal lashings as she reacted to our proddings. She danced and she sang  and she stirred the gulai like crazy as we urged her on but never for a moment did she lose control of her innate sense of modesty. Her short floral baju kedah remained intact as did her batik sarong!

My siblings and I often wondered about their sexuality but never for a moment did we question them or make them feel uncomfortable. Openness was not a virtue in those days! Neither was discussing your sexual inclinations an obsession!

I suppose  we referred to Busu Kassim as a male because of his masculine gait and gruff voice; and we referred to Mak Cik Embi as a female because Bariah called her Mak although she too had to shave daily. They were welcome in our home and in our lives at a time when there was little  fuss made about and attention given to people’s differences whether it was sexual, racial, social or religious. 

It was not yet fashionable to be different or marginalised!

 

Evolution of the term transgender

The term transgender (TG) was popularised in the 1970s[5] (but implied in the 1960s[6][7]) describing people who wanted to live cross-gender without sex reassignment surgery.[8] In the 1980s the term was expanded to an umbrella term,[9] and became popular as a means of uniting all those whose gender identity did not mesh with their gender assigned at birth.[10]

In the 1990s, the term took on a political dimension[11][12] as an alliance covering all who have at some point not conformed to gender norms, and the term became used to question the validity of those norms[13] or pursue equal rights and anti-discrimination legislation,[14][15] leading to its widespread usage in the media, academic world and law.[16] The term continues to evolve.

[edit] Transgender vs. transsexual

Billy Tipton was born in 1914. He began living as a man full-time by 1940 at age 26, had a career as a jazz and swing pianist and entertainer, a common law marriage (unregistered but publicly accepted), and three sons by adoption. He was discovered to have been female-bodied after he died in 1989 due to a hemorrhaging ulcer (that he refused to have treated). Like many female-to-male transsexuals of this day he did not have genital surgery.

The word transsexual, unlike the word transgender, has a precise medical definition.[17] It was defined by Harry Benjamin in his seminal book “The Transsexual Phenomenon”.[17] In particular he defined transsexuals on a scale called the “Benjamin Scale”, which defines a few different levels of intensity of transsexualism; these are listed as “Transsexual (nonsurgical)”, “True Transsexual (moderate intensity)”, and “True Transsexual (high intensity)”.[17] Many transsexuals believe that to be a true transsexual one needs to have a desire for surgery. [18] However, it is notable that Benjamin’s moderate intensity “true transsexual” needs estrogen medication as a “substitute for or preliminary to operation.”[17] There also exist people who have had sexual reassignment surgery (SRS) but do not meet the definition of a transsexual, such as Gregory Hemingway.[19][20], while other people do not desire SRS yet clearly meet Dr. Benjamin’s definition of a “true transsexual”.[21] Beyond Dr. Benjamin’s work, which focused on Male to Female transsexuals, there are cases of Female to Male transsexuals for whom surgery is often considered to be not practical.[22]

Outside of the above medical definition there is a wide range of gender expressions which are contrary to the norm. Cross dressers, drag queens, transvestites, transvestic fetishist etc. It is notable that many transsexuals go through one of those self identifications before realizing that they are in fact transsexual.

Some transsexuals also take issue with the term because Charles “Virginia” Prince, the founder of the cross dressing organization Tri-Ess and coiner of the term “transgender”,[23] did so because she wished to distinguish herself from transsexual people. In “Men Who Choose to Be Women,” Prince wrote “I, at least, know the difference between sex and gender and have simply elected to change the latter and not the former”.[24] There is a substantial academic literature on the difference between sex and gender, but in pragmatic English, this academic distinction is ignored and “gender” is used mostly to describe the categorical male/female difference while “sex” is used mostly to describe the physical act.[25]

There is political tension between the identities that fall under the “transgender umbrella.” For example, transsexual men and women who can pay for medical treatments (or who have institutional coverage for their treatment) are likely to be concerned with medical privacy and establishing a durable legal status as men and women later in life. Extending insurance coverage for medical care is a coherent issue in the intersection of transsexuality and economic class. Most of these issues can appeal even to conservatives, if framed in terms of an unusual sort of “maintenance” of traditional notions of gender for rare people who feel the need for medical treatments. Some trans people might express this by saying “I don’t challenge the gender binary, I just started out on the wrong side of it.”[26]

[edit] Transgender identities

Albert Cashier, a trans man who served as a soldier in the US civil war.

While people self-identify as transgender, transgender identity includes many overlapping categories. These include cross-dresser (CD); transvestite (TV); androgynes; genderqueer; people who live cross-gender; drag kings; and drag queens; and, frequently, transsexual (TS).[27] Usually not included are transvestic fetishists (because it is considered to be a paraphilia rather than gender identification). In an interview, artist RuPaul talked about society’s ambivalence to the differences in the people who embody these terms. “A friend of mine recently did the Oprah show about transgender youth,” said RuPaul. “It was obvious that we, as a culture, have a hard time trying to understand the difference between a drag queen, transsexual, and a transgender, yet we find it very easy to know the difference between the American baseball league and the National baseball league, when they are both so similar.”[28] These terms are explained below.

The extent to which intersex people (those with ambiguous genitalia or other physical sexual characteristics) are transgender is debated, since not all intersex people disagree with their gender assigned at birth. The current definitions of transgender include all transsexual people, although this has been criticized. (See below.)

The term trans man refers to female-to-male (FtM or F2M) transgender people, and trans woman refers to male-to-female (MtF or M2F) transgender people, although some transgender people identify only slightly with the gender not assigned at birth. In the past, it was assumed that there were far more trans women than trans men, but a Swedish study estimated a ratio of 1.4:1 in favour of trans women for those requesting sex reassignment surgery and a ratio of 1:1 for those who proceeded.[29] There is a school of thought that says terms such as “FtM” and “MtF” are subjugating language that reinforces the binary gender stereotype.[30]

The term cisgender has been coined as an antonym referring to non-transgender people; i.e. those who identify with their gender assigned at birth.[31]

WIKIPEDIA

19
Dec
09

 

YEAR’S END

A time for celebration and a time for reflection!

A time to live and a time to die!

Birthdays and wedding anniversaries or the anniversary of a death always make one pensive as one recollects the year that has been and the people that matter. Some are still here to impact one’s life in one way or another!Some are gone forever leaving the memories so dear!  

With human relationships the recurring concerns are always love, trust and responsibility and that nebulous thing called happiness! While the first three can be made manifest in action and behaviour and survive the onslought of time, the last is harder to determine and elicit. It’s something that you feel in the innermost part of your being for a fleeting second or minute or hour. It’s something that is the effect of action and behaviour and can be sustained for just so long. You can feel unending love or trust but you can’t be happy forever!

The ending of a year is a time for reflection and a time for recollection – of what has been. It also marks the beginning of a new year – a time of hope and a time for renewed vows for what is to come!

Human relationships are also full of dejection, disappointment and despair and worst of all grief! When it happens one feels a void and an emptiness as though life will never be the same again. But like happiness, sadness  has a way of lifting itself out ot the depths of our being. It is as though the human heart is built out of a lot of reserves and wants to renew itself! And it heals and heals well if one allows it to! If we don’t it will eat itself up and die!

Talking of reserves and renewal, of trust and responsibility one can’t help reflecting on the life of the nation that we all love – our beloved Malaysia!

Thinking of the trials and tribulations that our young nation has endured I’m reminded of the truism “When has there been a time when things were right  for a country and its people?” Come to think of it – never! Society  (like the humans it comprises) is never absolutely right or wrong but only in comparison synchronically or diachronically! When we sadly lament how much better the nation’s life was in the 60s or 70s it is only in retrospect and in comparison to what it is now when corruption and crime are rampant and our economic woes are severe.  But we forget to measure the little happinesses that we now enjoy with the nation’s modern conveniences and facilities which we did not know before.

Diachronially things are worse or better along the continuum of time, when we compare ourselves to our past. Synchronically Malaysia is better or worse off at a certain point in time when we compare ourselves across the globe!

I believe all is not despair and doom as the cynics and sceptics would like to paint of the country. Like the voluminous reserves in our puny human heart that repair and replenish to set us on our journey again, the nation’s reserves comprise the sum total of the people’s hearts.

I believe that if all of us strive in our public lives as we do in our private, we will build a better Malaysia next year and in the years to come. If there have been national disappointments and national disasters, there is a time for renewal and hope if we keep our hearts and minds open! Much better prospects than the destruction and death of a nation!

AULD LANG SYNE!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

13
Dec
09

 

LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

To liken the dirty Malaysian taxies to the nation’s dirty public toilets may be accepted as an exaggerated comparison! But to say that  the attitude of Malaysian taxi drivers is worse than the dirty toilets is unfair and unacceptable – as Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz has found out!

Twice in a row within the space of a week, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department has created a controversy because of  his  language use. The first episode was when he called Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad a “racist” for defending  the National Civics Bureau training modules. 

In both instances there  have been adverse reactions to Nazri’s rather presumptuous  use of language, leading to calls for him to apologise and resign.While Nazri may be able to get away with his “loose talk”  in comparing the behaviour  of “unscrupulous and dishonest” taxi drivers to dirty toilets in the context of  the most frequent complaints of tourists ( last year it was the dirty toilets and this year it is the errant taxi drivers),  his use of the semantically-loaded word “racist” cannot be so easily dismissed.

Idioms and metaphors exist in every language and are very much culture bound. They arise out of the customs and traditions of the people and the context and environment of their lives. There are many types of figurative language – similes (comparisons), euphemisms (understatements) and hyperboles (exaggerations) and they vary in form and structure as they do in their meanings and implications across languages and cultures. Translating  figures of speech and idiomatic language can lead to gross inaccuracies in meaning and use.

The cleanliness of Malaysian public toilets leaves much to be desired and it may be creative to exaggerate and compare the dirty taxis to them. Language is a living entity and grows with the creativity of its community of users. If Malaysians are happy to accept and use a modern simile “as dirty as Malaysian public toilets” then the idiom will eventually become entrenched in Malaysian culture. In English culture it is customary to compare an untidy or dirty room to a pigsty. This would be highly offensive in Malay culture where you would choose other animal metaphors like macam tempat kucing beranak or macam reban ayam. One can just imagine a Malaysian in the UK saying – “this room is so dirty like a Malaysian toilet!” When you translate it into Malay, it sounds even cruder “bilik ini kotor macam jamban/ tandas Malaysia!”

But  regardless of which culture or ethnic group you belong to, it would be unacceptable to compare the behaviour of a group of people to dirty toilets. Not only is comparing human behaviour to something static and lifeless semantically incorrect, it is also not proper for a Minister to degrade the behaviour of the errant taxi drivers in such harsh terms.

As a responsible Minister, Nazri must choose his words wisely and be constructive in pointing out the failings or shortcomings of a particular individual or target group. Instead of antagonising the taxi drivers with insulting remarks, Nazri should himself be a model of  courteous behaviour, and provide information on excellence in taxi service in a nation-wide campaign or competition for taxi drivers and taxi companies. Educating the taxi drivers would be more effective than chiding them!   

Nazri’s use of the word “racist”, however, may not be so easily forgiven. Literal language has a direct, referential meaning defined in the dictionary and thesaurus. “racist”  refers to a person who discriminates against or is antagonistic towards other races. For Nazri to call Mahathir a racist is a serious matter indeed as the term has far-ranging implications in the politics of multiracial Malaysia. He would have to furnish evidence of  the anti-racial discrimination and antagonism that he is ascribing to the former Prime Minister. He would have to show more than his usual bravado of words and take heed of the Malay saying sebab mulut badan binasa!

10
Dec
09

 

UNPARLIAMENTARY LANGUAGE

Although members of the British Parliament have immunity from prosecution, protecting their right to make statements and bring charges that may be in the national interest, there are necessary restraints preventing attacks on the character and dignity of individuals. The basic characterization of unparliamentary language is that in the view of the Speaker of the House of Commons or equivalent chamber, it breaks the rules of respect. The convention of politeness whereby British Members of Parliament refer to each other as “the honourable” and use other artificial formulas of respect extends to not accusing each other of lying, being drunk, misrepresenting, or insulting each other. This last category is, of course, less easy to define. The specific terms to which the Speaker has objected over the years include blackguard, coward, git, guttersnipe, hooligan, rat, stoolpigeon, swine , and traitor . These vary from the most serious moral condemnations to vulgar abuse. The usual procedure is for the Speaker to demand that the offensive terms be withdrawn, failing which the Member of Parliament will be disciplined or dismissed from the Chamber.

Although unparliamentary has been used in a generalized sense from the early seventeenth century, the first record in the Oxford English Dictionary of the phrase “unparliamentary language” dates only from 1810: “The Speaker stated that … a member had used unparliamentary language” ( Sporting Magazine , XXXV, 302). However, there have been some spectacular earlier breaches. When Oliver Cromwell dissolved Parliament on April 20, 1653, he launched a damning verbal broadside at the incumbents: “Ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government. Ye are a pack of mercenary wretches and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage.” He pointed at individuals, and called them “whoremasters, drunkards, corrupt and unjust men,” adding: “Ye have no more religion than my horse…. Perhaps ye think this is not parliamentary language. I confess it is not, neither are you to expect any such from me.” Some members protested, more at his language than his unconstitutional action in closing Parliament. (S.R. Gardiner 1903, 262-63).

In spite of the conventional prohibitions, the House of Commons has witnessed some extraordinarily savage insults inflicted in the course of debates. The contests between Charles James Fox and William Pitt in the late eighteenth century were legendary. The debate on the Irish Home Rule Bill (July 27, 1893) degenerated into a fracas and a fight lasting twenty minutes. On May 15, 1846, Benjamin Disraeli attacked Sir Robert Peel in the following terms: “I find that for between thirty and forty years the right honourable gentleman has traded on the ideas and intelligence of others. (Loud cheering.) His life has been a great appropriation clause. (Shouts of laughter and cheers.) He is a burglar of others’ intellect … there is no statesman who has committed political petty larceny on so great a scale. (Re- newed laughter.)” (W.F. Monypenny 1912, Vol. II, 353). Disraeli’s rhetorical cunning is to avoid the “unparliamentary” words thief and theft , using more polite, high-register but equally damaging equivalents. Disraeli used the same rhetorical technique in publicly dismissing his great enemy and rival William Gladstone with withering sarcasm as “a sophistical rhetorician inebriated with exuberance of his own verbosity” ( Times , July 29, 1878). Perhaps the most famous and witty of these technical evasions was Sir Winston Churchill’s use of the phrase “terminological inexactitude” as a substitute for “lie” (February 22, 1906).

In the House of Commons of Commonwealth countries, the definition of “unparliamentary language” is broader. Thus in the Canadian it is interpreted as “any language which leads to disorder in the House.” In February 1971 the Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau caused a minor scandal when he allegedly told opposition M.P.s to “fuck off.” This was a unique occurrence. In the Australian House of Representatives there is still more latitude, shown in a number of colorful instances, such as this from 1970: “I never use the word ‘bloody’ because it is unparliamentary. It is a word I never bloody well use” (Hornadge 1980, 145). Some exchanges involve extremely insulting language, such as this in 1975:

Dr. R.T. Gun (Labour):    “Why don’t you shut up, you great poofter?”

Mr. J.W. Bourchier (Liberal): “Come round here, you little wop, and I’ll fix you up.”

(Cited in Hornadge 1980, 166)

The South African Parliament has stricter definitions and rulings over “offensive and unbecoming language.” From 1994 (the year of the first democratic election) to 2001, the number of expressions ruled by the Speaker to be “unparliamentary” rose annually from five to thirty. The most common expressions were lie/liar/lying, shut up , and racist , the last category generating many specific terms commonly heard in the past, such as boy, monkey, golliwog, ape, baboon , and other local insulting words for blacks, such as coconut, hotnot (a corruption of Hottentot ), and one newcomer, token black .

Rule 19 of the United States Senate prohibits “language unbecoming a senator.” Although breaches are not common, according to the Washington Post (June 25, 2004), Vice President Dick Cheney, then president of the Senate, told Senator Patrick J. Leahy (Democrat, Vermont) to “fuck yourself” in the course of a widely publicized exchange on the floor of the Senate. However, the Senate was not in session at the time, and Cheney did not apologize.

The term unparliamentary has had a minor general currency, being included in Farmer and Henley’s dictionary Slang and Its Analogues (1890–1904) in the slightly euphemistic senses of “abusive, obscene, unfit for ordinary conversation.”

<a href=”http://encyclopedia.jrank.org/articles/pages/833/Unparliamentary-Language.html”>Unparliamentary Language</a>

08
Dec
09

 

OF MPs AND MINISTERS

The call by the Speaker of the Dewan Rakyat, Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia, for the country’s elected representatives to observe the highest standards of parliamentary behaviour and decorum is long overdue. The decision to conduct a series of seminars and workshops to empower the Yang Berhormat with the appropriate skills and know-how to conduct themselves in the best interest of the rakyat  is timely indeed!

For too long Malaysians have been observing the shameful behaviour of  some of the country’s MPs as they verbally abuse each other in the august house of parliament. While most MPs are serious and decorous in their debates and argumentations, there are some who are persistently abusive and rude. Not only are they clownish in their gestures and mannerisms, they also resort to name-calling and the use of curse words. Instead of upholding  their stature as honourable MPs who articulate their views convincingly, they display unruly behaviour, not unlike that of  the street hooligans that they want to reform.

A  key area in parliamentary behaviour that needs immediate reform is the use of appropriate language and discourse. It must be understood that the language of parliament is formal and its register (tone, style , vocabulary and grammar) must observe acceptable patterns and structures. The colloquial street and  home language varieties that Malaysians use contain words and expressions that are not suitable at the higher level of discourse required at office meetings, media interviews and political platforms. Certainly, name calling (monkey and monyet) and the use of curse words (celaka and gangster) should not feature as part of parliamentary verbal behaviour inside or outside the building.  Instead of being provocative and  calling Tun Mahathir a “racist”, a Minister of Dato’ Seri Nazri’s experience should know better than to stoke destructive sentiments by his choice of words!  

Before Malaysian parliamentarians can rise to the occasion and exhibit great eloquence and logical argumentation, they should undergo a rigorous linguistic training which many of them have not had the opportunity to experience. Much research has been done at the Faculty of Languages and Linguistics of the major public universities on language registers, discourse analyses and strategies. Many Language for Special Purposes programmes are conducted to raise the level of proficiency in selected linguistic skills. If the linguistic skills of the Malaysian MPs and Ministers are properly developed and they learn effective discourse strategies, they will become better representatives of the rakyat and will be able to articulate their concerns more convincingly.

Then Malaysia can boast of having MPs and Ministers who are serious about upholding the honour and dignity of the House of Parliament and their own privileged positions.




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