21 November 2014

IMAGINE if you will, a band of warriors making their way through some tall grass. They are armed to the teeth because they are convinced that within the dense foliage, there are untold numbers of hostile parties ready to attack them at any time.

As they make their way, not the least bit quietly, their nerves tensed, they are on the constant lookout for enemies.

At the slightest sound or the faintest whiff of a possible attack, they pounce, with clubs and spears, and do their best to beat their presumed enemy to death.

It’s a take-no-prisoners approach, judge first before asking questions.

Except that there is nobody to question once the warriors are done with them.

In this way, the warriors believe they are guarding the tall grass territory that they live in.

The “enemy” is always unseen, they believe, so anything that seems different must be treated with suspicion at best, immediately “dealt with” at worst.

To do nothing is to allow these opponents to breed and their ideas to spread “like a cancer”.

But the tall grass hides the true picture of what is happening because it hides the warriors’ vision.

They can only see what is at the sparse top of the grass and not what is underneath, where discontent is seething.

The warriors cannot see that they are standing on the shoulders of those underneath and the glimpses and sounds of the “enemies” they see and hear, and whom they attack immediately, are simply the attempts by those underneath to find air to breathe in the upper reaches of the grass.

In the undergrowth of the grass lie many humans hiding in the shadows fearful of the warriors.

They work hard to keep the habitat growing, and for so long they have been quietly contributing to it as much as they can. But the warriors won’t have it.

The grass, they say, is only for the cleanest, purest warriors, of which there are only a few.

Those who do not fit into their definitions of “clean” and “pure” besmirch their habitat and therefore must either be gotten rid of or be rehabilitated to cleanse them of their “impurities”.

The warrior class is a special one. To qualify, they have to be of a certain community and be male.

The few females allowed to join can only do so if they agree with everything their male leaders say and do.

All must agree never to use their brains, only their voices, and it helps that they have many outlets at which their voices can be heard and listened to.

Brawn is everything, might is always right, loud is proud.

The problem with being a warrior, however, is that one is required to have one’s nerves perpetually on edge, beneath a paper-thin skin.

One must be ready to see ghosts behind every door, crucifixes on every cookie, proselytisers under every carpet and porcine DNA in high-calorie junk food.

Conviction of one’s own rightness is a must, even when it is scientifically proven that one is wrong.

Science is simply not the warrior’s forte; therefore science is an unnecessary inconvenience.

Meanwhile, outside the land of the tall grass, where the grass is cut to a level where everyone can breathe the same air and be all seen and heard, people are progressing.

Every day, someone gets a chance in the sunlight to show an invention that makes life better for everyone, regardless of who they are.

Innovators are rewarded and nobody pays attention to those who want to go back to the days of the tall grass.

But the warriors who live in the tall grass, because they cannot see beyond the grass they live in, do not fathom how far behind they are being left.

Innovators who need air to breathe in order to be creative are trampled on, so eventually they escape the grass to live in lands with shorter ones.

Anyone who complains of the unjust access to air is shot down immediately, and told that only those defending the right to keep the grass tall and dense are allowed to breathe.

Zoom out and looking at the globe from afar, we see that there are fewer and fewer patches of tall grass.

Everywhere people are cutting the grass short to give everyone a chance in the sunshine, recognising that it is in everyone’s nature to yearn for fresh air to breathe.

With sunlight, everyone is happy and friendly with one another. The land of the short grass is calm and peaceful.

In the land of the tall grass, the warriors thrash wildly and fiercely at everything that moves, not realising that underneath there is in fact nothing.

07 November 2014

The trouble with silence is that nobody knows what it means, so we can only make up reasons.

I READ a curious piece of news the other day where one of our bigwigs said that by not criticising us, President Barack Obama is actually supporting us with his silence.

I don’t even know where to start with this apart from it making a good Monday morning laugh. As some people have pointed out, since when do we need the United States’ approval for anything?

And secondly, when did we start reading people’s minds that we know what they are thinking when they don’t say anything? Could it be that we are simply number 1,000th on Obama’s list of priorities?

It just intrigued me, this line of thinking that silence means assent. You can extrapolate it to so many things.

If our leaders say nothing to cases of Bibles being confiscated or threatened with burning, does that mean they approve? When some people behave incredibly badly, making out that they are superior to other citizens and we hear nothing from our leaders, does this mean they agree with them? Or when they have absolutely nothing to say about the many abuses of the Sedition Act that are carried out, can we assume that it means they think there is nothing wrong with extending the jurisdiction of the Act way beyond what it is meant for?

This is the trouble with silence. Nobody really knows what it means. So we can only make up reasons, just as that bigwig is making for Obama. If I were the President of the US, I’d swat that nonentity away for his presumption.

Maybe there is a culture of “silence is assent” in our society. The best way to assure agreement in this way is by not telling anyone what trouble they are in. So that if they don’t speak up, it must mean they don’t have any objections.

Hence, perhaps, the reason why a state religious authority kept quiet about their fatwa that named Sisters in Islam as deviant.

If we didn’t find out before the three-month deadline, then surely we must agree to it! Ta da! Did they actually expect us to then go around introducing ourselves as “Sesat in Selangor”?

Silence equals assent speaks volumes, ironically, about the lack of transparency in lawmaking in our religious institutions.

Are laws made from whims and fancies of certain people? Should there not be more ­rigour in ensuring standards of justice are met before they can be passed? Should it not be so watertight that if it is met with so much negative feedback, the authorities can give their reasons why they passed it without much hesitation? Or what does silence mean in this case? Oops, maybe?

Malaysia is unique in the Muslim world in that fatwa can actually become law once gazetted. This means that if anyone contravenes them, you can be subject to some sort of punitive action. Which is why some fatwa, such as those against smoking or Amanah Saham, are not gazetted since it would mean an overwhelming number of people would have to be hauled off to jail.

Someone must have thought that with this fatwa, only a small number of people would be punished so why not? Except that the fatwa itself is very wide since it covers “organisations, individuals and institutions” that subscribe to “liberalism and pluralism”.

By that undefined measure, just about anybody who thinks differently can be caught by it. The courts will be kept very busy trying everyone, as if they didn’t already have a backlog of divorces and child maintenance cases that they haven’t dealt with yet.

If the message that differing opinions will not be tolerated is obtuse to some, there are plenty of young people who get it immediately. And they don’t like it.

We get letters and e-mails of support from so many young people who say that they can’t take all this repression any more. They have the brains to think for themselves, they say, to decide for themselves what they should or should not do in life. They want to learn more about their faith, but not in this sledgehammer style, through omission or silence, by simply not being allowed to talk about issues.

Every day our religious authorities make themselves less and less relevant to our young by their condescending attitude towards them.

In this case, it would be a mistake to think that the silence of the young means they approve or they agree with all that our authorities do.

If you look and listen carefully, they are speaking in many different ways, not necessarily in the bureaucratic way that our authorities normally do. Each attempt to clamp down on them only emboldens them more.

Perhaps if our leaders did some mind-­reading, they’d see that the silence doesn’t mean anything they thought it did.

23 October 2014

Sometimes it feels like we are being asked to despise an ever-growing list of people and things.

LAST Sunday, an extraordinary young man organised an extraordinary event. Having lived his life being afraid of dogs, he decided to overcome this fear and help others to do the same by inviting people to get to know some dogs. He got all the necessary permissions, promoted it and on the day, almost a thousand people, Muslims and non-Muslims, turned up.

By all accounts, the event was a success and people left enlightened and happy. Unfortunately, among those whose role in life is seemingly to keep us all ignorant, there was great unhappiness. Who is this young man who could get so many people out of their beds on a Sunday morning? How come they all seem to be smiling and, goodness gracious, enjoying themselves?

Thus, to no one’s surprise, they immediately started to condemn him and all those who took part in the event. Never mind that the intention of those who attended was to learn about one of God’s own creatures and how to treat them kindly.

The organisers had done everything right, including having someone give a talk on the Islamic viewpoint on dogs and having all the ingredients needed for the ritual cleansing after touching wet dogs. Yet this was not good enough for our authorities.

I often wonder if what bothers our “religious” authorities most is not so much the actual religious ins and outs of any event or action, but anything that would challenge their so-called authority and certainly anything that makes someone else popular.

The organiser of the Touch A Dog event did not intend for the event to insult anyone. After all, those who felt uncomfortable about it could always stay home.

I suspect that the response against the event only came about when they realised that quite a lot of people turned up. They had probably assumed that few would do so because they thought that everybody had already bought their so-called opinions against dogs. Lo and behold, about 500 or so Muslims did not!

Apparently, coming together to learn about animals as well as how to be kind and compassionate towards them will lead everyone down the slippery slope to even more nefarious acts.

I didn’t realise that kindness is now considered despicable but then the world has turned upside down. What’s next, the rabid types ask, Touch a Pig Day? Others ask if this will lead to How to Be An Adulterer classes, though I would suggest that we already have plenty of those.

How is it that nobody thinks that acts of kindness and compassion will lead to more acts of generosity and goodwill? If people can be kind to dogs, then we might just put a stop to things like throwing stones at them or the abandoning of puppies.

Where does it say that it is okay to beat or starve animals? And why should those who are kind to them be condemned? My aunt used to take in stray dogs and cats rather than allow them to be left to the elements.

The couple in Kedah who cares for dogs, however, was forced to move. Ignorance seems to lead to nothing but cruelty. Are we actually proud of that?

I believe that Malaysians, both Muslims and non-Muslims, are just dying for someone to tell them something positive, which is why they responded so well to the event. We all know what the big sins are and we know how to avoid them.

However, we are so rarely told how to get along with one another, how to live in harmony with one another, as well as with other living things in our environment.

All we are getting these days is how to hate an ever-growing list of people and things. How much energy are we to spend on hate? And how does hating anything and everything make us happy and better Muslims?

Why is it that if we are to hate anything, we are not encouraged to direct hatred towards the corrupt, the ignorant and the cruel? Why are we never taught to revile injustice, rather than revere it as some people in power do?

Chapter 5, verse 8 of the Quran says: “O you who have attained to faith! Be ever steadfast in your devotion to God, bearing witness to the truth in all equity; and never let hatred of anyone lead you into the sin of deviating from justice.

“Be just: this is closest to being God-conscious. And remain conscious of God; verily, God is aware of all that you do.” (translation by Assad)

If hatred can lead us to the sin of injustice, then perhaps it stands to reason that the opposite, love, can lead us to the virtue of justice. Isn’t that what we should be striving for?

10 October 2014

We always seem to think that we have no choice when it comes to doing evil, but plenty of choice to do good things that we then don’t exercise.

THERE are times when I just want to give up. One of those times recently was when I saw a tweet calling on people not to buy the latest Proton model because its name supposedly signifies the one-eyed false Messiah.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I have no idea whether it’s a good car or not but I do know that the person who wrote the tweet not only has a poor command of English but has the sort of brain that sees evil under every rock. It’s not a great brain, admittedly, but the owner seems proud to display it.

But more importantly this was yet another example of the Malaysian propensity to attach religious symbolism to everything.

A café latte foam might conjure up a face and everyone assumes it must be someone important, because why would unimportant faces appear in milk froth?

Parties, and indeed any form of fun, are the Devil’s way of distracting us from turning ourselves into stultified robots. Why, even the delicious and undoubtedly sensual taste of ice cream is something to be wary of, especially when they come with what might look like a religious symbol (if you had that turn of mind) on them.

What is it about us that we can’t take anything just for what it is? Why does everything have to be a conspiracy theory of some kind? Apparently we Asians (and Arabs and probably Africans too) are incapable of ever thinking for ourselves and therefore if we ever demand things like freedom of speech and other basic democratic freedom, we must surely be manipulated by someone else. Never mind that we once fought for our independence without anyone else putting the idea in our heads.

It is a patronising and condescending, not to mention racist, attitude about our own kind. And it is really the upshot of an education system that is geared towards keeping our minds small, and an environment that downgrades science and scientific fact in favour of superstition, rumours, whims and gossip.

Somehow, using our brains has fallen into disfavour, while the wackiest ideas spread like wildfire.

I see endless bizarre stories being spread through social media that, were anyone inclined to pause and think for a bit, would not make sense to a rational mind. But then if we are constantly being told not to think, to accept that there are many things that simply have no explanation, why should we be surprised that people are constantly seeing shadows where there are none?

Not thinking leads people to support the idea that we have no choice in our lives. If we disapprove of a concert or an event, we do have the choice not to go to it, especially if we are required to buy tickets first. If someone puts a beer in front of us, we do have the choice not to drink it.

As human beings with brains, we do have agency, meaning that we can make our own choices.

We are not puppets controlled in such a way that we are unable to resist anything. This is the sort of thinking that blames victims for what happens to them. If we had no agency and therefore no choice, then how can we blame men for raping or killing?

They apparently had no choice but ironically the victims could choose not to put themselves in such situations.

It’s funny how we always seem to think that we have no choice when it comes to doing evil but plenty of choice to do good things that we then don’t exercise. Doing good works is also something we can exercise our agency to do, or not. Yet nobody ever says they involuntarily did something good simply because someone put an orphan or a homeless person in front of them.

If we are religious and assume that we constantly have to guard against the Devil’s evil influence, how is it that we are never appreciative of God’s good influence over us to be kind and compassionate? Instead, we sometimes even treat people inhumanely and kill innocent people supposedly in the name of the Divine. In fact we always also have a choice to do none of these, also in the name of the Merciful and Compassionate.

This cult of unthinking is based on the assumption that we must always submit to things we don’t understand because we can never verify them. Yet we are given clear instructions: “And never concern thyself with anything of which thou hast no knowledge: verily, [thy] hearing and sight and heart – all of them – will be called to account for it [on Judgment Day]! (Chapter 17, verse 36, translation by Assad)”.

26 September 2014

A lot of strange things have been going on that must surely be a sign of the end of something.

THERE is a belief among some people that one of the signs of the end of times is when really strange things start to happen. I was never one of those because often “strange” can be quite subjective. There are some who think women taking leadership positions is one of those strange events.

But of late I have had to revise my view of this, although it may not coincide with the same theories that those people have. It is true, however, that a lot of strange things have been going on that, to me, must surely be a sign of the end of something. Maybe it’s not quite the end of the world, but certainly the end of an era, at least for some people.

For instance, we are now seeing this bizarre phenomenon of the nation’s top cop deciding that if anyone has the temerity to be “biadap” (rude) about his law enforcement agency or even himself, then he’ll use the Sedition Act against us.

Now, I don’t recall that the Act actually says we can’t pass a snide remark or two about the agency. After all we are all familiar with that remark “itu biasa lah” whenever we’ve had the misfortune to have to report a bag-snatching or a petty theft.

Would saying that such a remark is not be­coming of law enforcement officers be consi­dered “biadap”? Would saying that our top cop’s performance in front of the world media during the MH370 press conferences was far short of impressive make us liable to be arrested? If yes, then there are lots of people who would be in handcuffs by now.

Today you can get done in for giving an expert opinion that some governance processes were not legally kosher, or for saying that elections are the time for us to change governments if we wanted. Isn’t that what elections are for?

Undoubtedly some people have been foolish enough to let loose on social media things they would only say privately to friends. But that’s a very Gen Y thing to do, say everything you feel and put it up for all to see. It doesn’t necessarily mean you mean it, nor that you even had much reason to say it. But those get hauled up, too. Will this actually stop more ill-considered opi­nions being aired? I doubt it.

Yet these are the sorts of strange things that one can get charged for these days. Even stranger is the penchant for the same said officer to refuse to obey the laws under which he should operate. In all our 57 years of nationhood, there has never been confusion among our law enforcement officers as to what laws they are supposed to obey.

Suddenly, these days they are easily confused. And when compelled by the courts to do their job, they find the country’s top legal man, whose job is to protect the Federal Constitution, to become their lawyer.

That’s a lot of firepower to fight one poor beleaguered mother who just wants to have her children with her. They must think she’s darn powerful to warrant this type of abuse of the courts.

I even think that the UPSR leaks, as well as the response to it, are also a sign of the end. For one thing, why so much panic over an exam that 12-year-olds sit for? And secondly, although the leakers should be punished, why bother making all 473,175 pupils re-sit it?

Leak or not, the smart ones are still going to get good results. So we might as well wait for the results of the entire exam and see if there are any real anomalies such as those who normally don’t do well suddenly getting all As. Frankly, I doubt it.

So these strange events, as well as some others, are a sign that an era is coming to an end. Perhaps it is the end of doing things the same old way when things are changing rapidly every day. It is the end of a time when people all think and see things the same way. Nor is it any longer a time when people will not voice what they don’t like.

Einstein said that the surest sign of insanity is doing the same things repeatedly while expecting a different result. In our case, we are seeing the same things done more incompetently while expecting love and respect in return.

I’m not sure what to call that.