New York an ethnic melting pot - Abdullah Ahmad



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New York is Jewish in more ways than one, it has always had a substantial Jewish population, mainly secular Jews, but lately there is an increasing number of orthodox - speaking Hebrew (Ebreu) and the Yiddish vernacular. One area where these fundamentalist Jews predominated is in the mid Brooklyn town of Midwood, near Brooklyn College. The Jews there are distinctly orthodox, and becoming more traditional Hasidic everyday. Thus here you have Kosher sushi outlets Kosher pizza, and Kosher Chinese take away. Kosher to orthodox Jews is what halal is to Muslims.

Compared to 51 original members in 1945, the UN now has a membership of 185 states.

What worries the UN is that the gap separates the world of the rich and poor is widening. In the United States, the gap between the rich and poor of all races is wider than they have been in half a century according to a UN survey released last week by the American Administrator of the UN Human Development Report, James Gustave Speth. I met Speth at lunch hosted by the Malaysian Permanent Representative and president-elect of the UN General Assembly Tan Sri Razali Ismail last week. Eighteen ambassadors and under-secretaries of the UN Secretariat attended the luncheon given at the Malaysian Permanent Mission. Speth told me that he gives Malaysia a well deserved pat on the back for a significant achievement in education, health, the advancement of woman, and the provision of credit to poor and small-scale entrepreneurs.

Working lunch is a good private forum for discussion about the UN and everything which concerns it: its strength and weakness, how it has been marginalised and how to halt any further marginalisation in this unipolar world.

I have found that one compulsory reading is The Wall Street Journal. In one recent edition, it surveyed how countries reward their Olympia winners. Here are some of the observations: small countries don't offer cash to medal winners (as Liechtenstein puts it, "the chances of it happening are practically zero"); Iranians get an order of bravery from the president; and rich Singapore offers the highest reward, US$700,000 for a gold medal. "Great..." says a Daily News editorial (July 21) and asks "but do losers get caned?" The NBC running commentary on the opening of the Centennial Olympic games at Atlanta showed a picture of the Malaysian contingent but said it was from Mauritius in spite of "Malaysia" written on the placard. And Singapore, I recall, was not even shown, as were many other countries including Thailand and Hongkong.

Still, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Hongkong remain world-class economic performers and we should not take too much offence even if we were put off by this premier American television network with its coverage of the greatest show on earth, reportedly watched by 3.5 billion viewers world-wide. My office is on the fourth floor of a modest five-storey red brick-part marble building, 313 East 43rd Street (opposite the Ford Foundation building which is 10-storey high and modest by New York standards), is owned by the Malaysian government and was officially opened by Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad on Sept 28 last year. The government owns only two buildings in New York, unlike in London where it has more properties. The other government owned property is the official residence of the permanent representative in Sutton Place, in the same vicinity of the official residence of the UN secretary-general.

Our permanent mission is not an imposing edifice nor a tourist attraction, nevertheless, it is attraction to many fast-paced developing countries which like to take over its ownership.

I have an inkling that this modest building in the Tudor City area, a mere 10 minute walk to the United Nations headquarters, will be made famous inhabitants in a year or two.


Dato' Abdullah Ahmad is Malaysia's Special Envoy to the United Nations

(This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Sun )

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