Friday, September 29, 2006

Prof Shamsul Replies

Ah...the power of the media and of the internet. I'm sure that Prof Shamsul's mailbox was flooded after his comments on the recent ASLI report appeared on Mkini. Tony blogged about it here and I posted a comment saying that I hope Prof Shamsul would issue a quick clarification statement. That he has done in today's Malaysiakini.

For our readers who don't subscribe to Malaysiakini, I'd urge you guys to do so immediately. But for the meantime, I'll reproduce his clarification statement here in full because I think he deserves a fair hearing. I'll post my comments after Prof Shamsul's clarification statement.

Shamsul’s clarification

On Sept 27, 2006, malaysiakini published an article entitled 'Bumi equity: Prof disputes study' which totally misrepresented my opinion of what I have to say about the study conducted by Asli (Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute) entitled “Corporate Equity Distribution: Past Trends and Future Policy.”

When I was asked about my opinion of the report, my respond was brief and simple: “I don’t know about the study, I haven’t read it and I have no opinion to offer regarding its content.”

Therefore, I categorically deny that I said what I had purportedly said, including “the study did not contain accurate facts” and the rest of it. By the way, I am a lecturer in social anthropology and not in political science as reported.

It is unfortunate and a great pity that my purported comments have attracted many negative, even crass, reactions from a number of malaysiakini readers. They have the right to do so if those were really my statements. But they were not.

What I offered instead were some general comments on previous such reports on the New Economic Policy (NEP), and not this particular report by Asli.

The gist of my general comment was that some of the reports that offered evaluation on the NEP thus far are not only inaccurate but also biased.

For example, some Malay-based interest groups would claim that the NEP has been well-received by all Malays. This is simply untrue. The Malay response to NEP has been a highly mixed one.

I have researched and written extensively about this with concrete empirical evidence. Those interested are invited to read my book Rancangan Malaysia Kedua:Tujuan dan Pelaksanaannya (1977) and also From British to Bumiputera Rule: Local Politics and Rural Development in Peninsular Malaysia (1986).

I have argued that the nature of NEP’s implementation has been, to borrow Wertheim’s famous words, “betting on the strong few and not on the weak many,” especially NEP’s second objective “to restructure Malaysian society”.

I also mentioned in my general comments to malaysiakini then that from my close reading of the numerous reports and analyses by academicians and non-academicians on the NEP in the last 25 years, I noticed two clear patterns.

The first exhibits a polarised pattern between, on the one hand, pro-establishment and on the other, critical of the establishment. Within each approach I find there exists a number of schisms, often based on ethnic lines and sometimes ideological ones.

In this context, it is not surprising at all that some of the reports on the NEP were highly ‘ethnicised’ in the sense that the studies were not motivated by the need to seek the truth but often to fulfill the ‘ethnicised’ agenda of a particular group.

The second pattern also exhibits a polarised one between, on the one hand, to view Malaysia and its NEP from an “alarmist perspective” and the other from a “consensus perspective.”

To the alarmists, the NEP is perceived as something negative to the general good of the society hence it is said that it could lead to a massive dissatisfaction amongst the various ethnic groups, which in turn could lead to an equally massive ethnic conflict in Malaysia.

Those in favour of the consensus perspective argue that Malaysia, with its NEP, is a society continuously struggling to find a fulcrum and, since it has to contend with a moving one, it is experiencing an almost perpetual state of ‘stable tension’ underlined by an unending negotiation to seek consensus-based solutions.

As such, in my opinion, some of the reports on the NEP had to be viewed with a dose of skepticism for methodological and epistemological reasons.

Therefore, I have indeed nothing to say about the Asli report as reported by malaysiakini, but got plenty to comment on published and unpublished reports and analyses on the NEP.

Finally, I definitely would like to obtain a copy of the Asli report and offer my genuine comments if I am given the chance, but perhaps, it will not be in the distorted and sensational form that appears in the article.

OK, my comments and thoughts now.

First of all, I've heard Prof Shamsul in many public settings before and he comes across as an articulate, witty and insightful academic. He's also one of the more prolific scholars in the local public university system and has done some good work on the development of the Malay community. Therefore, his seemingly 'off-hand' comments came as a surprise to me.

Secondly, I thought that it was possible that Prof Shamsul was misquoted or his quote was taken out of context. I've spoken to many local journalists in the past and I know the feeling of being misquoted or being quoted out of context (albeit not as sensationalized as Prof Shamsul's statement). Journalists hope to catch quick soundbytes which they can then use as a part of their overall report. My impression is that Prof Shamsul probably made a statement which sounded like - 'I would ask questions about the underlying motivation of the authors of any study on the NEP' or maybe something more flippant over the phone. The journalist in question probably jumped on that statement and made that the headline, ignoring the other things which Prof Shamsul might have said.

One of the benefits of studying overseas and having Malaysian journalist friends and contacts is that I can email in my responses instead of stating them over the phone. That way, I can guard against being misquoted. I can also think more about the issue and what I want to say instead of being rushed into saying something which I might regret later or which I've not reflected on sufficiently. But most journalists in Malaysia are on short deadlines and would prefer the phone rather than email. (It doesn't help if sources are slow to respond to email requests)

The downside of an episode such as this is that future sources might be more hesitant in speaking to Malaysiakini reporters on record. Perhaps, Malaysiakini should be more stringent when it comes to training their reporters and asking them to follow some sort of interview procedure in the future.

Prof Shamsul's full reply shows his more familiar (at least to me) academic side. His clarification statement is measured and reasonable unlike his previously reported remarks. I hope that this is the side that would have prevailed during the design of the Ethnic Relations course (of which, Prof Shamsul is the main course designer) which is about to be re-introduced to the public universities.

I'm sure this is not the last we've heard of the ASLI report and the responses to it. But at least some light has been shed on what Prof Shamsul actually said. As a social anthropologist, he wouldn't be the first person I would go to to comment on the ASLI report. Much better to go to an economist like Dr. Zainal Aznam Yusof who recently published a response to the ASLI report, of which I'll respond to after doing some more thinking and analysis. I'm sure Tony would have insights on this as well.


Anonymous said...

Hmm, this is the first time i read something written by Shamsul. His language quite power after all, unlike others. People that i admired is Marina and Azmi (meaning i don't admire this guy for whatever reason) The rest, have to think twice :P

Kudai said...

Kian Meng,

Prof Shamsul put it clear what he actually said. So, how about all those accusations made against him in previous post?

Tony P said...

Hi Kudai,

The earlier post was written by me and I have immediately updated the post upon reading Prof Shamsul's statement.

Here's the updated comments which I have earlier inserted into the earlier post:

[Update: Note that Dr Shamsul has written to Malaysiakini subsequently to state that the remarks made were taken very much out of context and was not specifically referring to the Dr Lim's report. His explanation is blogged by Kian Ming here, and published by Malaysiakini here. If the original Malaysiakini report which this post is based on, is indeed a misrepresentation of what Dr Shamsul offered, I'd extend my unreserved apologies here.]