28 July 2005

Wednesday July 27, 2005

Globalisation of fear


When we hear the word “globalisation”, we think immediately of McDonald’s and Starbucks, and moan the fact that it seems to go only one way. True globalisation will probably only exist when people can buy nasi lemak at corner stalls in New York.

But one aspect of globalisation hardly ever merits a mention. And that is the globalisation of fear, grief and rage. In the past 10 years I have had to feel this globalisation of emotions, particularly fear and grief, four times. Two were for natural disasters, the Kobe earthquake in 1995 and the recent tsunami, and two others were for man-made tragedies – the Sept 11 events in the United States and the recent July 7 bombings in London.

In all four events, I feared for friends in all the affected areas and started working the phones and e-mails trying to find them. I found my friend Sunita from Kobe safe and sound after one week. During the recent tsunami I had friends in Phuket and Sri Lanka whom I nervously waited for news for several days. All were safe, though some had narrow escapes.

When Sept 11 happened, I immediately thought of friends who lived in Lower Manhattan and my cousin who lives in Washington DC. It took many long distance phone calls, frantic e-mails and unnerving days of waiting before I received confirmation that they were all fine. (One who was not fine was an uncle who suffered a heart attack and passed away after watching the dreadful events in his hotel room in Chicago.)

On July 7, I got the news just as I was packing to leave for Europe. It felt like a nightmare all over again. Having studied in Britain, I have some very close friends in London. One of them, Dharshi, a Sri Lankan, commutes to London every day from Cambridge, arriving at King’s Cross station, to go to work. I called their handphones and their homes and there was no response. A few agonising hours later, one SMS came back: We are OK. But not from the most vulnerable of them all, Dharshi.

When I got to Europe, I kept calling and SMS-ing. With every non-response, my stomach got even more tied up in knots. It was not until some 36 hours after the bombing happened that I finally got news of Dharshi. She had actually come into King’s Cross station during the evacuation alert and had decided to take the Northern Line underground to go to work. This was the subway line that it is speculated the alleged bomber on the bus was supposed to have taken but somehow did not. It was lucky for Dharshi; not so lucky for 16 other people on the bus.

I found my other friend Chris the next morning. The feeling of relief that all my friends were safe was intense. I’m sure that was the same for everyone else in London and elsewhere who had to search for their friends and loved ones. But it must be nothing compared to the grief of those who learnt that theirs were no more.

It might seem elitist to actually have friends in so many countries abroad to worry over. But the world gets smaller every day with easier travel and communications, so this globalisation of fear and grief is going to affect more and more people. While we don’t have to have friends in these affected places to empathise and sympathise, knowing someone makes it even more real and chilling.

And even while you can make intelligent guesses as to what motivates these things, it doesn’t dissipate the pain at seeing so many needless deaths and injuries. And what is worse, feeling that lingering pain of once more being lumped together with violent destructive people just because, on the surface of things, we have a common faith.

Having felt such fear and grief for events so far away, today I felt a total rage when reading that the father of one of the alleged pilots of the Sept 11 planes actually praised the London bombings and called for more! (On July 21, there were more, albeit less deadly.) We have to wonder what lost moral compass such a person has to call for more deaths, including those of Muslims.

He even said that the Muslims who condemned the bombings should be declared traitors to the faith. What a perfect way to project Islam! It only confirms that it is not a peaceful non-violent religion to those who are prejudiced, and to those who have suffered at the hands of these bombers.

Looking at reactions to all this violence, I am convinced that violence by all parties begets nothing but more violence. Violence is physical and structural. It is not limited to bombs; it also means repression of people by the state or those powerful enough to act as a state.

Invading other people’s countries is an act of violence; therefore it should be no surprise that people react violently. Killing people on public transport is also an act of violence and invites more. As we feel more insecure, people spend more on “security” but it makes us only feel more oppressed because we always lose our freedom. Let us never be fooled that violent acts will give us peace, freedom and democracy.

04 July 2005

Words of war
Wednesday June 29, 2005

Maybe we should just blame George Bush. The man who started the very abstract war on terrorism that then morphed into a very real war on people can surely be held responsible for the prevailing obsession with being war-like about everything. Or maybe, he should at least be blamed for a general pervasive macho-ness all over the world, all swagger and no substance.

Today I read in the papers that there is now a campaign called “War on Unruly Teens”. Now which genius thought of that? Or rather, which male genius thought of that? Only men can think that the use of the word “war” is OK, even against young people in our country.

What have our young people done to warrant having adults launch a war against them? What does “unruly” mean? Is this yet another knee-jerk response to bullying in schools?

When we use the word “war” against a group of young people, or any people for that matter, what does that really mean? To George Bush, the war against terror has meant demonising whole communities of people based on their faith, and marching into countries to occupy them, a very twisted way of giving them “freedom”. So when we declare war on “unruly teens”, does that we mean we will have posters demonising groups of young people? Does that mean that we will put young people we deem “unruly” away in order to make them toe the line? Isn’t that what we are doing with National Service anyway?

Young people, especially young women, can rightly feel that some adults must just hate them. They work hard like they are exhorted to; they still don’t get anywhere unless they kick up a fuss. They don’t behave the way adults define good behaviour, they get a war waged on them, funded no doubt by taxpayers’ money. I’m not saying anyone should be excused by bullying but when adults are constantly bullying young people, what example are they supposed to follow? If adults respond to teens by waging war on them, what is so surprising if they respond to weaker kids by also, in a way, warring with them?

Constantly using the word “war” against everything creates an atmosphere that subtly encourages violence and an aggressive way of solving things. People not toeing the line; let’s whip ’em. Women exercising their right to not wear a headscarf, let’s fine them. (Only PAS can try and make themselves sound good by saying they’ve been “considerate” for the past three years). People who stay home reading the Quran rather than going to mosque, let’s call them deviants. (Reading the Quran makes you a deviant? Hello?) Similarly branded are people who praise God through rock music. (For God’s sake, at least they talk about God!)

What on earth is happening? Is this country just going crazy? Obviously nobody believes in the power of education anymore. Perhaps that’s because people who come up with these ideas are somewhat lacking in the same? How does anyone choose their path in life but through education about their options? If we don’t provide them with that education, or if we skew it to only provide the options that we think are right, is it any wonder that they choose the wrong ones?

Or is it, in the style of George Bush, an impatience with approaches to problem solving that require much study and thought, that may take some time to show results, that doesn’t yield much business opportunities for t-shirt and banner makers, that doesn’t lend opportunities for photo taking with VIPs? Let’s get ‘em quick and fast and then move on to the next thing, damn the trail of suffering we might leave behind. There are Dubyas all over the world.

Of course people are going to get upset with me for comparing them with Dubya. But when you look at it; the sheer machoness, the sanctimonious attitudes, the dislike of women, the absolute belief that they have God behind them, the desire to inflict violence upon other people, it all sounds the same to me.

If we are going to wage war at all, why not wars on poverty, on inequality, on injustice? If every year kids do not get duly rewarded for their hard work, let’s wage a war on that obvious injustice. If there is a problem with bullying in schools, why not wage war on the conditions that make this possible, rather than individuals? Why not remove conditions within our society that allows people to bully others weaker or different than them? None of this requires campaigns that even mention war. In fact why not begin by banning the word “war”?

Unless, of course, we really don’t believe in peace.