Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Merdeka



merdeka( merd├ęka) 

bebas (drpd penjajahan, kurungan, naungan, dll), lepas ( drpd tebusan, tuntutan), berdiri sendiri, tidak bergantung pd yg lain: 

Malaysia ialah sebuah negara yg ~ dan berdaulat.

William closes the dark green Kamus Dewan, taking care to wipe off the Milo stains on page 883, rubbing sweaty fingers on mercun, meriah, meriam and merdu.

He closes his eyes in mock reverence, a smile dawning upon his face as he lets the meaning of the word seep into his twelve year old mind. After a few moments, he understands.

His country- free from the evil British colonialists! After hundreds of years of being under their oppressive rule, Malaysia was free! He smiled, a spring in his step as he contemplated how lucky he was to be free. 

Grabbing his tiny Jalur Gemilang, he skips all the way to the living room, where his parents are watching TV, reading the Moon or the Sun or whatever astronomical object it was, drinking kopi O, and talking to each other. William never could understand how they could do so many things at a time, and then accuse him of not being focused enough. At least he did one thing at a time.

Today's headlines on the Star, Double the Joy! A happy family celebrating Raya and laughing along. William peeked over his father's shoulder: he was reading something boring about neglecting other ... what was that word again... communities. "Daddy, what does that mean?"

Daddy turns around, tortoise shell glasses barely resting on his nose. "Well it means that certain minorities, like the Chinese and Indians and Dayaks and Orang Asli are being ignored. How do I say this... Mmm.... Take for example you and your older brother. Imagine if I treated your brother better, like giving him more candy, being OK with him failing exams, giving him extra pocket money and time to play computer games."

"But that's not fair!"

" Aha, that's where you're wrong. I could say that it's perfectly fair because your brother came first! And if you complain, I'll tell you to go back to whichever family you came from, even if that 'family' isn't really your real family. And that, my dear, is more or less what is happening."

William shook his head in horror. How could such a terrible thing happen? With all the solemnity that a twelve year old could muster, he heaved a great sigh. Daddy just laughed, and ruffled William's hair. 

But the sadness of a twelve year old is an impermanent thing. Pretty soon, the boy was zooming off in his bike, Jalur Gemilang in tow. He was on a quest of great importance: to bungkus roti canai from the nearby mamak stall.

On his way, he admired the sea of flags on display. Everyone is so patriotic, why doesn't Uncle Bernard love Malaysia too Why doesn't he want to come back? - whispered his little heart. He wondered about all the cousins who had gone overseas and never come back. Julian, who was a chemical engineer; Mary, a physics professor in Brown University; Hannah, his favourite cousin who used to play on the PS2 with him, a doctor working in Brisbane. All nice, loving, caring people, who somehow, said that they would not come back because there was no freedom in Malaysia. But William's little heart whispered again- How could this be? Aren't the evil British gone?

Absent mindedness never serves a bicycle rider well. Sure enough, William's bike hit a curb, and fell over- landing at the feet of the mamak stall waiter. Burly hands grabbed him, put him upright. " Boy, you jaga sikit la. Danger tau. Aiyoooo.... mana ibu bapa you?" William recovered himself, shook his head, and took out a five ringgit note.

"Empat roti canai, abang. Dan satu Mentos."
The abang looked at his hand expectantly. 
" Tak cukup la boy. Sekarang ni barang apa-apa pun mahal. Lagi satu ringgit."

Wow, things were getting pretty expensive. One twenty for roti canai. Even in the extremely short life experience of William, he could still remember a time when roti canai cost eighty cents. Ah well. 

After completing his transaction, and chewing on his mentos, William started the trip back home. He was taking a shortcut, through his "secret route". It was favourite path because he could pretend he was going through a scary trek through a land of evil things. A number of sights along the way helped this fantasy of his.

First, there were the trees. Long, over-arching great old behemoths of nature that would shade the road. But today, as he travelled through, the trees were gone. Chopped down by DBKL most probably. The image of the sliced off tree stumps reminded him of an image of the Bakun dam he had seen. The photo was a collage of a destroyed rainforest; a crying Orang Asli woman; and a government officer cutting a red ribbon officiating the whole event. The image stuck in his mind because the Orang Asli's expression, a cold, teary stare of indignation, invoked in him a sort of comradeship- he had that look on whenever his brother forcefully took away his toys from him, and refused to give them back, even though they were rightfully his.

Then there was the church. The church wasn't a really a scary building by itself. But the black marks along the wall, and the burnt out rubble around it was pretty spooky. The church had been the target of an arson attempt a while ago, a Molotov cocktail had been thrown in. All that for a single word. William shook his head, wondering how on earth could mature, big grown up, God fearing people get so worked up to the point of fiery crime over a single word. 

The church brought up questions in William's head. His parents had been talking about some sort of church raid lately, something about Muslims in a church. William had interrupted them, asking: Mommy, why can't Malays go into churches? Why is it bad for a Christian to donate and help Muslims? Can't we help each other? Can't they choose what's best for them?"

The reply: " Go back to your room William. You don't understand, this is an adult issue. Go to sleep, it's getting late."

Finally, he passed the scariest part of the route: an abandoned warehouse. Apparently the owners were arrested for being communist. William had no idea what a communist was, except that they were supposed to be really bad and they blew up train tracks for breakfast. There were bits of torn yellow cloth around, remnants from the T-shirts they once were a part of. A while back, Uncle Ravi had been picked up by the police for questioning. Daddy said it was because Uncle Ravi had worn the same yellow Bersih T-shirt, and gone to participate in the rally. "Is Uncle Ravi a bad man, Daddy? Did he commit a crime Is that why the police caught him?"

Daddy put on this zoned out look on his face, same as when he talked about grandfather who had passed away years ago, and solemnly said: "No, William. We are the ones who are criminals for watching and doing nothing while our country went down the drain."

"Huh?"
"Never mind, Will. You'll understand one day."

William finished his journey, and parked his bicycle. "I'm home!" His parents greeted him with a smile, and into the dining room they went, laughing, eating, drinking- and William's tiny heart whispered again: Wow, it sure is good to be free. Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!

Happy Merdeka Malaysia. Enjoy your freedom this Independence Day.

  

Friday, August 19, 2011

Three Words.

"I Love You."
Three simple words that completely change the nature of a relationship. Whether for good or for bad, once these three words are uttered, a relationship will never be the same.

But I'm not going to talk about these three words. Today I'm going to talk about three other words, that in some ways, is even more life-changing, hate-mongering, fear-inducing, nerve-shaking than that oft repeated trio of sweet nothings.  This trio has received validation in New York, ridicule in Malaysia, and controversy globally.


The three words are:
"I am gay."

Now should you be homophobic, and wish to leave this blog, unsubscribe yourself, and call me an infidel; by all means, go ahead. I am not going to condemn your beliefs, but neither shall I affirm them. What I am going to try to do- is challenge you to think, reflect, and consider truly why do you feel the way you do about gays, and perhaps other sexual minorities.

A friend of mine recently confessed to me that he was gay. He was afraid, reluctant and hesitant- he feared that I would draw away from him, forsake our friendship of six years, and ignore him for life. When I did not, he was astounded since the "normal reaction" of a guy when he finds out his friend is gay, would be to freak out, and run away for dear life. I did not. My reasons were simple.

Is it really so different?
Most people who have that feeling of disgust- when asked why-  say they fear that the 'gay' might have an interest in them. It seems much of homophobic behaviour is driven by this fear- "If I spend time with the gay, he/ she might fall for me. Therefore, I must avoid them."

Perasan much no? And even if, the gay does have feelings for them, I put it to you- How is it any different than having a person of the opposite sex attracted to you? We continue spending time with friends of the opposite sex, despite this very same possibility. What exactly is it that we fear? Why must we specifically discriminate against homosexuals?

My religion condemns homosexuality?
Religion has done many a thing- some of them good, some of them bad. 'Religion' is responsible for the deaths of Socrates, Copernicus and Joan de Arc. Christianity had its Crusades; Islam has its Al-Qaeda; Jesus Christ was crucified because his teachings were different from the Roman religion of paganism; Nabi Muhammad was persecuted because his teachings were in opposition with Quraisy beliefs.

Rev. Ou Yang,
gay Malaysian pastor.
My point to all these historical events is this: Religious authorities are not inherently right. Just because a religious authority condemns something, does not make it necessarily evil. Our society is constantly evolving- women were once often viewed as bearers of sin, incapable and in some beliefs as a tool of the devil- those past religious beliefs could not have been more wrong.

Going further on the issue of religious authority, there is no one religious authority. Historically, we've seen schisms between Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Orthodox, Protestant ... between Sunni and Shi'a ... between  Mahayana, Theravada, Shinto, Ikko-ikki, Vrajayana Buddhism. 

Religious doctrines and texts are constantly under the eyes of the beholder- many verses and teachings are subject to interpretation. This further shows that there is no One definition of right and wrong- to justify discrimination towards homosexuals is simply because it is just wrong- is simplistic and shaky.

Oh... all this homo hogwash is a new fad that came with the hippies...
One of the most common misconceptions of homosexuality is that it is a recent thing, that it is unnatural, and that is caused by one's exposure to the environment/ mass media. Wrong, wrong and wrong.

Alexander the Great.
Homosexuality has existed since time immemorial. To deny this would be to deny the existence of history. The Persian Empire's kings all enjoyed large harems of attractive women - and men. It was widely believed in Ancient Greece that Alexander the Great, Conqueror of Conquerors, and his finest companion, Hephaestion were lovers. In the Roman Empire, though support for it waxed and waned throughout its long history, homosexuality was very much an inalienable part of Roman society. The Manusmriti, an Ancient Indian text, lists the oldest codes of conduct that were proposed to be followed by a Hindu, does include mention of homosexual practices, but only as something to be regulated. The classic Indian text Kama Sutra deals without ambiguity, hypocrisy or condemnation with all aspects of sexual life—including marriage, adultery, prostitution, group sex, sadomasochism, male and female homosexuality, and transvestism. All this points to the fact that homosexuality is not in fact a new age "fad".

But... its unnatural...

The Japanese Macaque. Homosexuality
is very common in troops.
Another argument against homosexuality is that it is unnatural. However, scientists have found data that indicates that homosexuality is encoded within our genetic make up. Natural evolution throughout millions of years have allowed for the development of slightly different genetic structures- and alleles peculiar to homosexuals have been found. At the same time, Swedish researchers have found that some physical attributes of the homosexual brain resemble those found in the opposite sex, according to an article published online (June 16) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In the natural world,  A 1999 review by researcher Bruce Bagemihl shows that homosexual behavior has been observed in close to 1,500 species, ranging from primates to gut worms, and is well documented for 500 of them. 

All this scientific research indicates that homosexuality is no freak accident, but a product of evolutionary forces. We do not understand the reasons why this is so, but to discriminate someone simply because we do not understand them, and call them abominations of nature when this is clearly not the case- is a most cruel thing to do. 

Think about it...
Even if all this scientific research is nonsense, all these historical facts are imaginary, and somehow all religions condemn homosexuality... There is still a question to be asked.

Zulkifli & Yasmin
One and the same.
We allow people to smoke, drink, in some countries even do drugs. We allow people to vote or not vote, to be single or married, to be hardworking or lazy.  It is a matter of choice. Why then do we deny them of the right to be who they are, when in fact this right does not harm anyone or even harm themselves? Why do we say we love Yasmin Ahmad, yet when we find out she was a hermaphrodite and once led her life as a man, Zulkifli Ahmad, condemn her or choose to hide that fact?

Think about all the reasons you may hate or fear gays and other sexual minorities. Think again. Do you have any real reason to do so? Is it a good enough reason to deny people the right to self actualize, the right to be themselves, the right to be free from fear of persecution and ridicule?

And before you make any assumptions, no, I am not gay. I am perfectly heterosexual ( I refuse to use the word straight as it denotes that being homosexual is 'crooked'). I am writing this not because I am defending myself, but because I believe in a world where one does not suffer because of who they are, or who they choose to be. And really, that's all they're asking for.

Finally, I would just like to wish you: Be cheery. Be happy. Be gay.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

In This Life and Thereafter- JAIS Church Raid

A just state allows religious freedom. The state does not impose religion but rather gives space to religions with a responsibility toward civil society, and therefore it allows these religions to be factors in building up society. 
-Joseph Ratzinger

A month or so ago, I volunteered for a soup kitchen, that distributed food to the poor, needy and homeless in urban Kuala Lumpur. Its founding members were Muslim, and the parent organisation was also an Islamic organisation. The volunteers were of all races and religions. There was even a French lady who helped out. 

When the needy came, they came in the hundreds at Masjid Jamek, Tune Hotel and Petaling Street. They were young and old; men and women; Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Christians; Malays, Chinese, Indians, Indonesians. They took what they were given gratefully, with a smile, a "Terima Kasih or Thank You", and did not mind who was giving the food packets out. They certainly did not ask whether I was Muslim or Christian.

The idea is simple: help, no matter where it comes from, is appreciated, and we should all do our part to help each other.

Charity to Convert?
So when careless and callous accusations were thrown at Damansara Utama Methodist Church that they were doing charity to convert people, I was appalled. Good intentions, that result in a greater good, smeared in a light of narrow minded claims. Imagine if Mother Teresa were accused of trying to spread Christianity in India, and barred, expelled from India because of that. We would have lost a saint of a woman, who changed many people's lives for the better. Imagine if Soup Kitchens like the one mentioned above were outlawed for fear of trying to convert people. Imagine if groups like World Vision, or Tzu Chi, or Sisters In Islam were restricted to helping only persons of their own religion, what kind of world would that be? It most certainly would split society further in racial and religious lines, creating an attitude of every religion for itself, turning 1Malaysia into a 2, 3, 4, 5, perhaps even 6 Malaysia.

The accusation reveals a very shallow mindset held, and even more dangerously, propagated by politicians such as Hassan Ali, a path that can only lead to mistrust and extremism.

Being in a church= Being converted?
The knee jerk reaction of JAIS to the mere presence of Muslims at the church charity dinner implies one ridiculous notion: By being present for any church function, or by simply being in a church, one is being converted to Christianity.

This notion is utterly preposterous. There have been countless Malaysians, Muslims included that were educated in missionary schools- La Salle, St Johns, Convent Bukit Nanas, Methodist Boys to name a few. Missionaries schools where there was chapel, there were prayers during assembly, when there were actual nuns and Brothers doing the teaching. Even our own prime minister, Najib Tun Razak received his education in St. Johns Institution! Marina Mahathir has given so many talks in churches about AIDS yet is she a convert? The most ironic thing is, our prime minister can walk into the very heart of Christianity, meet with the Pope, in the hallowed grounds of St Peters Basilica, and yet, no one ever doubts his faith.

JAIS has tried miserably to justify its raid by saying the words 'Quran' and 'pray' were mentioned at the dinner, taking it as proof of proselytizing by the church. Everyday, Malaysians hear the call to prayer from mosques; every function, is started with a prayer from the Quran; every student learns the history and principles of Islam- yet these are not viewed as attempts to convert others are they? Of course not! Because we respect each others rights, and that includes the right to thank god for a successful charity dinner. Back in secondary, whenever something ill befell a fellow student, our principal would ask for a moment of silence in prayer. He would say: " It doesn't matter whether you're Muslim, Christian or Buddhist. Even if you are a free thinker, at least hope. As long as our hearts are with the unfortunate, then it is good." A friend of mine from Turkey related how people of different faiths often pray at the same place, same time- taking faith and camaraderie in a shared belief of a higher power. Both of us felt strongly that that experience of different faiths coming together, made our faith stronger, our appreciation of diversity grow, our understanding of each other deepen. 

Only a person who does not truly understand what is faith is afraid of others' beliefs.

Upholding Religion?
JAIS claims to be upholding the sanctity of Islam, yet its very actions defile it. Nabi Muhammad S.A.W. laid the principles of Islam to be tolerant, progressive and forward looking. Even in a war, he stressed that women and children were to be spared, that livestock and crops be preserved, and most importantly, to never defile, and always respect places of worship.

The Prophet emphasized in many letters to his emissaries that religious institutions should not be harmed.  Here in a letter addressed to his emissary to the religious leaders of Saint Catherine in Mount Sinai who has sought the protection of the Muslims:

Mount Sinai

 Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by God!  I hold out against anything that displeases them.  No compulsion is to be on them.  Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries.  No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses.  Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet.  Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate.  No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight.  The Muslims are to fight for them.  If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval.  She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray.  Their churches are declared to be protected.  They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants.  No one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day (end of the world).”


Under Nabi Muhammad S.A.W.'s leadership, and later that of the Khalifahs, cities like Mecca, Madinah and Jerusalem became havens of multiculturalism, tolerance and diversity. He welcomed Jews at a time when they were being prosecuted by Christians; and freedom to practice one's religion was part of the constitution of his Islamist state.

The Prophet strictly warned against any maltreatment of people of other faiths.  He said:
“Beware!  Whoever is cruel and hard on a non-Muslim minority, or curtails their rights, or burdens them with more than they can bear, or takes anything from them against their free will; I (Prophet Muhammad) will complain against the person on the Day of Judgment.”

JAIS claims it is upholding Islam, any student of Islamic history, or of the Quran, can tell you that it is not. With no evidence, no warrant, no proper justification, and no tact in its dealing with church members, they have lost legitimacy of their claim of upholding religion.

Political Paralysis

The gag order from the Menteri Besar is hypocritical, having just introduced the Freedom of Information Act in Selangor; the silence from normally vocal opposition members is deafening; and the repeated belligerence and conflicting views within PAS is exasperating. Both sides will play pass the bomb, no doubt with no end in sight, and the result being zero.

Yesterday, for the first time, Malaysia reached the top ten ranking of the Pew's Forum on Religion and Public Life, as a country with some of the highest government led  restrictions on different religions. We joined the dubious ranks of Saudi Arabia, Iran, China, Burma to name a few. The DUMC raid is only part of a larger pattern of religious repression in Malaysia, from the banning of the word Allah, to the confiscation of Malay language Bibles and culminating in this incident. And the cross fire between opposition and Government is only intensifying.

Politicians are busy pointing fingers at each other, when what really should be done is an independent, transparent investigation be launched to clarify matters, and the findings be published. The questions of who ordered the raid, the justification of the claims, and the legitimacy of JAIS's actions must be answered. Why is there no separation of state and religion? 



At the end of it all, all I can say is, in the words of Nabi Muhammad, peace be upon him, 
"All actions are judged by the motive prompting them."

And I sincerely hope, for our sake and theirs, in this life and thereafter ( if there is one), that the politicians and JAIS's motives are good ones.