23 May 2014

No presidential speechwriter ever wrote a speech for his boss totally on his own.
THE other day I gave a speech in front of a bunch of women who both learn and teach public speaking. Which meant that I had to work hard on my speech, to make sure that it made sense and that I knew it well enough to sound convincing.
In fact I work hard every time I have to give a speech.
I am unable to say anyone else’s words so I have to write every word myself.
Before I do that, I have to read and research my topic so that I can speak with some credibility.
Then I try and write a different speech each time even if I’m talking about more or less the same things, if nothing else for me not to get bored and let that boredom creep into my voice.
Being sincere and passionate about your subject is to me very important.
Which is why I don’t understand how some politicians can get up and simply read out a speech that they’ve never seen before.
At least that’s what it sounds like when you read that they’ve made a speech full of terms they don’t understand, as well as invented new nonsensical ones.
I do get it that some people are too busy to write so many speeches themselves.
In that case, they employ really great speechwriters.
President John F. Kennedy employed Theodore “Ted” Sorenson who wrote his inaugural speech in 1961 that included that famous line “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper columnist William Safire wrote speeches for President Richard M. Nixon and until recently Jon Favreau was Director of Speechwriting for President Barack Obama.
British Prime Ministers also have their speechwriters but Winston Churchill was so skilled an orator, he wrote all his speeches himself.
It’s obvious we don’t have our own Winston Churchill. At the same time, we obviously don’t have a Ted Sorensen either.
In any case, no presidential speechwriter ever wrote a speech for his boss totally on his own.
A major policy speech starts off with discussions between the speechmaker and his entire policy team on the points that need to be made.
Then the speechwriter writes a draft setting the general tone of it. The final speech still has to be vetted and finalised by the person giving it.
If there is anything unclear in the speech, it has to be thrashed out completely because otherwise the public will surely demand to know what it all means.
Thus it is strange that any politician would ever consider giving a speech full of terminology that made no sense and which he would then be forced to clarify. Nor is clarification on Facebook a good substitute for issuing a proper statement.
If I were caught in such a situation, I would haul up whoever wrote the speech, bend their ears until they yelled in pain and tell them they are never to write a speech again. Actually I’d just fire them.
But maybe I’m being generous in suggesting that there are people who are fooled into making speeches that they had no hand in writing, where literally the speechwriters put words that they did not believe in their mouths. But to actually deliver such a speech, without a thought for the many implications of its words, leaves many issues unaddressed.
If that speech is to be believed, then the logical follow-up is to withdraw from all human rights bodies that Malaysia is a member of, including the United Nations.
To be a member of the Human Rights Council which Malaysia is, makes no sense.
There might not even be any point in being a member of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) that does recognise human rights too, albeit with some tweaks. And domestically, Suhakam should be disbanded.
But if human rights are bad for Malaysians, how do we talk about violations overseas?
How do we describe the plight of the Palestinians or of the Rohingyas if not as human rights violations?
What do we call concern about them if that is derided as mere “human rightism”?
When people are deprived of their homeland, nationality, food, shelter, education, jobs and healthcare, how do the anti-human rights people describe the situation? The way things should be?
Or do they simply not care?

08 May 2014

Muslims are benefiting from other people’s inventions, but in Malaysia all sorts of schemes are invented to relieve other Muslims of their money.

AS those who are familiar with Japan will know, their toilets are the best in the world. Not only are they clean and odourless, they have also invented toilets that clean, dry and warm you. They can even provide music while you sit on the potty.

Going to the bathroom is a pleasurable experience in Japan almost anywhere.

Now they have gone one step further. Being used to such wonderful toilets at home, the Japanese find the very different bathroom experiences abroad a great chore.

Not only is it difficult to find clean toilets everywhere, they often come equipped with nothing more than paper.

Only a limited number of countries have embraced the hand bidet.

As always, necessity is the mother of invention, certainly to the Japanese.

So they invented the natural follow-up to the toilet bidet: the portable toilet spray.

This is a small battery-operated device with a nozzle that you attach to a water bottle and instantly you have a spray to wash yourself with when you go to a “dry” toilet.

Now you can feel fresh wherever you go and don’t have to desperately search for acceptable toilets or carry wads of wet tissues with you.

Now the really amazing thing is this: getting clean after going to the toilet is a very Islamic thing to do.

But the people who invented the super-duper toilets and the portable toilet spray are Japanese who are mostly NOT Muslim.

Yet we are the ones who are enjoying and benefiting from their innovation.

This is not the first time that Muslims are benefiting from other people’s inventions.

I found a very cool clock that tells the Muslim prayer times designed by some young men from Holland.

A whole slew of Muslim products are made in Communist China.

Once upon a time, Muslim scientists and inventors devised many things that benefited the world.

It turns out that five inventions by Muslims that had a great global impact were coffee, algebra, degree-granting universities, military marching bands and cameras.

Coffee was apparently discovered by shepherds in Yemen and its popularity spread all over the Ottoman Empire and then to Europe.

People gathered in European coffee houses to discuss ideas that then led to the Enlightenment.

Today our people gather in coffee shops to mostly gossip.

Algebra may not be everybody’s favourite subject in school but it was one of the greatest contributions of the Muslim Golden Age to the modern world.

Developed by the great scientist and mathematician Muhammad ibn Musa Al-Khawarizmi, who lived from 780-850 in Persia and Iraq (oops, he might have been a Syiah!), this was a system by which algebraic equations could be used to solve real world problems such as zakat contributions and inheritance divisions.

Without Al-Khawarizmi’s work in developing algebra, modern practical applications of mathematics, such as in engineering, would not be possible.

Education was always an important part of early Muslim culture.
Mosques doubled as schools and eventually more formal schools known as madrasa were established.

Interestingly, the first formal madrasa was Al-Karaouine, founded in 859 by a woman, Fatima al-Fihri in Fes, Morocco.

The leading scholars in North Africa and the brightest students came to Al-Karaouine to study a range of subjects from “secular to religious sciences”.

At the end of their years of study, they would be given an ijazah which qualified them to teach.

This trend spread through Muslim Spain to Europe and now all universities grant degrees, not all of which are worth the paper they’re printed on.

I’m uncertain how military marching bands benefited the world but the ubiquitous modern camera owed its existence to Ibn Al-Haytham, one of the greatest scientists in Cairo in the 1000s who first noticed what happened when light went through a pinhole into a black box.

Before this discovery long before Mr Kodak, Ibn Al-Haytham also invented the scientific method, the basic process by which all scientific research is conducted.

Ibn Al-Haytham would be very bemused to see how people neglect his method in the way they think today.

I found out all of this through Google, which was also not invented by a Muslim.

The last Muslim I remember inventing something that benefited society was Prof Muhammad Yunus’ microcredit programmes which improved the lives of many poor women.

For that, no Muslim country has ever given him any awards in recognition of his effort.

Every day I read about all sorts of schemes invented by Malaysian Muslims to mostly relieve other Muslims of their money.

Given that so many people still feel the economic pinch despite these schemes, I’m putting my money on the Japanese toilet spray. At least it makes me feel clean.