Friday, December 2, 2011

Generation wh(Y)

Dear Youth,

Generasi muda ialah bakal pemimpin negara dan merupakan...
Yeah, yeah, what a load of crap.

You’ve heard this line everywhere—from politicians, principals, teachers, parents. You’ve read it in some cryptic, preachy moral textbook that assumes memorising moral values will somehow make you a better person. You’ve absent-mindedly invoked this phrase in some clichéd BM karangan (because your teacher promised you it was worth 5 marks) along with some peribahasa (idiom) about how we all should join shoulders like the aur (bamboo) tree and the river bank, hop around and sing Kumbaya till 2020, at which point we would have reached our ultimate life goal and floated off to a sort of utopia where all is perfect (complete with an endless supply of free food—how else would it be perfect?)

So if young people like you and me are the heralded future leaders who will march our country into a glittering future where no man, woman or child will ever go hungry, why are there so many complaints against us? Why is it that we’re so often accused of being obsessed with Justin Bieber (God forbid!) or Jessica Alba (guilty!) and care about little else? Why do older people constantly describe us as apathetic, lackadaisical and immature? Why do they complain that we don’t know anything about the world, and that we shouldn’t  have the right to vote because we wouldn’t know how to use it anyway?

Well, while some of their accusations may well be true, I think we’re not entirely to blame. Here’s why.

Why we like that one?!
Let me give you a simple analogy. My mother expects me to get straight As. She nags gently reminds me every single day that I should not disappoint her and dad, my aunties, uncles, the countless generations of illustrious Ongs and our family dog.

Her expectations push me to work hard. A tiny little voice in my head whispers “you are destroying your future!” every time I reach for my book—Facebook, that is.

On the other hand, I have a friend whose parents don’t expect as much from him. Okay, perhaps that’s an understatement. They reward him with fantastic prizes such as an iPad just for taking the SPM. They say he can always just take over the family business.

He’s a nice guy and all, but his academic results just aren’t that great, to say the least.

My point is, when people expect more of us, we tend to work harder, care more. This applies in everything, and that includes caring about the world at large. When we ask curious questions or butt into intense political discussions to give our two cents’ worth, we’re often told that we’re too young for these things, that we wouldn’t understand, that there's no point worrying, that we should run along and busy ourselves with our studies instead.

“Aiya... no need to care la.. No point now, wait till you get older,” they say.

Our elders don’t expect us to care about civil society. Sometimes even, they don’t want us to care. And because of that, a lot of young people don’t bother! Why should we? It’s not like politics or stuff like that concerns us, right?


Why we should give a sh**
The complaints students have are largely the same. They complain about how stupid and stifling the education system is, how they hate sejarah (history) because it’s so rigid and didactic, how there aren’t enough scholarships, and how annoying it is to keep switching back and forth between BM and English.

Hmmm. Don’t these seem like political decisions to you? They are all decisions made at the top level of administration, that trickle down and profoundly affect our lives. Even for people who aren’t the type to complain, don’t forget that the rising costs of living and the way the budget is used still affects what shoes you can buy, which restaurants you go to and how many nights you can afford to go clubbing.

But you know why we should care even more than anybody else? Because policy decisions affect us more than many other segments of society. Take as an example the recent government move to extend and improve the LRT service to the larger Klang Valley (the My Rapid Transit project). By the time the project is finished around 2016 or so, the people who are going to be working and utilising public transport will be us. Another example is the government’s move to regulate and limit medical degree programmes—again, the people who should really care are potential medical students: you and me! Need any more convincing? The move to abolish bumiputera quotas will probably only really take effect in four or five years time—again you and me. The Lynas plant, which will process rare earth minerals, could be a potential health hazard—to our health and our children’s.

The point is, we should care for the simple reason that we have a huge stake in how things pan out. But how can we contribute? Is it possible to make a meaningful contribution?

Yes, We Can.

Not to plagiarise Obama, but it’s 100% true. There are plenty of ways for us to contribute. UndiMalaysia is a fantastic civil education programme that educates people on their rights, and has workshops on how to exercise those rights, open to all. LoyarBurok is another such website, where people of all ages and backgrounds are given the opportunity to express their opinions. Then there are also venues such as the Malaysian Public Policy Competition where young Malaysians harness their brain power to rethink public policy.

But beyond the large-scale events and camera flashbulbs, there are plenty of simple ways we can empower ourselves. Sharing a news story on Facebook, simply mentioning issues while at the mamak stall, and just reading the newspaper (not just the comics or sports section, mind you). Awareness goes a long way in making us better-informed citizens and voters for the future. Remember Auntie Bersih? Her photograph was taken by Hugo Teng, a youth just like you and me, and look at the waves those poignant shots created. Small steps can move a nation.

The reason so many oppressive regimes ban universities students from participating in politics or rallies is simple. It’s because they fear young people. They fear us because we are powerful.

It’s time to wield that power.

Yours sincerely,

As published on the HELP A-Levels student newsletter, the A-Voice.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

I Sound Malaysian, So What?

Someone I know very well has this rather amusing habit: He talks normally, with Malaysian ‘lahs‘ and intonation, but the moment he meets someone who is not from Malaysia, or someone who hasn’t lived in Malaysia for quite a while, he changes his accent and suddenly sounds like a rather constipated Queen of England with a numb tongue. He then proceeds to wave his hand imitating a dying fish rolling on a boat, transforming into a parasol-wielding, lace-wearing lady while asking for a cup of Earl Grey, with lemon.
Alright, fine, that may be a wild exaggeration but the fact remains: he changes his accent to what he deems an “English” one whenever he meets others who speak in an “English” way. And he is not alone. Plenty of people do this, and I’m sure some of you readers ( yes, you!) are equally guilty of this.
Why is this so?  Why do we have an inferiority complex over our accents? Why do we have to change our accents in a botched attempt to sound more “high class”?
Hold your horses though. Before moving on, I would like to clarify a few matters. Firstly, this article is directed towards those who have a Malaysian accent but change it when talking to certain kinds of persons, NOT those who have had an international school upbringing, or lived in a foreign country for a number of years. I’m talking about the two-faced, or rather, two-tongued people. Secondly, I would like to confess something: I have been guilty of this “crime”.
As someone who takes part in public speaking competitions, I have been well aware that a good speaker should appear genuine, original, and above all, relatable. And so, it has always been a personal policy to sound natural, i.e. Malaysian. I cringe at the attempts of others to sound more “high class”.  After receiving the title of runner-up in a national level competition, it was my good fortune to be sent to London as Malaysia’s representative. There, I encountered countless other public speakers who spoke in a variety of accents. In an effort to fit in, I started changing my accent slightly, little by little, just to sound more “normal”. And when it finally came to the day of the competition, it was in that altered accent I spoke in. I didn’t make it through. The judges commented that I didn’t sound genuine enough.
Later during the competition, I befriended a guy from Ghana. He spoke in a heavy African accent, elongating and stressing syllables, so that words like ‘insurrection” sounded like “innn- sorr-reck-shan”. He didn’t change his accent and made no attempt at changing how he sounded or who he was. He made it to the finals, speaking about the importance of loving one’s country and cherishing one’s identity. He was voted “Audience Favourite”, one of the reasons being the beauty of his natural accent, accompanied by the authenticity of his message. In other words, he was there as a representative of Ghana, and he embodied his speech. Afterwards while discussing the competition with him and sharing my initial feelings of inferiority, he said to me:
“Your country, like mine, spent years under colonial rule. Why should you subject yourself to ‘their accent, and their way’ again? You represent Malaysia, be Malaysian; there is nothing to ashamed about.”
I have never forgotten his words. In the months after the competition, I have often thought about my accent, my identity. I’ve realized that an English accent does not necessarily mean one speaks good English; in fact, the English say that the Scots, Americans, Australians, and the Welsh can’t speak English for nuts. I’ve realized that our accents add to our uniqueness and are to be cherished, not hidden. I’ve realized that, in the words of Sean Connery:
“To cultivate an English accent is already a departure from who you are.”

A friend in international school said that us Malaysians probably have to start adopting an American accent to fit in. I only have one answer to that: Hell, no! People should accept us for who we are, and embrace our uniqueness. And if we all start sounding like Americans, that wouldn’t be very international now, would it?
At the end of it all, I pepper my sentences with ‘lah’ and ‘mah’. I don’t pronounce Bangsar as if it’s the latest gun or explosive (Bang! Sehr). I sometimes exclaim “Walao eh!” and call for a “Teh Tarik” and not “that peculiar tea that the locals seem to pull”. All this, without compromising the quality of my English. I sound Malaysian, and damn I’m proud of it!
As published on LoyarBurok.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Million Murders

“London is such a great place. Malaysia has no great monuments. What a lousy place Malaysia is compared to all these great European countries.”
A Million Murders
Smooth, soft, silk robes of royalty—
Sparkling, shining jewels of majesty—
Grand and great the riches uncoil—
Stones and steel rising from soil.
The coloured peoples gaping in envy
wishing they could be the whites in jealousy:
Oh, if only we had such beautiful buildings
Oh, if only our country was as inspiring.
Yet, in the ground, a buried irony—
For azalea red runs blood and ruby—
For beneath the stoic, impassioned gargoyles—
Behold! The tears of those who toiled.
Their monuments built with Asian antimony—
Their statues and artifacts, African ivory—
Their advanced machines by Eastern oil—
A thousand thefts, a people despoiled.
Smooth, soft, silk robes of royalty—
Sparkling, shining jewels of majesty—
Grand and great the riches uncoil—
Bones and steel rising from soil.
 Is London really such a great place? Or shall we settle for our beloved thorny, but yet succulent Malaysia?

As published on LoyarBurok.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Terrible Word

There is a word that is hated by many. Politicians hate using the word, though reluctantly they usually have to; the rich, middle class and poor equally detest it; companies balk at it and cry for mercy. The word I am talking about is TAX.
Yes, I am talking about the recent hoo-hah over the 6% prepaid tax that telcos want to pass on to consumers. There have been countless allegations, as well as extremely flawed and fundamentally wrong arguments coming from both sides of the political divide. Even more appalling is that some of them come from our Finance Minister.
In this article, I will systematically address some key issues that have cropped up in this fiasco, and show you how misleading the mass media has been over this. Bear in mind I will be trying to explain this in plain English and not economic jargon, so pardon me if I sound less “sophisticated” or “academic”. Anyway, moving on…
1. If the corporation absorbs the tax, I don’t have to pay it
This is one of the greatest myths in economics: that if we tax corporations, and they absorb it, we do not have to pay for it. Let me ask you a simple question. Who pays taxes? The floor? The company table? People pay taxes.
Taxes are basically an extra cost. Let’s say I make a packet of nasi lemak for RM 1. My cost of making one packet is RM 0. 50. Therefore I earn RM 0.50. What happens if the government says I have to fork out 10% in taxes. So that means now, I have to pay a tax of RM 0.10 (10% of RM 1). This means my profit has reduced from RM 0.50 to RM 0.40.
My next question to you is what does a mak cik selling nasi lemak do when her profit is reduced? She can do two things: raise the price, or try to reduce the cost. In the case of reducing cost, it would means either using cheaper ingredients, or hiring less workers. In any case, someone else suffers along with the nasi lemak mak cik: people – us.
The telco situation is exactly the same. By asking the telcos to absorb the tax (i.e. not allowing a raise in price), and telcos being profit-oriented companies whose ultimate goal is to maximise their profits, they will do one of three things: (i) they will have less dividends to pay out to investors, who poured their hard earned money in the enterprise; or (ii) they will reduce their workforce, depriving of people like you and me of jobs; or (iii) they will cut down on the quality/ maintenance/ bonuses that their customers receive, resulting in worse service for everybody; or they will try to raise prices in indirect ways such as a higher registration fee, and some other type of implicit cost. In any case, who really ends up paying for the tax? The rakyat.
2. It’s the corporation’s fault, they’re earning so much anyway
A lot of anger has been directed towards these telcos, saying how they should be happy with what they have, and not burden the rakyat.
I have three responses to that:
Firstly, the tax is government imposed. The government is trying to shift the blame from themselves to the telcos. It’s like this: I make you pay, but I do so through another person. The other person then gets the blame for making you pay, and then I say how I’m such a great guy for helping you, and then get the money I made you pay in the end anyway. Now I do admit this is a rather simple illustration that does not take into account the uses of tax revenue (I will address that later), but in a nutshell, this is exactly what is happening!
Secondly, I have illustrated how the rakyat still ends up paying for the tax one way or another. In one case, it is kept hidden; in the other, you know what you are paying for. Is it not better to at least be mindful of the real costs involved and be able to adjust one’s spending accordingly? Also, companies are ultimately made out of people. If I told you, you’re earning too much, you should absorb someone else’s taxes in addition to your own income tax and for Muslims, in addition to zakat, would you be willing to? I understand that perhaps there are cases of very kind people, but the majority would deem it unfair because you’re paying for other people from your own hard earned money!
Thirdly, telcos also have a particular need for more money since it is a technologically based industry which is constantly developing and improving. We’ve had EDGE, 3G, 4G, god knows how many other Gs there are. Telcos need the money to expand, and relentlessly improve their services to consumers. Without that revenue to invest, their service will not improve and they will be far behind in terms of world competition. Do you want faster and better service, wider coverage? Then your telco needs profits – in the billions – to be able to provide all this expensive infrastructure and technology for you!
3. Government needs that revenue from taxes
Many have come up and defended the need for government revenue from taxes. Agreed, there is a need for income tax, but is there really a need for this prepaid tax, especially when many prepaid users come from the lower income bracket?
The lower income bracket can benefit from this tax revenue if it is put to good, responsible, and efficient use – especially in the case of education programs to uplift the poor. However, I’d like to point out how this has been a consistent argument for high taxes, yet till today, 4 out of 5 of working Malaysians only have up to SPM education, while much of taxpayers’ money has been channeled towards mega projects such as Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ). Simply put, it’s not that we don’t have enough tax revenue, it’s that it is not being utilised properly.
It is my humble suggestion to abolish the prepaid tax altogether. Abolishing it would free telcos to lower prices to be more competitive (since now their cost is lower) thus benefiting all prepaid users. It would also potentially free up some income, especially for poorer groups where phone usage is a substantial part of their expenditure. This would allow them to use that saved money in a way that they would like to use it best, whether it be food, or education for their children; it would give them more control over their expenditure, rather than relying on state welfare programs where there is often inefficient administration.
This would allow politicians to bring up two words that people love and not hate: NO TAX.
All in all, I urge you: please think of the big picture before condemning telcos.

As published on September 23rd 2011 on LoyarBurok and the Malaysian Insider.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Of Fairytales, Youth and Public Policy

Despereaux. It is a French word meaning desperate and despaired, and also the name of a character in a fairy tale, the Tale of Despereaux. In the story, Despereaux the tiny mouse tries to make a mammoth change in a huge kingdom. But beyond its literal meanings, Despereaux is about unlikely heroes.
That was the name of my team, which recently won the runner-up in the inaugural Malaysia Public Policy Competition (MPPC) , suggested by my teammate Ezreena. This post is about the MPPC, a competition where youths compete to present new public policy suggestions, my personal experience during its duration, and above it all, the unlikely heroes of Malaysia – the youth.
We of Generation Y have often been criticised as apathetic, immature, unfocused, and unpatriotic. My experience – and I am sure this is one shared by the judges ( including our very own Edmund Bon) – has shown not only that this view is plainly unfair, but also that we are a viable and untapped resource for change in Malaysia.
Selangor State Legislative Assembly Speaker Dato Teng Chang Kim, who was one of the judges, commented: “You are all more than qualified to be MPs.”
Indeed, we did not call each other racists at the top of our voice, nor did we refer to each other as Big Monkeys (unless we were being compared to Lord Bobo, in which case we would consider it an honour), nor did we ask dedicated men in wheelchairs to stand up. We did not call for a crusade when dealing with sensitive issues such as race and religion, nor did we ban certain colours.

We used logic, reason, research, facts, and innovation to pull through, and ultimately proved ourselves. My team’s idea, setting up a website to monitor police corruption based on the model of a fashion shopping site called Net A Porter, was one of the suggestions proposed. UT Mara 1, the champion, suggested live streaming of trials involving politicians to ensure justice and to guarantee transparency in disseminating public information. Hamtaro, who came in 3rd, had simple, practical ideas to tackle one of the most pervasive issues of corruption amongst youths: bribing for driving licenses. All these ideas utilised social media, IT, and public involvement, and were fresh and bright policies for the betterment of the nation.
Our policies were not only creative, they were grounded in political reality. We took into account challenges such as cost, public perception, and resistance from the civil service in a pragmatic manner, and quickly devised stop gap measures to lessen these consequences within our ideas. We had implementable and realistic plans, where the time frame and methods of achieving our policies were  clearly outlined. For my team, we had our super researcher Kai Tyng to be our Wikipedia. We were not naive, taking into account the need to generate political will and exert public pressure to ensure our policies would see the light of day.

Champions, UT MARA 1. Image from the Sun.
Besides all that brain-racking, we had heart. We were focused and committed – God knows how many Red Bulls were consumed the night before presentation time. For myself, I opted for a more Malaysian way of staying awake: Sup Kambing from the mamak stall across the road, very helpfully tapau-ed by my ever reliable team leader, Johann. One of the other teams were jokingly speaking of how they lost their “never stayed up all night” virginity at the hotel. (And I hope for productive and not reproductive reasons!)
Discussions of thorny ( horny?) issues aside, it wasn’t just the participants who were willing to give their all. The people running about, getting sponsors, spreading the news, setting up websites, taking care of us were the outstanding members of the International Council of Malaysian Scholars and Associates. These were Maxis, Axiata, Bank Negara, JPA scholars and other distinguished youths who had been planning the event for months, and had flown back to Tanah Tumpahnya Darahku from all over the world to organise the event.
But most importantly, we were all Malaysian, in the truest sense of the word. My team joined the competition with little expectation, thinking of contributing to our country (though the prospect of RM 4k was a little tempting. Ok… maybe it was very tempting, but that’s not the point). Notions of segregation and discrimination were thrown away.  Race? The only time the word popped up in my head was when I was racing to the toilet after the Vitamin C + Sup Kambing + Strepsils combo. (It’s as lethal as alcohol and durians, I assure you.) Division? The only things that were really divided were the food portions; we were all united in our aspiration for a better Malaysia. It was a special moment of pride when UT Mara 1 won – a home grown team winning over students from LSE, Imperial, Oxford, Brown etc.
I’m eighteen this year. I stopped believing in fairy tales a long time ago. One of them was the fairy tale that young Malaysians can contribute to public policy in a meaningful and thoughtful way. But the Tale of Despereaux, and the Malaysian Public Policy Competition has reminded me of one thing: Sometimes, fairy tales … can come true.
Published in on 8th September 2011. Ong Kar Jin is now running at loyarburok and is looking forward to a long and happy career with loyarburok! Long live Lord Bobo!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011


merdeka( merdéka) 

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."

"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.