Friday, 16 November 2007

"Asian Values" 101

At the time the term "Asian values" began to appear in the mass media, the scholar de Bary, who has spent more than 50 years studying Asian civilizations (including China, Japan, Korea, and India) was asked "What are Asian values?", he did not know how to answer. He has never heard of this term. It was not in the literature. Asians were not conscious that they have such common values in the past. It is highly likely that such Asian values are political constructions. (de Bary 1998: p. 1)
-The Alleged Asian Values and Their Implications for Bioethics
- Kam-por Yu, Ph.D.
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University

With the above, allow me to begin by saying that the idea of "Asian Values" is nothing but Hogwash - a political spin articulated by authoritarian regimes of the third-world nations, to legitimize and strengthen their grip on power. They use this excuse also disguised as Confucianism, Family values, Islamic Laws, Morality and many more.

At the heart of this argument lies one undeniable "asian value" - hypocrisy! It is this undoubtedly Asian value that is used every so often to perpetuate a make believe orderly society, where-in the problems of the day is often swept under the carpet to "save face" (which by the way, is an Asian value).
Corruption, rape incest, cronyism, theft, murder, apostasy, honor and in fact almost anything and everything that is evil is tolerated to "save face" on the part of the one in a position of power - not the victim who is supposed to be protected.

It was an excuse for despots to thumb their noses at the "west", with their economic gains in the last 30yrs or so, despite the absence of real freedom in these countries, that "boasted" an apparently hard working, disciplined, politically docile and subservient "social order".

When there is opposition or expression of discontent in public, the people are frowned upon by authorities that claim that "It is not our way of doing things .... we prefer 'polite negotiated settlements' .... " which in actuality means "arbitration/ bribery behind closed doors". By doing so, leaders of dissent are often "bought out" or "blackmailed" into submission to authorities who ultimately seek to perpetuate the rule.

Leaders who espouse "Asian Values" often say, "we have laws by which the people have to abide" - sure, we should!
Provided the laws are just and not manipulated to the advantage of oppressors.
To say that concerns of society takes precedence over the individual in all cases, is very much a "misguided" statement or policy, for it is individuals that have brought out these ideas of "Asian Values" and have convinced society as a whole.

It should be brought to light that these very proponents of "asian values", often quickly abandon these principles when they are faced with economic gain via competition, but backtrack when it comes to politics and freedom.

Free and healthy debate of opinions and ideas is as much a value that should be preserved as are filial piety and respect for authority. So are freedom of speech and media.

I was quite perplexed to say the least, on hearing the differences in opinion between En. Nazri and En. Khairy on 101 East (Al-Jazeera) last night- While En. Nazri says that the system has worked for fifty years and doesn't need an "overhaul", En. Khairy (despite being the apologist) says that it works but has room for improvement!

It appeared that En. Khairy at least isn't as blind to the truths and has chosen to play both sides of the fence.
By saying that the media should be able to "regulate itself", instead of being regulated by the government in due time, while En. Nazri comes out boldly to say that the press is free to write what they wish, could En Khairy have unwittingly exposed the "lie of a free press in Malaysia"?
Or was it done on purpose to illustrate the difference of opinion within the hierarchy? Could there be a shift in the policies, given the western influences in En Khairy? Could he have been "restrained" on the international stage by his alma mater?
And I wonder if he thought of postal votes while bragging about the "teasing-off" of ghosts on the electoral rolls and indelible ink ...........

While En. Nazri was gloating about the "democratic rule of the Majority", was he aware that the true test of a democracy lies in taking care of minority rights? Did he think that the system that he represents is perfection manifested, that he believes that it couldn't be changed or improved on? Hasn't he heard that the only thing that he cannot change is "change" itself and that is the only way to progress?

Come what may, it would be prudent for all Asians to bear in mind that there has been no social system or order that is infallible in the face of human evolution.

It is very much an "Asian Value", Islamic value, Confucian Value and a democratic too to seek justice.
To that end, individuality and an expression of dissent is very much an "Asian Value".

I follow up the above with quotes from a few essays. I have decided against publishing my work on this topic, as it would be tiresome to most. The links I promised, have all got mixed-up - so I apologize for not providing them (Just google "asian values" and you'll find them).

Thank you.

"While we accord high priority to social and economic rights, we must at the same time guard ourselves from stretching the argument too far. Development cannot be used as an apology for authoritarianism. The fact of the matter is that more nations have been impoverished by authoritarianism than enriched by it. By not giving vent to the vices of dissent, wrongs cannot be made right and remedies for failures cannot be made available," said Anwar.

"Thus the notion that freedom must be sacrificed on the altar of development must be rejected. It is our conviction that only through the ability of every individual, however weak or disadvantaged, to freely articulate his fears and grievances can we hope to bring about a just and caring society. Only by guaranteeing the individual's right to participate fully in society's decision-making processes can we confer legitimacy to political leadership and governance, for government derives their just powers from the consent of the governed."

- Anwar Ibrahim,University of the Philippines Law Centre's Institute of Human Rights,1994

"However, as an Asian observer noted: ''When I first came across Lee's list of supposed Asian values, I saw values that were not so much specific to Asian culture but good British upper class Tory values dear to threatened elites everywhere." It was not without good reason that one British cabinet minister once referred to Lee, when he still was known as Harry Lee, as the ''best bloody Englishman east of Suez".

Not to be outdone by Lee is Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who combined an attractive Third World critique of Western economic domination with a strident equation of liberal democracy with anarchy and Western imperialism. The classic is Mahathir's statement in this regard with his speech at the United Nations in 1991, in which he asserted:

''If democracy means to carry guns, to flaunt homosexuality, to disregard the institutions of marriage, to disrupt and damage the well-being of the community in the name of individual rights, to destroy a particular faith, to have privileged institutions [ie the Western press] which are sacrosanct even if they indulge in lies and instigations which undermine society, the economy, and international relations; to permit foreigners to break national laws; if they are the essential details, can't the news converts opt to reject them? Hegemony by democratic powers is no less oppressive than hegemony by totalitarian states.""


"In light of the severe recession that has gripped Asia in 1997-98, the collapse of the paternalistic Asian authoritarian government in Indonesia, and political instability in Malaysia itself, these arguments now ring hollow, and it is safe to say that "Asian values" have not figured prominently in the analysis and interpretation of the crisis. Lee Kwan Yew has publicly backed away from some of his earlier assertions, and many observers now claim that that Asian values, far from explaining Asia's economic success, lie at the root of the cronyism and corruption afflicting countries there." - Francis Fukuyama, ICAS Fall Symposium, Asia'sChallenges Ahead, University of Pennsylvania, September 29, 1998

Blogging debate - Al-Jazeera, 101 East