Books I read

I will be listing books that I have read together with my own short notes about them.

the-malaysian-islamic-party-1951-20134. The Malaysian Islamic Party PAS 1951-2013: Islamism in a Mottled Nation
By Farish A. Noor

Just less than four years ago, on the eve of the 13th general election (GE13), DAP was preparing to use the white moon logo of PAS as our election symbol.

Tok Guru Nik Aziz whom Malaysians dearly miss and whose kind of leadership we desperately need in these challenging times, responded to our decision as a blessing which will eventually lead the opposition pact “to Putrajaya paving the way for a New Malaysia.”

I would have been a PAS candidate. I still keep the letter of authorization issued by PAS, as a reminder of how things could have been.

And then about a year ago, both parties parted ways in the worst manner possible. On the other hand, from being sworn nemesis, PAS leaders are now not shy to be seen flirting with UMNO. Recently, Najib Razak, Prime Minister and President of UMNO sat together like good friends with Tuan Guru Hadi Awang, President of PAS who in 1982 issued an edict against working with UMNO, the (in)famous, Amanat Hadi.

I think many Malaysians are curious about PAS.

How is it that a political party can embody so many different paradigms in the forefront almost all at once; on one hand conservative Islamists seeking state power with clear muslim-kafir demarcation, and on the other hand, Muslim democrats articulating universal values of social justice and welfare, and then sometimes ethnonationalists aiming to preserve Malay power and therefore, Malay unity.

What do we make of PAS?

Some quietly hope that by the next election PAS will just go away. Wishful thinking, in my opinion.

Some still harbour hope that another Tok Guru Nik Aziz or another Ustaz Fadzil Noor or even another Mat Sabu will rise within the party to restore the kind of inclusive PAS we see pre-GE13 once again. Maybe, who knows.

Whatever it is, there is no better time to understand PAS.

Yet to really understand a 65-year old political party with all its institutional complexity and turbulent history can be daunting indeed.

Which is why I find Farish’s book very helpful. Always the storyteller-historian, he narrated PAS’ long history in the different decades under different leaderships to provide insights into the crucial moments which infused the party with its characters we have all come to be familiar with today: the concoction of different values from conservative Islamists to Muslim democrats to Malay nationalists.

What is the dynamics between PAS and UMNO that both parties can be sworn enemies one day and sworn brothers the next?

Why did Tok Guru Nik Aziz and his cohort loathed any cooperation with UMNO so much so that he was reported to have said he will spit on the face of those who come to him to raise such suggestion?

Why is PAS insisting on Islamic state?

And what does PAS have in mind when the party speaks of an Islamic state in the various periods of its struggle?

Why does PAS look to Iran for inspiration of Islamist victory and yet hated Syiah to the point that when they wanted to demonise their former leader, Mat Sabu, they accused him of being Syiah?

How did PAS gain international prestige among global Islamists that its leaders such as Tuan Guru Hadi Awang was appointed Vice President of the Yusof Qardawi-led, International Union of Muslim Scholars?

And in narrating PAS’ story, Farish inevitably articulated parts of our country’s story as well. He showed how the religious interplay between UMNO and PAS through the long years somehow inadvertently led to PAS gaining strength due to the normalisation of Islam in governance and politics.

The Malays have a very romantic but almost tragic proverb, bagai pungguk rindukan bulan, like the owl yearning for the moon. I think this describes many of us reminiscing better times with PAS. As a young politician trying both at once to serve the people and also to make sense of whatever expediency to topple a regime, getting to know a fellow sojourner, if not friend, better is enlightening and will certainly help in my dealings with them.

3. Long Walk To Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela
by Nelson Mandela

Chronicled Mandela’s journey from a “runaway” village boy to a runaway political activist before finally becoming the President of independent South Africa. It is a very honest book, and at times open confessions of weakness from a man who is today a living legend – to remind us that Mandela is a real person like all of us. His struggle against injustice and oppression should inspire the world to ensure that we’ll never see the lights of apartheid ever again. Reading it from a Malaysian context, I realized although the degree was greatly different, Malaysians can identify with pre-independent SA, especially in terms of politics of race, oppression of alternative voice, political hegemony, suppression of freedom. Mandela was even charged under the SA version of Malaysia’s Internal Security Act, a preemptive martial law which gives police the power to detain without trial. Long Walk to Freedom is not only about the journey of one man or a nation, but it is really about the journey of humanity towards goodness. It may have ended for Mandela, but we are still walking. Hopefully, his journey will give us strength to walk on!

– Read more on Google Books


2. Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitude
by Jacques Ellul 

This is a book by the late French philosopher and anarchist Jacques Ellul. It explores the dynamics of information and how they affect our thinking, and action. I am of course reading this book in a political context but I believe those in marketing and those who are interested in leadership development can benefit from understanding how our brain interacts with ideas around us.

Propaganda: The Formation of Men’€™s Attitudes (note the masculine noun of the 60s) was Ellul’€™s attempt to analyze how political parties and corporations influence the reactions of the masses through propaganda techniques. In writing about propaganda, he was not condoning such acts, but were trying to deconstruct propaganda activities so that, his own words, “€œconfronted by a necessity, man must become aware of it, if he is to master it. As long as man denies the inevitability of a phenomenon, as long as he avoids facing up to it, he will go astray. He will delude himself, by submitting in fact to “necessity” while pretending that he is free ‘€œin spite of it’€, and simply because he claims to be free. Only when he realizes his delusion will he experiences the beginning of genuine freedom”€.

– Read more on Google Books


1. The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World
by Niall Ferguson

This is an informative yet entertaining book about the history of the monetary system, interesting read on the genesis of money, banks, the stock market, insurance, subprime mortgage etc. See how banks “create” money out of literally nothing, how the world with its large businesses go around each day by a single word: Trust, that the first modern Insurance was created by Protestant ministers wanting to secure the livings of their widows and children at old age. Reads like a novel about how money work in the world.

– Read more on Google Books

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