Friday, November 18, 2005

A presentation in Singapore

In 2003-2004, Singapore also suddenly entered into my life like never before.

It began on 24 July, 2003 when I was invited by the Institute of South East Asian Studies (ISEAS) to present a paper on The Battle for the Malay Mind. On the same panel with me was Rehman Rashid, a famous Malaysian writer who was then working for the New Straits Times. The larger session included another famous guy K.S. Jomo.

I did prepare well an analytical paper outlining my observations on the political transition taking place in Malaysia and opining that there are actually two transitional processes going on. One was the change of the top leadership from Dr. Mahathir Mohamad to Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, while another one was - and still is - the larger and ongoing process of socio-economic and political transformation of the Malaysian society after, and as the result of, the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis and the subsequent Reformasi.

I also argued that, in the streets, there are many Malay minds as there are also many Chinese and Indian minds in Malaysian politics. It is not true that one ethnic community has only one mind in politics.

At first I was a little bit nervous because my paper was not strictly academic. However, it seemed that the academics appreciated some mixtures of political and journalistic perspectives. As for myself, I usually do not compartmentalise so strictly because as a former MP and senior journalist as well as fan of E.H.Carr who wrote, among other works, The Twenty Years' Crisis, 1919-1939, I always believe that " political science must be based on a recognition of the interdependence of theory and practice, which can be attained only through a combination of utopia and reality"

To be very frank, I have an aversion to the American 'Scientism' in the studies of politics where quantitative, statistical or mathematical 'models' suppress or eliminate the vital elements of human passions in real-life politics, such as collective memory, popular beliefs and social psychology.