The masthead of the first volume distinctly stated that the journal sought to fill a gap in the Asian studies publishing field, and I am glad to be able to do precisely this in the present volume. So a warm welcome to the odd piece: the truncated; the over-wieldy; the unfinished, or the poem. One thing’s certain, we are not trying to set a pattern [forgive me for not using the over-used postmodern/postcolonial faddish in-word: “paradigm” here], belong in a tradition, or uphold the status quo and the Establishment. Might we then quote, in an attempt to placate the latter, from one of the greatest sons of Asia, the 12th Century Persian astronomer-poet Omar Khayyam to whom may be attributed the Kuza-Nama [whether or not all the ruba’i(s) was/were actually composed by him] in the Fitzgerald version [132 &134]:
Another said – “Why, ne’er a peevish Boy
Would break the Bowl from which he drank in Joy;
Shall He that made the Vessel in pure Love
And Fansy, in an after Rage destroy!”
None answer’d this; but Silence spake
A Vessel of a more ungainly Make:
“They sneer at me for leaning all awry;
What? did the Hand then of the Potter shake?”
These pages are open to any research-minded “Asianist” interested in the course of events in Asianophone territories. By « Asianophone » countries I simply mean places and groupings of places whether tainted by national overtones or simply areas where Asian linguistic or other cultural influences tend to distinguish a way of life arising from the Asian continent. I certainly would not like to take any credit for the coinage, for it’s as simple as copying the words: Anglophone or Francophone. In my definition, I have however gone a little over the denotations of the latter words by making it possible for, say, North African countries or Pacific archipelagos to join the Asian fold, even if they get the feeling that they were not being consulted in the very first place.
There is however another meaning to the coinage which makes intrinsic sense. One has merely to reflect on the spontaneous gesture of the Pakistan government sending immediate aid to the recent earth-quake victims at Bhuj in Gujarat, and one need no more wonder why the majority of Muslims in India who total more than their brethren in Pakistan manage to live with their Hindu compatriots, all of which makes the repeated wars and wrangling over Kashmir a sort of direct hand-down from the British Raj days. Pakistan and India are therefore, at least for a moment in India’s distress, Asianophone countries. Another neighbourly gesture, however, may be interpreted in many different ways. President General Pervez Musharraf sent his Chief of General Staff recently to Sri Lanka to offer help and followed it up with $20 million in aid (the Czechs and Americans also followed close on the heels with aid) for the country’s eighteen-year debacle with the minority Tamils in the north and east of the island. Given the near-bankrupt state of the Pakistani economy and the country’s overwhelming foreign debt [cf. Sohail Mahmood’s article on his country], one might legitimately ask if President Musharraf is falling over himself to please those who have given Pakistan a helping hand with its economy. The Czech gesture is more than understandable: they are soon to gain admittance to the exclusive NATO club.
The Great One (Quaid-i-Azam) Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the paterfamilias of Pakistan, chose the “two-nation” path on the eve of the sub-continent’s independence, for he feared the majority Hindus might discriminate against the minority Muslims. In Sri Lanka, the minority Hindu, Christian, and Muslim Tamils have over the past half a century been relegated to a status of subservience by the majority Buddhist Sinhalese. It isn’t however clear if the minority Muslim Tamils had been discriminated against by the relatively “major” Hindu and Christian Tamil community in Jaffna. If this is or has been the case, of course it’s reprehensible, especially since the Muslim (Arab) Tamil-speaking community of the Eastern Province has fought alongside the Hindu and Christian Tamils and has been likewise discriminated against by the Sinhalese authorities ever since the outbreak of violence in 1983. In an unfinished dissertation on Tamil Muslims, in this issue, the late T.Ruthiran, aka R.A.Shankar, makes a cogent point about Tamil Muslim perceptions of their own identity which necessarily also applies to Tamil Muslims in Sri Lanka.
In the use of the Tamil language the Tamil Muslims show their greatest claim to a special ‘identity’.
Slogans such as “Islam is our Way and Tamil is our Language” occupy a pride of place among Tamil
Muslims in the ‘core’ region of Tamil Nadu. It is also echoed in the diaspora. [Ruthiran 2001]
General Musharraf’s support for the Sri Lankan war effort against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) may therefore be interpreted as a “needy” response to Muslim “isolation” by both the Buddhists, on the one hand, and Hindus and Christians, on the other, in the war-torn island, but can we, and may we, then expect his direct support or intervention in the name of some 8 per cent of the Republic of India’s population who are Muslims enjoying equal rights with Hindus, Christians, Jains, Buddhists, and Ajivikas (Atheists). The real tragedy in Sri Lanka is the fate of the civilian populations, irrespective of their racial or religious origins, in the island. Under the pretext of wanting to wipe out a “terrorist” organization, both Asian and Western governments have forgotten that the price being paid daily by both the contesting sides in Sri Lanka is peaceful civilian co-existence. For those in the north and the east and in Colombo the toll has exceeded all expectations.
Major and Minor Forms of Terror or rather legitimate and proscribed forms
Terror is a reign or an effective tool that both oppressors and the oppressed have always had recourse to in the fight for survival or gain. This is evidently not an attempt on my part to justify violence in whatever form it might rear its ugly head or plead for an ethical rationale for its use in a given circumstance. Violence is hardly a solution to any problem for it abuses, corrupts, and de-humanizes its user. It is nonetheless a routine fact of life, and there is no way by which we can avoid its interpolation in our everyday lives. Curiously, both Hindus and Muslims have sanctified its use. Witness Lord Krishna’s persuasion of Arjuna in the Bhagavad-gita before the outbreak of the Mahabharata, and the Quran’s “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth!” and the Jihad. Post-World War history, in the founding of the Israeli, Algerian, Malaysian, Indian, Chinese, bref, almost all modern Asian states, has legitimised inordinate and indiscriminate violence in the power-struggles to foist one country, community, race or political party over another almost all over the continent.. Even in Singapore and Malaysia, [not excluding Sri Lanka], the terror of no-trial detention under the British-introduced Internal Security Act, has been wielded by the authorities to cow a civilian population otherwise lulled to sleep by relative economic well-being.
Terror is also the oppressed minority’s last-ditch weapon to uphold and ensure its rights. Is it in any way different from the Armageddon terror of doomsday fire-power unleashed in Vietnam? No amount of justification or the doling out of largesse can reduce the nature and extent of the most preposterous abuse of military power ever committed in human history. The only way to end this debacle in Sri Lanka is to restore peace by all means that is available, without further complicating the issue by taking help, and thus orders, from other non-involved nations. Asian problems need to be addressed and solved by responsible Asian nations. Given its longstanding involvement in the Sri Lankan civil war, one might legitimately ask if Israel is an Asian nation? There are infinitely more Jews living outside of their homeland territory where they have long ago sprung deep or deeper roots than in Israel itself. The question is: In what way have the 65 million or more Tamils impinged on Jewish or Israeli rights for them to have committed themselves to seeking the suppression of Tamils in Sri Lanka? And in such a situation, what, if any, are the reactions of the majority Hindu Tamils and the minority Christian and Muslim Tamils to wilful Israeli participation on the Sinhala government’s side in the civil war? Do we have to be reminded that the Israelis constitute the only people in Asia for whose protection, during the Jom Kipur war, the Americans were willing to let loose generalized nuclear hell.
The heroin-addict news-editor of the Peshawar Frontier Post recently published an anti-Muslim blasphemous e-mail letter without first reading it, and the arraigned journalists and directors of the press now face the death penalty, with the difference that the letter was originally a ploy by a Jewish inter-nought! And General Musharraf showed that he was quite helpless in his official response to the incident, making it quite plain that he was going to accommodate fundamentalist demands for enforcing the shariah. The Sri Lankan government’s most fervent supporter in the eighteen-year-old armed ethnic conflict is the Israeli nation. Now, are we to suppose that Pakistan has become the inveterate ally of Israel? Not that this is not desirable, mind you! No one is suggesting that Pakistan and Sri Lanka should not get together to promote their own or their mutual interests. The recent talks held on both sides to develop interest in Buddhist architecture in Peshawar and Taxila are most welcome, indeed. While on one hand the agreement would promote tourism for Pakistan, on the other the Great Buddha’s teachings might receive the attention they most direly deserve at a time when the cultus rites take precedence over the truth of his understanding of man and his pitiful condition on earth.
The question of Asian solutions to Asian problems is nothing new, of course. It was envisaged long ago in the denouement of a British-proscribed satirical Malay novel: Putera Gunung Tahan written in 1937 by the late Malaysian writer Ishak bin Haji Muhammad. The book saw the light a couple of years later but was soon smothered by the colonial authorities, for the author was perhaps the first to ridicule the “master race” in fictional form. As the author himself said later on, “I wrote Putera Gunung Tahan in particular (to use it) as a weapon of war to demand independence and justice with the aim of expelling the colonialists.” And despite his intransigent aim, his novel ends on a note of forbearance. Through an adroit delineation of the protagonist Ratu Bongsu’s character, (the Prince of the Resistant Mountain, the title translated: in fact, the highest mountain in Peninsular Malaysia is to be found in Ishak’s native State of Pahang), one is allowed a wide glimpse of his noble nature; Ishak subtly warns off colonialist Britain by making the British characters Robert and William who covet the mountain domain feel that they are not welcome in Malay land unless they come to share Malay hospitality. Only Mrs. William accepts to remain as a guest, and after three years she falls in love with the prince, and they are happily married to reign together over the Utopian mountain kingdom forever after. [Wignesan 1988: 89 – 112]
In keeping with our editorial concerns and the journal’s inchoate interests, we must emphasize certain issues which appear to gather at the present moment the dimensions of full-scale crises, such as, the threat of Indo-Pakistani nuclear engagement over the Kashmiri thorn-in-the-paw, the Israelo-Palestinian frictional encroachment on either sides stamina for talks; the now almost unjustifiable embargo of medicines and other essential goods on Irak; the Sinhalo-EelamTamil fiasco; the West Irian plight; the throes of divided Korean rapprochement; the never-ending two Chinas question; and the vestiges of Cambodgian Khmer atrocities, the return to the elected assembly of rule in Myanmar, Saddam Hussein and the Kurd minority; the Afghan fundamentalist durcissement, to name but the simmering problems that catch the eye at first glance. Without wishing to enter into any polemic over the discussion of these unresolved Asian conflicts, we might however single out for emphasis the question of one or two faux pas on the part of Western powers who still seem to be exercising a self-arrogated colonial right of divine intervention in individual Asian nations’s affairs.
One, for instance, is the question of nuclear disarmament. The futility of requiring future Asian economic powers to drop out of the nuclear armament race need not be stressed. The question only remains to be ascertained if they would use it in a regional dispute without incurring at the same time a riposte from the major nuclear powers wanting to take sides. Asian leaders surely cannot be that daft to think that they could get away with a local nuclear war on a regional scale. So there really need be no great alarm to be sounded right away. One can only hope that a more mature and enlightened leadership will emerge on the continent with time when their primary concerns will be the uplift of the more than deplorable economic conditions under which generations of the masses in Asia have had to sweat it out in the past half a century and are still condemned to put up with. Some two generations of them have passed - or are in the process of passing - away without knowing what real independence or a decent normal comfortable way of life could be like. Japan and a few Lilliputian Tigers perhaps are minor exceptions, but what excuse can other Asian leaders proffer for the untold suffering of billions?
The major think-piece of this issue, “Good Governance Issues and the Musharraf Regime: An Analysis” comes from the pen of a Pakistani who is an American-trained political scientist: Dr. Sohail MAHMOOD, Assistant Professor at the Area Studies Centre for Africa, North and South America at the Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad. His round-up of the economic and politico-administrative predicaments of his native country covers a rather large area of reflection. Neither a monograph nor a thesis, it attempts through a wealth of documentational reference and statistics to minutely buttress a self-imposed argument of solutions for the ever-plaguing Asian problem of democracy, an erstwhile colonial importation, even if at the local village level Asians have retained their own workable democratic institutions of yore. To Professor Mahmood the problem is one where he has had to tussle with the idea of interchangeability: between autocratic and democratic rule. While on the one hand he comes down heavily on the former method of governance by drawing on the past history of his country, he cannot but – obviously given his training and awareness of other Western institutions – become quite inspirational – even giving vent to sermonising – on the importance of establishing permanent democratic institutions in Pakistan by or through the process of decentralization, the virtues of which he enumerates at the district and/or local government levels. Decentralization and devolution of powers to the provincial and the district level administrative apparatuses take up, however, a good deal of his elaborately diffused analysis.
Often his criticisms of the military regime on particular issues – even if they might appear sometimes somewhat “contradictory” - get tempered by a generalized wish to see it succeed with the specific advice he proffers: “contradictory” because Professor Mahmood’s democratisation appeals impinge on models requiring the need to apply Islamic principles in good governance, side by side or intrinsically embedded in the infrastructure of Western democratic institutions which are not necessarily based on ethically-motivated foundations. Likewise it is not always quite clear where the boundary between his own advice/critique and the government’s proposals for reform, such as for the civil service, may be drawn: they often intermingle and sometimes get enmeshed. Yet, when it comes to reviewing the state of the nation, he is quite categorical. “Given the past grave failures of all governments in our history, the Musharraf regime must be given the benefit of the doubt. Unlike other military regimes, it seems to be sincere in turning around Pakistan. […]The people owe the military regime their full cooperation because if it fails the country fails also.” The intentions of this journal on the question of the nature of the articles it carries is quite clear: No censorship! The Asian Asianist is welcome to make statements and proffer advice, as in Dr.Mahmood’s case, where a sincere involvement with the betterment of his people or nation is at stake.
On a larger economic perspective he tackles, though rather fleetingly, the issues of globalization and their effects on the national economy, but here his arguments and propositions get enmeshed again in an enthusiastic airing for a call to justice to rid all strata of classes - without sparing the armed forces as well - of corruption at all levels in a country, which, in his opinion, has veered away from fundamental Islamic tenets and principles. The call is clear, and so are his prescriptions and remedies. He achieves a level-headedness in his judgments by comparing his country’s achievements on a regional basis and by providing statistical data to reveal the place of his country vis-à-vis those of other neighbouring nations.
One can only admire his courage and sincerity in a situation which does not preclude a certain sense of risk-running on his part, even if much of his analyses and admonitions remain within the credible realm of constructive criticism. Criticism of any kind can easily be misconstrued, even when made evidently by a staunch patriot. In the ultimate analysis, we are here concerned by the considerable data and documentation amassed by a political scientist on the subject of his own country which he evidently – judging by his own previous publications – has studied with great care while bringing to it, perhaps, an ample dose of overweening passion.
I’m however glad to be able to provide space for such an essay and would welcome such thought-provoking analyses on other Asian countries or regions for future issues. It must however be reiterated here that the journal neither endorses nor rejects the opinions and views expressed by the contributors. Responsibility for the articles remaining entirely with the authors themselves, the editor merely edits the language and transforms/works on a preferred format presentation whenever this becomes necessary. As such the italicising and bold-type facing in the texts are the work of the editor, for the simple reason – in long articles – it facilitates reading, or note-taking, especially in the case of running e-zine pages. Where editorial queries appear, it merely signals doubts in meanings or interpretations that could not easily have been resolved through reference to the authors, themselves. Departures from the usual detached academic exposition in articles are not a bar to acceptance in this journal. If an academically-trained Asianist wants to make his contribution to the field of his study, and finds that he has at the same time rather strong views about how he should go about it, the editor does not feel obliged to require of him the usual straight-laced stuff one sees in other academically edited journals. This is a journal mainly for and by Asians, and no impediment will be placed in their way (provided of course the quality of the research in the contributions is beyond reproach) towards publication.
2) The Malay (Muslim) World or Monde Malais
Professor Emerita Asmah Haji Omar of the University of Malaya, the extremely prolific authority on Malaysian linguistics, attempts here in her article: “The Malay Language in Malaysia and Indonesia: from lingua franca to national language” to look at the prospects of Malay (or a merged Malayo-Indonesian tongue), as opposed to the sibling language Indonesian, laying the foundations of a form of linguistic and/or religio-political unity in the Malaysio-Indonesian archipelago, a question that has often teased the best nationalist minds on both sides of the Anglo-Dutch colonial divide. Of the many approaches available to the treatment of this subject of capital importance in the decades to come, she has preferred to take the safe, that is, the non-controversial, line by focussing on the historical development and importance of the Malay language and literature (though this aspect of the build-up remains somewhat sketchy) in the traditional Malayan territory: Peninsular Malaya and the Riau-Lingga archipelago. Then she comes to grips with the politico-linguistical situation in Indonesia in the nineteen-twenties and thirties, which – almost by chance – favoured the choice of Indonesian (spoken mainly in Sumatra) to the equally rich and more prevalent Javanese language at the epicentre of Indonesian political happening in the twentieth century.
After completing an historical survey of the growth of the two sister languages, and while subjecting them to close linguistic analyses, she arrives at two contrapuntally opposed conclusions which she thinks can be avoided in the future only if both sides take a more tolerant view of each other’s entrenched positions. Does she think one language will prevail as a national language in the monde malais? Her examination of the situation leaves the answers open-ended, even if she deems the traditional gap between the two languages to be growing wider despite voluntarily organized efforts by both governments to breakdown the festering differences by mooring them in common neutral ground, a gap, according to Professor Asmah, which is already far deeper than that existing between English and American.
3) Muslim Tamils in South and Southeast Asia
This issue begins – hopefully - a series on unpublished or unfinished theses and dissertations, due either to untimely death of the candidate or refusal on the part of university authorities to organize the viva, as the case may be, or simply on account of the student not being able to continue his studies for personal or financial or other reasons. It’s more than imaginable a veritable arsenal of notes must lie locked in abandoned trunks, dusty drawers, or folders. I’m willing to give these notes, plans, and unfinished chapters, etc., the necessary airing on the principle that not all viva-passed research work is the only academic student material worth publishing. I know of a case where a candidate was barred from a viva, and thus his degree, by an illustrious university simply because the candidate in order to prevent the plagiarising of his work by one of the members of the viva-jury took the initiative of copyrighting his research. So, all those concerned, dust out your “lost” theses, for here is your chance to put them out. If the mass of material proves to be ill-organized or too unmanageable in readable print, you might have to do the necessary editing before sending them to the journal.
The very first of such a projected series appears in this volume. The four computer files retrieved from a deceased doctoral candidate’s belongings, now in the possession of Mr. A. Jayanath, a Singapore, London, and Melbourne-trained political scientist, at present the Programmes Director at the Malaysian Institute of Micro-Electronics Systems, Ministry of Science and Technology, gives an inkling of what could have been expected of this researcher had it not been for his untimely passing in 1995. Other material relating to the research is yet to be examined, and it is thought further findings, such as, the doctorand ’s interviews conducted in Tamil with relevant savants in the field, might await disclosure. The next volume will carry a final round-up of his research.
The candidate, T. Ruthiran, aka R. A. Shankar, an Australian citizen of Indo-Sri Lankan origin born in Singapore, began his doctoral research in 1994 at the Flinders University of South Australia, in Adelaide, under Dr. Lance Brennan’s supervision. The title of his dissertation: Tamil-Muslims in Tamil Nadu, Malaysia and Singapore: Historical Identity, Problems of Adjustment and Change in the Twentieth Century. The material laid out here includes one file describing in detail his research objectives, another on chapter headings and topics, followed by a brief introduction on his research objectives, and finally a rather detailed description of eight chapters. There is enough evidence here to attest to the extraordinary capacity of this mature doctorand (he began his research at 57) to undertake research on a topic that required extensive field work as well. [This is probably why he did not include Sri Lankan Tamil-Muslims in his research plan, for the civil-war conditions reigning in the Eastern Province where they are to be found might have made access near impossible. Furthemore, the Indian authorities also placed unnecessary obstacles in his way in his attempt to undertake field research on Indian territory, further evidence of useless paparasserie to justify the cloisonné mindset of beaurocrats.] He began his studies at Flinders in 1991, after having served with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Canberra national television studios as a Senior Technical Officer, from 1969 to 1990. He had however qualified as an electronics technician from Sydney in 1969. He obtained a First Class Honours degree in History at Flinders University in 1994 and was immediately granted a Flinders University Doctoral Fellowship to undertake research.
These pages from his files reveal his exceptional capacity for conceptualising and organizing the topics of his research right from the very start. The care with which he undertook to lay out his premises, especially with regard to questions relating to ethnicity and identity, reveals a very serious-minded attempt on his part to work out legitimate guidelines right at the outset, rather than accumulate pell-mell all sorts of facts and figures through field work, followed by an attempt a posteriori to justify the topic of his doctoral dissertation. It goes without saying that here in embryo are the makings of a doctoral dissertation that could have easily plumbed virgin territory, while making a substantial contribution to Asian Studies in South and Southeast Asia.
4) A poetic essay
This issue also sees the first of the expected fictional pieces on an Asian theme, country, or people. “Wake! Asia! Wake” (Part One) was written in 1994, but the topics it raises to view have not disappeared with the lapse of time. If anything, on many issues the images it evokes can be seen to have grown even more sensitively intense, and therefore needing in urgent attention, today; hence the reason for its divulgation. Reform mostly begins as a matter of the heart, to be sanctioned only later by legislation, and therefore is a matter for poesy, especially since Independence concerns every fibre of each individual. To be set free is the most dangerous moment in any one life. It is equally, or more, so in the life of a nation, for the few in positions of power can by neglect or outrecuidance endanger it enough to hand the country over bound hand-and-foot all over again. Enslavers do not always come charging in the guise of St. Georges, the armoured knights on horseback, to the accompaniment of canons booming from frigates!
Fitzgerald, Edward. Transl. Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. New York: Avon Publications- Bard Books, s.d.
Ruthrian, T. (aka R.A.Shankar). Tamil-Muslims in Tamil Nadu, Malaysia and Singapore: Historical Identity, Problems of Adjustment and Change in the Twentieth Century, in The Asianists’ Asia, Vol.2 (Paris), February 2001. http://hometown.aol.com/wignesh/AA2.htm
Wignesan, T. Etude comparée des literatures nationales et/ou officielles de la Malaisie et de Singapour depuis 1941. 3 vols. Tome I : Naissance d’une littérature nationale et/ou officielle : 1941-1957. Lille : Université de Lille-III, 1988.