Along with scores of other NGOs, Aliran has endorsed a joint campaign ‘Stand up for Suaram’. The campaign aims to mobilise support for Suaram following unjust persecution them by the government.
We also released a media statement pointing out that the persecution smacks of a political witch-hunt following Suaram’s diligent expose of the Scorpene submarines scandal and its initiation of judicial investigations in Paris.
The principle criticism of Suaram, it appears, is that it has allegedly received a few million ringgit in funding over the years from various Western sources including the National Endowment for Democracy and the Open Society to further its work. Such foreign funding for NGOs like Suaram, we are told, could destabilise the government and undermine our democracy.
But we are not told HOW Suaram is undermining democracy. What is the group’s real crime apart from the technicalities of operating as a registered company instead of as a society?
In this day and age, the buzzword is globalisation. Not only is it easier to travel abroad, labour, capital and resources are easily transferred from one country to another e.g. the Lynas rare earth refinery. Malaysia today is home to a few million migrant workers. We receive satellite news broadcasts from predominantly Western news stations. Our national football team has suffered from the overexposure of the English Premier League. We know who is the captain of the English football team, but who knows who is the captain of the Malaysian football team?
Some of our leaders also regularly pride ourselves about the flow of foreign direct investment and now they are worried that FDI is shrinking. We are even welcoming polluting firms to invest in the country.
There is tremendous pressure on us to implement the EU-Asean FTA and to come on board the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which could result in MNCs gaining the power to sue sovereign governments.
Surely we should be more worried about these transnational flows and trends. Some of them might be unavoidable and even beneficial. Others we might be better off shunning e.g. the rare earth refinery
But most of all it is ironic that the government is worried about Western groups funding pro-democracy projects when it has open our borders to US military cooperation. According to the website of the the US embassy in Malaysia:
the Office of Defense Cooperation (ODC) manages the following activities with Malaysia in support of U.S. Embassy Kuala Lumpur and the US Pacific Command:
- Foreign Military Sales (FMS) cases for equipment, services and training,
- Military Exercises and Conferences, and
- US Military Education and Training programs
ODC coordinates and supports approximately 14 – 16 bi-lateral and multi-lateral exercises with the Malaysian Armed Forces and the Royal Malaysian Police each year in order to promote interoperability and cooperation. Examples of such exercises are: Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT), Cope Taufan, Keris Strike, Air Warrior, and Joint Combined Exchange Training.
The ODC even provides ‘helpful’ advice to US defence contractors:
We request that U.S. companies marketing defense products make contact with the embassy through ODC. ODC can assist with appointments with FCS and DAO, if requested.
We recommend that companies which have identified a specific Malaysian requirement, and believe they have a good chance of being selected to fill it, use a local agent. Local agents can greatly facilitate appointments with Malaysian government officials and can provide feedback and support.
Perhaps those who are investigating and condemning Suaram might care to explain why such dealings with the US military are considered halal while Suaram’s relative minuscule foreign funding is deemed haram. Given the US military record in sponsoring dictators and intervention from Vietnam to Iraq, surely such military cooperation between the United States and Malaysia, which aspires to be a leader of the Third World, is indefensible.
Aliran executive committee
22 September 2012