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24 April 2014

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Al Jazeera

Sufi poetry has been largely misunderstood by modern pop culture.

Sorry to ruin this, but when you read poetry by Jalal al-Din Rumi or any other Sufi figure’s poems, the wine is not literal, and Layla is not actually a woman. It is quite a depressing realisation to witness great Sufis such as Rumi become reduced to drunkards raving about their current love partners or unable to get over losing their past ones. This is precisely what modern pop culture’s misappropriation of Sufi poetry about love has done.

The reason we love poetry so much is because it is a venue where we let our imaginations soar. The best poets are ones that most people can identify with in some way. Poems that speak to universal meanings can be flexible in their applications to different contexts, thus becoming a place of solace for the readers. However, this activity becomes disingenuous when the poet and the context in which he or she wrote are manipulated to suit one’s own projections. For example, Rumi’s poetry can be summarised in one line that was recorded in pre-Islamic poetry: “Verily, everything other than God is a falsehood.” But it seems that today, Rumi quotes are cited in the context of, “Verily, everything other than my girlfriend or boyfriend, including God, is a falsehood.”

The misuse of Sufi poetry is symptomatic of modern culture’s combination of materialism with self-spirituality. The theme that runs through the New Age movement is about experiencing the “Self” because it is the way to experience the “God” or “Goddess” within. As noted by Peter Pels in his 1998 article ”Religion, Consumerism and the Modernity of the New Age”, the New Age emphasis on self-spirituality is rooted in late 19th or early 20th century occultism.

It is a detraditionalised form of faith that internalises religiosity, turning an individual’s reliance to be on “inner voices”, and in turn rejecting any outside authority. The Self reigns supreme in place of anything external to it. It is therefore ironic that religious Sufi symbolism, which was used to express annihilation of the Self in the presence of the Divine, is now being used to express the elation of the Self in the presence of another’s.

By worshipping the Self, the New Age movement gave rise to a form of neo-paganism, which survives through appropriation and consumption of religious symbolism. Given the individual nature of the consumption process, ultimate meanings intended from religious symbols are exchanged for relative experiences of Self-worship, which ironically render the symbols ultimately meaningless.

Moreover, given the tandem development of the New Age movement in popular culture alongside popular religion, it can be expected that popular misuse of religious symbolism will have an impact upon the religious. As religious symbols are presented outside of contexts they were created to serve within, they begin to lose their significance for the religious in an insidious way that desacralises the Sacred and grants sanctity to the secular.

The misappropriation of Sufi poetry can be seen as resulting of unfamiliarity with how Sufis made their indications. For example, the intoxication of wine refers to the loss of one’s sense of rational self in the sea of Divine Love. The tavern is the experience of being overwhelmed from being surrounded by Divine Presence. Layla is an Arabic female name that linguistically refers to the darkest night of the month, and in Sufi poetry refers to the hidden realm that lies behind outward appearances of this world.

A Sufi line of poetry that talks about becoming intoxicated from a single sip of wine served in the tavern before Layla appearing naked, is not talking about getting drunk and losing one’s mind out of love for a woman before proceeding to fulfil lustful desires after her.

The abundant use of metaphors and various rhetorical devices in Sufi poetry has polarised Muslim theologians ever since they began. Some of their statements taken literally are in direct contradiction with basic foundational beliefs and practises in Islam. This polarisation was exacerbated with Sufi symbolism that would invariably lead to misinterpretations if one were not familiar with it.

Wine, tavern, and Layla are among the recurring symbols that in popular culture are understood at the literal level first before they are taken as metaphors. However, as many Sufi poets and saints have warned, their poetry begins at the metaphoric level to indicate literal meanings other than what first comes to mind, all of which revolve around the Divine. It is interesting to note that out of fear of misappropriating their symbols, various Sufi figures have warned against reading their works without the guidance of a teacher.

It is not uncommon to find within the Sufi tradition phrases like: “We are a people of metaphors, not of literalism,” and “Metaphors for us are what literalism is for others.” For this reason Al-Ghazali (c. 1056-1111 AD) said that no one has attempted to explain the essence of what Sufis talk about except that they fall into explicit error. He also said, “Know that the wonders of the heart are outside of sensory experience.”

Hence, if one seeks to gain a closer understanding about what Rumi and other Sufi poets were talking about, they must suspend their own material and worldly projections and put such poetry in its proper metaphysical context.

In a culture of materialism and illusory appearances, Rumi and other Sufi poets’ works are meant to serve as indications that there is something more than what we experience with our senses. Their poetry was not about escapism through intoxication or loss of self-awareness for the sake of another material being. Rather, their message was to serve as reminders about the Formless Being by which all forms come into existence.

When Rumi speaks about the love of lovers, he refers not only to the love they share between each other, but about the love they both share towards the Being that transcends their beings. In this, the lovers become united as they share a common desire to transcend beyond each other’s sense of Self and Self-worship. Unless this is appreciated, the depths of Rumi’s words will not be realised, as they should, and we risk the complete loss of their significance.

24 April 2014

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The Telegraph

The 450th anniversary of the Bard’s birthday on Wednesday will see an explosion of tributes and performances – how different to 50 years ago. Jonathan Bate explains how the playwright became a global icon

William Shakespeare

The 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth was marked by a set of Royal Mail stamps, a gala performance by the recently established Royal Shakespeare Company, a new biography by A L Rowse and a rollicking Anthony Burgess novel about his love life. Fifty years on, this seems like a modest commemoration. It was the Beatles and Disney’s Mary Poppins that were making the cultural running in 1964.

This week, by contrast, it is a racing certainty that every major news outlet in the world will have something to say about the Bard of Avon’s 450th birthday, which falls on Wednesday. And this is only prologue to the wall-to-wall programme of celebrations, productions, exhibitions and documentaries being planned for 2016, the quatercentenary of his death. Shakespeare has become a global icon, not merely a local heritage product whose presumed birthday conveniently coincides with St George’s Day.

At the time of his death, he was a much admired dramatist. But Francis Beaumont, who passed away a few weeks before him, was equally admired, on the basis of far fewer plays. The centenary of Shakespeare’s birth fell soon after the theatres reopened with the Restoration of the monarchy, following the period when the Puritans had closed them down for the duration of the Civil War. His plays formed a staple part of the repertoire, but those of Beaumont and John Fletcher were performed more frequently. Shakespeare only pulled ahead of the pack in the Georgian era. It was around his 200th anniversary, under the auspices of the great actor David Garrick, that he took on his status as National Poet and exemplar of artistic genius. He has never fallen out of fashion, but in the past 25 years or so his reputation has become truly stratospheric. In Britain and around the world you can see more Shakespeare than ever before. It may indeed be that his reputation has reached its high-water mark and can only recede.

At the time of the 400th anniversary, which fell in the interim between the closure of the Old Vic and the opening of the new National Theatre, there was only the RSC and regional rep. Now there is the Globe, a plethora of West End productions — Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet and Martin Freeman as Richard III hard on the heels of Jude Law as Henry V and David Tennant as Richard II — and an extraordinary wealth of smaller-scale Shakespeare by Propeller, Cheek by Jowl, The Tobacco Factory, Filter and dozens of other innovative touring companies. In North America, at least two dozen cities have a summer Shakespeare festival. Modern cinema has produced everything from a Samurai Macbeth to several Bollywood Romeo and Juliets.

The success of Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V in 1989 heralded a revival of Shakespeare on screen following a period in the doldrums. But an even more important turning point was the triumph of Shakespeare in Love at both the box office and the Oscars. Tom Stoppard’s brilliant screenplay drew such strong parallels between the Elizabethan theatre and modern Hollywood that the film contrived to turn Shakespeare into a celebrity. It made him our contemporary at precisely the moment when culture was taken over by a rage for the now, a cult of the new.

Our age of novelty and celebrity, of 24/7 entertainment news and ever-renewing digital information, leaves little time for the measured appreciation of Shakespeare’s more demanding contemporaries such as Ben Jonson and John Donne, let alone the epic poetry of other classic authors such as Edmund Spenser and John Milton, who were once as admired as the man from Stratford. It is only Shakespeare whose language and characters have taken on a life of their own, enabling his work constantly to accommodate itself to the new. There is a quotation for every occasion, a character parallel for every figure in public life.

Shakespeare — along with Jane Austen — is becoming the token representative of a cultural past that is otherwise forgotten. The danger is that if we lose the ability to place him in the context of his age, we may cease to understand him. Students struggle with aspects of his language because they no longer share that knowledge of the Bible and classical antiquity which Shakespeare expected of his audiences. When Hamlet says that he is not like Hercules or when Shylock calls Portia “a Daniel come to judgment,” most Elizabethans would have understood the allusion. Soon we will all need a footnote.

On the other hand, the passion for Shakespeare has become a way of opening up his world and keeping it alive. Over the past couple of years, I have had the good fortune of being consultant curator for the British Museum’s 2012 Cultural Olympiad exhibition “Shakespeare Staging the World”, of writing the script for Simon Callow’s one-man show Being Shakespeare, and of presenting a global online course exploring the collections of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-upon-Avon. In each case, I’ve been amazed by the enthusiasm, the inquiring spirit and the knowledge of thousands of people, from teenagers to octogenarians.

How knowledgeable should we expect our schoolchildren to be about Shakespeare?

During the Government’s recent overhaul of GCSEs, I was asked to join a consultative group advising on the English Literature syllabus. It quickly became clear that the minister wanted to prescribe two Shakespeare plays for every 16-year-old in the land. I argued, to the contrary, that there should be one Shakespeare play and one play by anybody except Shakespeare. It cannot be in Shakespeare’s interest for teenagers to associate him with compulsion, for his plays and his alone to have the dreaded status of set books.

That said, recent years have witnessed great progress in the way in which Shakespeare is taught. Back in 1964, the tendency was to parse the text on the page and pay little attention to the theatrical life of the plays. There was a degree of mutual suspicion between academic critics and theatre professionals.

All this has changed. Much of the best modern scholarship has focused on the practicalities of performance in the Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre, while the history of Shakespeare on stage and screen has become a thriving sub-discipline in its own right. The education departments of the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Globe are getting into schools and persuading teachers to get pupils on their feet, speaking the lines aloud and fitting the word to the action.

The crucial next step will be the adaptation of Shakespeare to the digitised classroom of the future. By the time the 500th anniversary is celebrated in 2064, textbooks will have been replaced by some version of the tablet computer. There are already exciting initiatives in the creation of Shakespeare apps for the iPad, most notably a project led by Sir Ian McKellen and the director Richard Loncraine, in which the plays can be simultaneously read and seen, with all sorts of contextual and explanatory information reachable at a click.

In a verse preface to the First Folio of the complete plays, his friend and rival Ben Jonson predicted that there would come a time when Shakespeare would be held in as high regard as the great writers of antiquity. “Triumph, my Britain, thou hast one to show,” he wrote, “To whom all Scenes of Europe homage owe.” Shakespeare’s Britain stood on the threshold of the modern world. Britain’s Shakespeare was a creation of the 18th and 19th centuries, an era when the nation and thus the national poet moved on the world stage. There is, wrote Maurice Morgann, one of his 18th-century admirers, “nothing perishable about him … the Apalachian mountains, the banks of the Ohio, and the plains of Sciota , shall resound with his accents … when even the memory of the language in which he has written shall be no more.”

Now it is not just “all scenes of Europe” but almost all countries in the world that pay homage to William Shakespeare. His works are our most enduring cultural export.

24 April 2014

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Malaysia-Chronicle

Malaysia has yet to decide whether to publicly disclose an initial report submitted to international aviation authorities on the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, the country’s director-general of civil aviation said on Wednesday.

The Southeast Asian country has filed the preliminary report as required by the International Civil Aviation Organization, Azharuddin Abdul Rahman told a news conference. He didn’t specify when it was filed or offer any details of the contents.

“We have issued the preliminary report and we have sent it to ICAO,’’ Mr. Azharuddin said. “We have not make any decision yet whether to release it to the media or public.”

Such reports are usually disclosed, in the public interest, although that isn’t required. Asked whether Malaysia would eventually disclose details of the investigation into the disappearance, Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said at the news conference that “with the public interest globally, I think there’s no way that we can avoid making it public.”

Reports to the ICAO, a U.N. body based in Montreal, are required from the country conducting an investigation within 30 days of an accident and would include the sequence of events and other technical aspects.

The Boeing 777-200 disappeared March 8 with 239 people aboard during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, and the search is focused on a portion of the Indian Ocean based on analysis of satellite data and possible pings from the flight recorders. No confirmed wreckage has been found.

24 April 2014

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TMI

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is convinced he will go to jail for his sodomy conviction, probably for even longer than the five years he was given, as he said the judicial process is staked heavily against him.

The de facto PKR leader, who disclosed that foreign leaders like former US Vice-President Al Gore and Irish President Mary Robinson had advised him during his recent trip to London not to return to Malaysia and be jailed, said the refusal of the Federal Court registry yesterday to allow him an extension of time to file his petition of appeal against the conviction was just the latest legal hurdle he had to overcome.

The deadline for filing the petition is today (Thursday).

Decrying the refusal as an abuse of the judicial process, Anwar said it was another “clear testimony” that the courts were being used by Umno leaders to harass him.

“It is definitely harassment and an abuse of process,” he said.

“I’m just waiting. I don’t know how much time I have.

“A month, two months before they send me to jail,” said Anwar, who was in Kuching to speak at the Reformasi 2.0 rally last night.

Anwar also spoke on the harassment he said he had to deal with when his appeal was heard in the Court of Appeal.

He said the courts advanced the hearing of his appeal by a month to “fit in” the dates of the Kajang by-election.

Anwar was to have been Pakatan Rakyat’s candidate in the March 23 by-election in Selangor that was called after the incumbent, Lee Chin Cheh, unexpectedly resigned on January 27.

However, the Court of Appeal’s “swift” decision in overturning a High Court ruling and finding him guilty meant he was not eligible to contest.

His wife Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail replaced him as the PR candidate.

PKR legal bureau head Latheefa Koya yesterday said even with the deadline today, the Federal Court registry asked Anwar to file a formal application, which included a notice of motion, to ask for more time to file the grounds of appeal.

Karpal Singh, who was Anwar’s lead counsel in the case, was to have filed the appeal.

Karpal was killed in a tragic road accident along with his personal aide last Thursday.

Latheefa described the court’s refusal as highly inconsiderate and showing a lack of sympathy and understanding over the tragic death of Karpal.

Anwar, meanwhile, said the refusal meant his new lead counsel Datuk Sulaiman Abdullah did not have enough time “to go through the files and files of notes”.

“It appears the Federal Court is bent on rushing the appeal and this can be seen in their failure to grant an extension of time,” Latheefa added.

Anwar’s latest brush with the court prompted him to warn that other key opposition leaders could suffer the same fate as he did.

He said with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak “manipulating the Attorney-General and judicial system”, opposition leaders like Batu MP Tian Chua, Pandan MP and PKR strategic director Rafizi Ramli, Seremban MP Anthony Loke and PAS deputy secretary-general Dr Syed Azman Ahmad Nawawi were “all on the list of people to be charged and jailed”.

23 April 2014

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The Economist

Barack Obama is bound to disappoint on his forthcoming trip to Asia

A STRATEGIC “pivot” or “rebalancing” towards Asia and the Pacific is central to American foreign policy under Barack Obama. So it is more than embarrassing that the president has had to cancel trips to the region at short notice—most recently last October, when the partial shutdown of his administration forced him to pull out of two regional summits. This gives added significance to his tour of Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines from April 22nd. It is the chance to reassert America’s military and economic commitment to three treaty allies, one prospective “strategic partner” (Malaysia) and to the region as a whole, as it struggles with the implications of China’s rapid rise.

That reassurance is needed all the more after America’s failure to intervene in Syria and, especially, its failure to contain Russian expansionism in Ukraine. Both episodes feed into a perception of a declining American appetite for keeping the peace, and of a declining ability to do so. Countries such as Japan and the Philippines, facing an assertive Chinese approach to disputed territory, are naturally concerned. If America will do so little for Ukraine, will it risk lives and treasure for uninhabited rocks in the East or South China Sea? In theory, circumstances are so different that America’s Asian allies should have no cause for concern. Unlike the Syrian opposition and Ukraine, the Japanese and Filipinos have mutual security treaties with America.

Indeed, if America did involve itself militarily in another conflict in the Middle East or in eastern Europe, its Asian allies would fret that the “rebalancing” was deemed, as they had feared, a lower American priority than other parts of the world. It is a battle for regional reassurance that America, it seems, simply cannot win.

Other problems complicate things further. One is the poor state of relations between America’s two most important allies, Japan and South Korea. Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, seems as unpopular in Seoul as he is in Beijing. His decision last December to visit the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo, where war criminals are honoured, confirmed South Koreans in their view of him as an unrepentant historical revisionist, in denial about the atrocities Japan inflicted on their country during its colonisation. So, rather than co-operating with Japan in dealing with an immediate threat from North Korea and a potential longer-term one from China, South Korea prefers to make common cause with China to condemn Japan for its failure to confront the past. It took a big effort to persuade Park Geun-hye, South Korea’s president, to join a trilateral meeting with Mr Obama and Mr Abe at a nuclear summit in the Netherlands last month. Coaxing them to work together when he is not in the room will be even harder.

Another difficulty lies in distinguishing strategic support for a country from political support for its current rulers. America finds much to admire in Mr Abe: his determination to drag the Japanese economy out of its deflationary morass; in particular, his promise to take on domestic lobbies by joining American-led regional trade talks, the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP); his desire to see Japan play a bigger role in its own defence. But it also deplores the often revisionist attitude to Japan’s history that, for Mr Abe and his supporters, animates these policies.

Similarly it finds Malaysia a model of moderate Islamic democracy and its prime minister, Najib Razak, the friendliest leader it has had in decades. But Malaysian politics is poisonous. Anwar Ibrahim, the leader of the opposition, which won the popular vote at last year’s election, is appealing against a sentence handed down last month of five years in jail for sodomy. Many Malaysians believe the prosecution is politically motivated.

Mr Najib has taken Malaysia, too, into the TPP. Another problem facing the “rebalance” is that this, its most important economic dimension, is in trouble. The impetus of Mr Obama’s tour itself may generate a breakthrough in the shape of agreement between the TPP’s two biggest economies, America and Japan. But ratification of the TPP will face domestic political obstacles in a number of countries, not least America itself. Many in Asia have noticed that Mr Obama seems loth to spend much domestic political capital on this or other aspects of American commitment to the region. Mr Obama may have trouble convincing his friends in Asia that America’s rebalance is genuine.

China, for its part, is keen to cast doubt on America’s regional staying power. Yet, oddly, its own government seems convinced by it. It sees the rebalance as an attempt to encircle China and counter its rise. Some of this resentment emerged in testy exchanges when Chuck Hagel, America’s defence secretary, was in Beijing this month. China blames America for encouraging Japan and the Philippines to confront it over disputed rocks. Its leaders worry that America’s decision to deploy two more Aegis-class destroyers to Japan to counter the threat from North Korea is in fact directed against China. It has noticed that America supports the Philippines in its legal challenge to China’s claim to most of the South China Sea, and has just signed an agreement with it allowing more of its troops into the country. And Congress is likely to authorise the sale of four pensioned-off frigates to Taiwan.

Be careful what you wish for

China’s reaction is perhaps the most fundamental of all the factors making the rebalance so tricky. America insists it is not trying to contain China or thwart its rise. But if that is so, how to convince Asian allies of an unshakable military commitment to the defence of islands, reefs and rocks of no obvious relevance to American security? And if America is in fact trying to stand in the way of China’s rise, then its Asian allies would also take fright at a dangerous confrontation between the region’s two big maritime powers. The rebalance, meant to reassure them without alarming China, risks the opposite: alienating China and scotching promising areas of co-operation, yet leaving its neighbours, America’s friends, more nervous than ever.

23 April 2014

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KUCHING

22 April 2014

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TMI

Despite 85 pages of rhetoric, the Court of Appeal’s written judgment (the “Judgment”) convicting Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim of sodomy has failed to establish the only corroborative evidence of the charge – the DNA evidence.

This is a case of one man’s word against another, with no eyewitness to the incident.

Without establishing the DNA evidence beyond reasonable doubt, the Court of Appeal has no business to overturn the High Court judgment acquitting Anwar on ground of doubtful integrity of the DNA samples.

The crucial question to ask is: have the samples become vulnerable to tampering after the sealed plastic bag containing individual receptacles holding the samples was cut open by the investigating officer without authority and kept for prolong duration before delivering them to the chemist?

The prosecutor said no, reason being that the individual receptacles were also sealed, hence, the samples were protected.

Sample tampering irrefutable

But the catch is: while the plastic bag which was heat sealed was tamper-proof, the seals to the individual receptacles were not tamper-proof.

Australian forensic pathologist Dr David Wells testified that the seals to the receptacles could be removed and resealed based on the materials used and the manner of sealing, after he had examined them.

Appeal Court judges of Datuk Balia Yusof Wahi, Datuk  and Datuk Mohd Zawawi Salleh, who took the highly unusual step of appending their signatures to one single written document, dismissed Dr Wells’ claim by saying “he merely looked at the containers in court and gave his opinion solely from the manner in which these containers were sealed and the type of material used as seals. That was merely his opinion pure and simple”. (para 121 of the Judgment)

It was, of course, Dr Wells’ opinion. What else could he do other than expressing an opinion?  If the seals were not readily removable, why didn’t the prosecution refute his claim?  As a matter of fact, according to Anwar, who saw the receptacles in coAziah Aliurt, these seals consisted of only “ordinary and easily removable tapes and easily removable KL Hospital paper seals” as stated in his statement in dock.

Is that the reason Dr Wells’ testimony was not challenged in court?  Would he have been let off the hook if in fact the claim was false, knowing the critical importance of the issue?

And why did Jude Pereira take the reckless step of cutting open the permanently sealed plastic bag? He said he wanted to put the receptacles into individual envelopes and re-label them. But that explanation was obviously phoney as rightly pointed out by High Court judge Datuk Mohamad Zabidin Mohd Diah for the simple reason that each of the receptacles had already been clearly labelled by the hospital doctors and Pereira’s mission was merely to deliver them to the chemist withoMohamad Zabidin Mohd Diahut any input of his own.

Shockingly, despite the opening of the plastic bag had opened the gateway for meddling with the samples in the unsecured receptacles, the judges declared such unauthorised action as not amounting to tampering with the samples, even repeating Pereira’s incredible claim that he was merely following standard operation procedure (para 85).

Talking about SOP, is it also SOP to place the samples in Pereira’s personal steel cabinet for 42 hours instead of the police freezer, which was a beach of police standard practice, as well as defiance of KL Hospital forensic pathologist Dr Siew Sheue Fong’s strict instruction that the samples be kept in freezer?

Why have the judges completely omitted to mention the defence claim that such prolong storage under room temperature would have damaged further the already much degraded samples?

Being a senior police officer familiar with forensic investigation, Pereira must have known that his reckless beach of discipline in his mishandling of the samples could fatally damage the integrity of the chain of custody as well as the quality of the DNA samples, both of which are of vital importance to the prosecution case.

Then why did he still do it?  What was it so compelling that he had to take such risks?  Why did he keep the samples to himself for 42 hours?  If he was not up to something sinister, what was he up to?

Dubious DNA samples

Could that explain the miraculous phenomenon that the these samples were later found to have suffered no degradation at all, despite being retrieved 56 hours after alleged sodomy and stored for another 42 hours under room temperature, something unheard of?

The two Australian experts held the view from their long careers that semen collected 36 hours after ejaculation could hardly be successfully tested for the sperm’s DNA due to degradation.

DNA expert Dr Brian McDonald testified from his observation of test reports handed to him that the profiles of DNA tests for various samples taken from the rectum including those showing DNA of Male Y (which prosecution claims to be those of Anwar) showed no evidence of degradation.

This contradicted with the samples’ history, inferring that they might not be the same samples that were retrieved from complainant Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan’s rectum by the hospital doctors 98 hours earlier.

In addition to such contradictions which cast serious doubt over the credibility of the DNA findings, the two Australian experts also pointed out many discrepancies, deficiencies and flaws of the chemist’s DNA reports and hospital doctors’ examination reports, including the exposure of the puzzling presence of DNA of multiple people extracted from Saiful’s rectum, which the chemist have overlooked, compounding the crisis of confidence in these reports.

These are, of course, serious challenges to the prosecution case, which stands or falls on the DNA evidence.

Slamming of experts childish

But instead of taking these Australian experts’ opinion head on with equally professional counter argument, the judges seem to have found a short cut by resorting to name-calling to devalue the Australians’ testimonies while simultaneously enhancing the status of statements made the government’s professionals.

Thus, the Australians have become “armchair experts” who have no practical experience (false, of course) to lend credibility to their argument, while the government chemists have “impeccable credentials” with competence in both the academic and practical fields.

The judges even went to the extent of concurring with lead prosecutor Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah’s submission that the Australians’ evidence were “speculative and theoretical if not hypothetical, thus lacking in probative value” (para 142).

In contrast, the evidence of the two local chemists was described as factual and based on their own analysis of samples.

Then, using the premise of “lacking in probative value”, the judges in one sweeping stroke, rejected the Australians’ critical testimonies on all the critical issues, which are sample tampering, doubtful DNA reports and penile penetration (para 150).

Presto! Problem solved! The Australians’ unfavourable testimonies are set aside in favour of the affirmative ones submitted by government professionals. The prosecution case is thus saved.

But what is the truth?

Dr Wells, a forensic pathologist, specialises in sexual assault cases. He is head of Clinical Forensic Medicine at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine, Associate Professor in the Department of Forensic Medicine at Monash Unviersity, Member of the Advisory Panel – National Institute of Forensic Science, Member of the International Editorial Board of the Journal of Clinical Forensic Medicine.

He has worked with World Health Organisation in establishing medico-legal services for victims of sexual violence in developing countries.  He has written several books and articles on sexual violence and awarded the Order of Australia Medal.  He has testified in all levels of courts where his testimonies have been accepted.

Dr Bian McDonald, holding a PhD in pathology, is a consultant molecular geneticist.  He is a member of the Australian Forensic Science Society, member of the Australian Biomedical Society and served as committee member of the Human Genetics Society, a director of both DNA Consults and Molecular Genetics for the Sonic Clinical Institute.  He was also a head geneticist officer in New South Wales.  He has written books, papers and articles on the subject of DNA, a list of which fills up five pages.

Clearly, the above credentials speak for themselves, and show how utterly irresponsible is the act of rejecting those expert opinions en bloc with the cavalier and childish comment on those evidence being “mere opinion, speculative and theoretical”, which actually reflects the shallowness of the writer of the Judgment, whoever he is.

Penile penetration

On the subject of anal penile penetration, this is another major flaw of the prosecution case.  All the four doctors who had examined Saiful had reported no sign of penetration, which contradicted the latter’s testimony that the “fast and furious” act had caused him pain.

Though the three government doctors later changed their tune, however, their revised views were based on the subsequent report issued by the chemist, who claimed the presence of semen of “Male Y” in Saiful’s rectum.

Such revised view had, of course, zero value, as the doctors’ report must be based on their own observations and not on subsequent reports issued by others.

Anwar’s statement in the dock

Was Anwar a coward, scared of being cross-examined in the witness stand as insinuated by the judges, when he chose to give an unsworn statement in dock as his defence?

Anyone who has read his 9,000-word statement which took him an hour and 20 minutes to deliver in court, could not have failed to be moved by the endless series of injustice he has suffered and his cries of despair that he would ever receive justice in the court.

The long litany of unjust treatment he had received at every step of his judicial defence as enumerated by him has proved beyond the slightest doubt that this is political persecution, not a criminal trial, where the verdict is a foregone conclusion.

There is no better testimony to that than the shock with which the world greeted the acquittal of Anwar at the High Court three years ago, as the proceedings of the trial had been so manifestly unfair and vindictive that no one expected an acquittal.

Alibi

That the prosecutor and the judges did not let go the slightest opportunity to build up the perception of guilt against Anwar is seen in its dishonest inference that Anwar didn’t call alibi witnesses because they couldn’t have substantiated his story of innocence.

This is double injustice to Anwar, because it was the powers that be that had put a spoke to his alibi defence.  Anwar said in his statement in dock: “My alibi witnesses made known to the prosecution were in fact included in the prosecution list of witnesses, which was not supplied to my lawyers. They were defence alibi witnesses. I am informed this is the first time this has been done.”

Anwar also gave the example of the owner of the condo where the alleged incidence took place, Hasanuddin Abd Hamid, who was harassed by the police for a total of 30 hours where his statements were video recorded. Another alibi witness, Fitria Dipan the maid, ironically offered by the prosecution, couldn’t even be traced.

Prosecution + defence v defence

A trial judge is supposed to be an umpire, taking a neutral position to weigh without prejudice the merits and demerits of facts and legal arguments presented by the prosecutor and the defence and deliver his decision at the end of the hearing strictly according to facts and relevant law, without fear or favour.

But this is distinctively not the case in the present trial. Reading through the Judgment, one can’t help but get the impression that there is an invisible dividing line separating the prosecutor and judges on one side and the defence on the other. With due respect, it looks like a joint effort to fix the respondent, and let the facts and law be damned.

In fact, the outcome of this trial was already self-evident when Anwar’s request to replace specially invited lead prosecutor Shafee was rejected all the way to the highest court. Being an Umno lawyer and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s confidante, Shafee’s role as prosecutor was to part of a political agenda.

Now that Anwar has appealed to the Federal Court, the nation will hold its breath at what will happen next.

Will it be another saving grace for the judiciary, or will it be another plunge that will trigger off a new phase of bruising conflict that will cause much suffering, but with the prospect of opening up a new era for the nation?

22 April 2014

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Malaysiakini

Former Malaysian Bar president Sulaiman Abdullah is slated to replace the late Karpal Singh as Anwar Ibrahim’s lead counsel in the Sodomy II appeal in the Federal Court.

A source familiar with the case confirmed today that Sulaiman has agreed to act for Anwar.

“Ramkarpal, who played a pivotal role during the Sodomy II trial and in the appeal before the Court of Appeal, will also be part of the team,” the source revealed.

Sulaiman, who had played an initial role in the Sodomy II appeal before Karpal’s team took over, had a main role in the Sodomy I trial.

Karpal, 73, died in a car crash on April 17, that also killed his assistant J Michael Cornelius.

Anwar was found guilty by the Court of Appeal on March 7 and sentenced to five years jail for Sodomy II.

The written judgment was made available last Wednesday to Karpal’s firm. Appellants have 10 days to file the petition stating their grounds of appeal.

Extension of time

A source said Anwar’s legal team will seek an extension to file the petition of appeal which is due by Friday.

“Ramkarpal is scheduled to file an extension for the petition of appeal either today or tomorrow,” the source said.

“We are also preparing for any eventuality if this is not allowed and will make arrangements to file it on Friday.”

Anwar was acquitted by the Kuala Lumpur High Court on Jan 9, 2012, but the prosecution appealed the decision.

The final appeal will be decided at the Federal Court.

 

22 April 2014

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The last time Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia’s opposition leader, was sent to prison, he read the complete works of Shakespeare, (five times), wrote essays and treatises, gave interviews and strategised about how best to lead the opposition party to victory against the ruling party, which has governed this south-east Asian nation for nearly 60 years.

Ten years later, he once again faces imprisonment on sodomy charges, which he claims are politically motivated.

His case has gripped Malaysia in its range from the absurd to the bizarre. Charged in 2008 with sodomising a former male aide, Anwar was cleared in 2012 on lack of evidence. But an appeals court overturned the acquittal last month on the eve of a byelection in Malaysia’s richest state, Selangor, where he was tipped to become chief minister.

Not only did the conviction rely on a witness of doubtful testimony, the appeal was led by the government and the lead prosecutor suddenly did an about-face and switched to Anwar’s defence team.

“It’s a sign of desperation on the part of the government,” said Anwar of his conviction, in an interview in London, where he is visiting his friend and former American vice-president Al Gore, after being granted a stay of sentence. “They think because the (next general) elections are four years away they can literally get away with murder.”

Anwar, 66, is Malaysia’s longest-suffering political opponent and greatest threat to the incumbent Umno government, led by the prime minister Najib Razak, whose Barisan Nasional (National Front) alliance has ruled the country since independence.

Anwar is a polarising figure in a conservative nation of 30 million, where his political career has spanned formidable highs and lows: once serving as the deputy prime minister and finance minister, he was courted by international media and graced the cover of Newsweek, then fell out spectacularly with the premier Mahathir Mohamad.

Anwar has long contended that all the charges against him were politically motivated, with the sodomy convictions based on an archaic colonial law rendering sex between men a punishable offence, even if consensual. Very few sodomy cases ever make it to court and Anwar and his supporters believe his charges to be a political ploy to keep him out of politics in a conservative nation built on family values. He first spent six years in prison, mostly in solitary confinement, until his release in 2004.

This second sodomy charge followed a stellar performance by Anwar’s three-party opposition coalition in the 2008 general elections, at which the opposition made huge gains against the Barisan Nasional – and was overturned in 2012 by Malaysia’s high court.

Analysts believe there was “no coincidence” regarding the overturning of that acquittal last month, with human rights groups, the US state department and UN all questioning the legality of the court decision.

“This trial was all about knocking Anwar Ibrahim out of politics, pure and simple,” said Phil Robertson, of Human Rights Watch. “The Malaysia judiciary … has shown how hard it is to get a free and fair trial when political issues are at play.”

Yet it is not just Anwar the government seems to be targeting, say civil rights groups, who point to the arrest and conviction of other prominent opposition MPs, such as Karpal Singh, who was convicted of sedition, under another ill-used colonial-era law, as a means to thwart an opposition that has had big gains in the last two general elections, as well as in the byelections last month.

“What’s alarming is the extent to which this government, which is supposed to have won the election, is going to undermine the opposition,” said Ambiga Sreenevasan, a lawyer and former chair of Bersih, the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections. “This is really without a doubt a clear-cut case of selective – I’m going to call it persecution – not prosecution.”

Anwar’s conviction could once again be overturned, pending a federal court hearing expected within the next month. But in a nation where the definition of justice depends on “what the government of the day feels like doing”, said Ambiga, it was unclear just how far Malaysia would go to silence its opposition.

As for Anwar, who could well choose to never return to Malaysia, life in his home country, whether behind bars or atop rally stages, seems the only option for fighting for a democracy that he says will one day prevail.

“There is no benefit to going back to Malaysia,” he said. “(But) I decided a long time ago that I wanted to go back because it is my conviction, it is my firm belief, that Malaysia has to mature as a vibrant democracy that has no corruption, abuse of power or leadership that has been squandering billions of dollars.

“It’s tough when you consider my wife and children suffer, but they know, and I discussed it with them, they support me even though they are not happy for me to endure this again. But we have to weather the storm. I am always optimistic.”

A mass rally backing Anwar is planned for 1 May in Kuala Lumpur, where other rallies in support of Bersih, calling for clean and fair elections, have attracted hundreds of thousands of Malaysians to take to the streets in recent years.

“Tyrants, authoritarian leaders, are not permanent features. They are racing against time. Over the temporary setbacks, the clamour for reform or democracy is irreversible,” Anwar said.

Published in The Guardian UK, 20 April 2014

21 April 2014

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TMI

Penghakiman Mahkamah Rayuan terhadap kes Liwat II Ketua Pembangkang Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim dibuat secara tergopoh gapah, kata Datuk Mat Zain Ibrahim.

Bekas ketua pengarah Jabatan Siasatan Jenayah Kuala Lumpur itu menegaskan, selain mahkamah melakukan kesilapan, prosiding rayuan berkenaan turut dicemari campur tangan kerajaan, terutamanya Peguam Negara Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail (gambar).

“Hakim Mahkamah Rayuan membuat keputusan tersebut secara tergopoh-gapah, tanpa memberi pertimbangan yang mendalam dan menyeluruh kepada keterangan-keterangan yang dibentangkan kedua-dua pihak sejak mula prosiding tersebut diadakan.

“Selain Mahkamah Rayuan sendiri ada membuat tafsiran silap menyentuh fakta mustahak, prosiding rayuan tersebut dicemari tindakan pihak kerajaan dan khasnya Peguam Negara,” kata Mat Zain dalam satu kenyataan di Kuala Lumpur hari ini.

Beliau berkata, kerajaan dan peguam negara juga mengemukakan beberapa kenyataan tidak benar, dan/atau membenamkan keterangan mustahak atau yang memihak kepada tertuduh daripada pengetahuan mahkamah.

Dalam penghakiman setebal 85 muka surat yang diedarkan kepada media minggu lalu, mahkamah memutuskan adalah selamat untuk mahkamah mensabitkan  Anwar terhadap pertuduhan meliwat bekas pembantunya Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan kerana terdapat cukup keterangan untuk mengesah dan membuktikannya.

Mahkamah berkata, sekiranya diandaikan tiada bukti menyokong keterangan Mohd Saiful tentang fakta berlakunya penetrasi, adalah selamat untuk mensabitkan Anwar.

Panel tiga hakim Mahakmah Rayuan diketuai Hakim Datuk Balia Yusof Wahi dalam penghakiman bertulis bertarikh 11 April berkata, terdapat cukup keterangan lain yang membolehkan elemen pertuduhan dapat disah dan dibuktikan.

Penghakiman mahkamah itu turut memutuskan isu kemungkinan sampel DNA diambil daripada Mohd Saiful diusik oleh pegawai penyiasat kes Superitenden Jude Blacious Pereira dan tercemar juga tidak dapat dibuktikan.

Mat Zain berkata, sekiranya mahkamah rayuan tidak tergopoh-gapah membuat keputusan, sebaliknya meneliti mendalam keterangan yang dibentangkan oleh kedua-dua pihak, semenjak prosiding bermula pada 2008, mereka sendiri akan menemui fakta dan banyak lagi keterangan yang menunjukkan salah laku terancang pihak pendakwaan dan penyiasatan dalam prosiding kes tersebut.

“Pada pendapat saya, perkara yang terpenting dalam hal ini ialah Gani Patail hilang kelayakan dari sudut moral dan undang-undang, untuk terlibat dalam apa kapasiti pun, bersangkutan dengan pertuduhan yang dikenakan terhadap Anwar dalam kes ini.

“Apa-apa keputusan yang beliau ambil atas sifat Peguam Negara berkaitan perkara ini dan termasuk melantik Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah mengepalai pasukan pendakwaan di peringkat rayuan ini, boleh dipertikaikan dan wajar disemak semula,” katanya.

Beliau turut berpendapat, hakim Mahkamah Rayuan bergantung bulat-bulat kepada hujah yang dibentangkan Shafee sahaja, tanpa menghiraukan semua bantahan dan laporan polis yang dibuat berkaitan pemalsuan yang diikrarkan oleh Shafee, dalam afidavitnya.

“Hakim Mahkamah Rayuan sendiri mendedahkan tingkah laku dan tindakan mereka untuk orang ramai menyimpulkan mereka memang berada di bawah tekanan dan pengaruh yang kuat daripada tangan-tangan tersembunyi,untuk mensabitkan kesalahan ke atas Anwar dengan apa cara sekalipun,” katanya.

21 April 2014

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Foreign Policy

Fame, acclaim, and a notorious friendship with Fidel Castro: The life of writer Gabriel Garcia Márquez was as fantastical and politically charged as his reality-bending novels.

Few contemporary writers and none from Latin America could match the scope of his influence or the radical inventiveness of his imagination. Affectionately called “Gabo,” Gabriel Garcia Márquez, the Colombian Nobel laureate, journalist and author, was the most celebrated Latin American cultural export of his era. He died, at 87, on April 17, in his home in Mexico City. His glamorous mystique — the houses and apartments strewn across Europe and the Americas, the glossy magazine profiles, the voluptuousness of his words – was offset by the author’s self-deprecating charm and humble back-story. The chasm between his socialist beliefs and the opulent lifestyle to which he ultimately grew accustomed attracted criticism, to be sure, yet his literary reputation never sagged under the weight of that paradox.

It was the 1967 publication and 1970 translation into English of his most famous novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, that vaulted the author to stardom. In that novel, the head of the allegorical Buendía family interprets the world according to his own perceptions. In a warped chronology of events, Macondo’s founding family is regenerated ceaselessly, through revolution, natural disaster, and incestuous coupling. Translated into English by the peerless Gregory Rabassa, One Hundred Years of Solitude has sold tens of millions of copies worldwide. It gave exuberant voice to a region of the world that had previously been viewed as lush but inscrutable, best known by many Americans and Europeans for its political instability and violence.

As in most of his fiction, in One Hundred Years of Solitude, the author said he sought to destroy “the lines that separate what seems real from what seems fantastic.” He did so with rapturous virtuosity, emotional insight, and humor.

When the New York Times reviewed the book in 1970, the reviewer, John Leonard, described the work not so much as a piece of literature, but as an experience: “You emerge from this marvelous novel as if from a dream, the mind on fire. A dark, ageless figure at the hearth, part historian, part haruspex … first lulls to sleep your grip on a manageable reality, then locks you into legend and myth.”

While One Hundred Years of Solitude is a sweeping metaphor for Colombian cultural history — ghosts and modernity, colonialism and liberal reform, the introduction of railroads, the hegemony of American corporate interests and military jackboots — the mythical town of Macondo itself was inspired by Aracataca, the Colombian village where Garcia Márquez lived with his maternal grandparents until the age of eight. There, he absorbed his grandmother’s supernatural folklore. His left-leaning grandfather, a retired colonel, bequeathed the author a lifelong fascination with military and political power.

Garcia Márquez was the eldest of 11 children (though his father, a pharmacist, also claimed several illegitimate offspring). In the fictional Macondo, the character Colonel Aureliano Buendía, “had seventeen male children by seventeen different women and they were exterminated one after the other on a single night before the oldest one had reached the age of thirty-five. He survived fourteen attempts on his life, seventy-three ambushes and a firing squad.” Such prose, at once epic and compressed, inspired an entirely new lit-crit lexicon, including terms like “Macondic.” Along with other Latin American writers, Garcia Márquez helped to popularize the genre known as Magical Realism.

But it’s the realism in his writing that’s often forgotten.

Garcia Márquez  was born in 1927, the year before the so called “banana massacre,” in which striking Colombian workers for the United Fruit Company were crushed by the country’s military, who were anxious to forestall a threatened invasion by the U.S. Marines — a scenario he recasts in One Hundred Years of Solitude. He was a gifted student and attended a state-run boarding school. Later, under pressure from his family, he studied law at the National University of Colombia in Bogotá, but soon turned his attention to writing and never completed his degree.

When a Colombian Liberal Party member was assassinated, triggering La Violencia, a decades-long period of civil strife and violence that led to hundreds of thousands of deaths and displaced citizens, Garcia Márquez gave up his legal studies completely and became a journalist. But he also read deeply the literature that would inform his development as a fiction writer. A particular obsession of young Garcia Márquez’s was William Faulkner, whose mythical Yoknapatawpha County in the American South has been called a precursor to Macondo.

As a columnist in Bogotá in the 1950s, Garcia Márquez wrote an expose about a naval shipwreck — the piece was later published in English as “The Story of A Shipwrecked Sailor” — that earned him the ire of the Colombian dictator, Gustavo Rojas Pinilla. To quell the fallout, the author’s newspaper sent him to Europe as a correspondent, but soon the government shut down the paper altogether. Garcia Márquez kept writing fiction while working as a journalist and moving frequently, with spells in Venezuela, Columbia, New York, and Mexico City. In 1958 he married Mercedes Barcha Pardo, who remained the unmovable pillar of his personal life until his death. The couple resided primarily in Mexico City and had two sons.

The left-leaning Garcia Márquez wrote admiringly of Fidel Castro, eventually befriending the dictator. Both trouble and fame attached to him; The Colombian government planned to have him arrested for his political activities, Mexico offered him refuge, and the French awarded him the Legion d’Honneur. In 1982, he won the Nobel Prize for literature. Later, he would say that he put the prize money in a Swiss bank account and forgot about it for years; he eventually used it to buy the weekly magazine Cambio.

While he was lauded for his literary achievement, there were those among even his most ardent admirers who were disheartened by his politics, particularly his cozy relationship with Fidel Castro, who showered his writer friend with gifts that included a house on the outskirts of Havana. He, in turn, described Castro’s “childlike heart … political intelligence, his instincts and his decency, his almost inhuman capacity for work, his deep identification with and absolute confidence in the wisdom of the masses….”

Critics and curious contemporaries reasoned that Garcia Márquez was simply star struck by a man in uniform. Others theorized that that the writer was using the friendship to bend the dictator’s ear, and help Cubans leave the island or avoid harsh treatment.

According to a 1999 New Yorker profile by Jon Lee Anderson, García Márquez, ”confirmed that he had helped people leave the island, and he alluded to one ‘operation’ that had resulted in the departure of ‘more than two thousand people’ from Cuba.

‘I know just how far I can go with Fidel. Sometimes he says no. Sometimes later he comes and tells me I was right.’

‘I know just how far I can go with Fidel. Sometimes he says no. Sometimes later he comes and tells me I was right.’” The White House, however, was not philosophical about the author’s political engagement, and for a period of years he was obliged to apply for a special visa to enter the United States. Garcia Márquez seemed able to live with the moral contradictions posed by his friendship with Castro. But, given the complex dilemmas he assigned his most compelling characters, it’s hard to imagine that he was a man who would fail to grapple with that relationship.

Take the journalist-narrator of Garcia Márquez’s slim, 2005 volume,Memories of My Melancholy Whores, who, nearing the end of his life, shares a ruthless self-analysis: “I discovered that I am not disciplined out of virtue but as a reaction to my own negligence, that I appear generous in order to conceal my meanness, that I pass myself off as prudent because I am evil-minded, that I am conciliatory in order not to succumb to my repressed rage….” Such honest writing is what makes Garcia Márquez’s characters so universally accessible, his fiction so humane.

But Garcia Márquez also embraced popular imagery, using melodrama, romanticism, and sentimentality unabashedly in novels like Love in the Time of Cholera, based on his own parents’ romantic history. He was a fan of telenovelas and boleros and even wrote a profile of pop-singer Shakira in 2002. The female characters in his fiction, while diverse, often fall into the category of dusky cat-eyed temptresses — the fiery Latinas of a good bodice-ripper. At the same time, child prostitutes and a scene during which a housemaid is raped while doing laundry, reveal a more pitiless and exploitative form of sexuality in his writing.

Through his fiction he undermined crude American stereotypes of Latin Americans and informed the world about the region’s recent political history. The author himself once noted, “For Europeans, South America is a man with a mustache, a guitar and a gun.” Perhaps not so much anymore, thanks in large part to what Garcia Márquez has left us.

21 April 2014

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