18 November 2016

Those who equate the anti-Trump protests with local protests against our Government are ignoring some key differences.

WELL that was a shocker, wasn’t it? The Unthinkable won against the Unpalatable! Who would have thought!

It turns out that if some people had actually thought properly, they would have seen it coming. They would have seen the despair in parts of the country where people have felt left behind and left out. They might not have so easily dismissed all the bad behaviour and attitudes, to see that what actually fuelled them was fear (racism and misogyny also comes from fear). They might have not taken him literally but more seriously, as the voters did.

But there you have it, the most unthinkable President of the United States ever, a former bankrupt, reality TV show star and self-confessed groper. Someone that all of us have to live with for at least the next four years.

The ever-opportunistic social media propagandists in our midst spared no time in trying to equate the anti-Trump protests with our local protests against our own Government. They ignored a few things.

The losing candidate herself has not disputed the results, affirming the credibility of the US election system, despite winning the popular vote. And since the US still is a democracy, it is the right of its citizens to protest against their new President-elect. They are not necessarily disputing the election results and saying that the election is rigged, just that they don’t like the new President.

That is what is known as freedom of speech and expression, and is well established as the First Amendment in the US Constitution, which says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

On the other hand, some of us have doubts about our election system, especially with the recent proposed redelineation exercise. And despite Article 10 in our Federal Constitution which grants us freedom of speech, the freedom to assemble peaceably and the right to form associations, these rights are restricted by other clauses and laws.

So to compare the anti-Trump protests with our local protests is comparing apples with durians. Even Republican politicians there, despite now having a very strong government, are not complaining about these protests. Whereas ours, who are perhaps not feeling as secure as the Republicans, whine at every single contradictory opinion.

But this much is true; minorities in the US are not going to have a good time with a Trump administration. Already there are reports of hate speech and actions against Muslims, African-Americans and gays, indeed anyone who is not white and heterosexual.

Much like post-Brexit, the election of Trump seems to have given licence to all those who have resented being “politically correct” all these years to let it all out. It’s not pretty.

It is particularly not pretty to see the lack of sympathy of some of those who are a minority in our nation for those very vulnerable minorities in the US. Apparently human rights is not as universal as one might think.

In the US, minority groups have realised that they have to stand in solidarity with one other – whether religious, social, racial or gender minorities – in order to protect the human rights of all. They have understood that the US Constitution protects everyone, not just some people. This is something which we Malaysians have yet to understand. It is hypocritical to insist on our own human rights while ignoring the fact that others have rights too.

Perhaps one thing that is similar between the American electorate and the Malaysian one is our propensity to believe fantastic stories, especially if they confirm our own biases. Many fake news sites, mostly originating in Eastern Europe, have been publishing news stories which sound true but are in fact not. But many people have spread these news stories, mostly because they sound like something they want to believe. These types of things can make a difference in elections, if people believe them.

The encouraging news is that, according to a Reuters survey, most Malaysians do not believe the news, especially in the mainstream media. But that doesn’t mean they won’t believe news from other sites without checking whether it is true or not. We have a tendency to take these stories both literally and seriously, although a sceptic would have easily punched holes in them. And we are very prone to reacting to certain trigger words, without really knowing why.

The new Trump world has up-ended everything Americans have ever thought they knew. They should consult us on how to deal with it, since we’ve been trumped for a while now.

07 November 2016

THREE old friends, an American, a Filipina and a Malaysian, recently sat down to have coffee.

After a long session of catching up on family news, the talk turned to current issues.

Naturally the issue of national leadership came up. One bemoaned the fact that an orange-skinned self-confessed groper was actually running for president, another complained about her uncouth and seemingly deranged leader while the last could only blush with embarrassment when asked by her friends why her own leader was still there.

All three agreed that there must be some strange cloud hanging over our countries that we should all be saddled with men who are as imperfect as leaders as we have.

Of course, for one of us, there was still a good possibility that another leader might be elected, someone less imperfect.

For another, she only has to put up with him for six years although during that time he can inflict severe damage on her country.

But for the final one of the three, the possibility of the country going down the tubes because of an avaricious leader was all too real, with no end in sight.

It was interesting that when discussing our individual national situations, the one most familiar with dictatorship immediately recognised the signs of impending danger.

The creating of internal and external enemies, the getting rid of all those who know too much, the silencing of critics, the demonising of unsupportive former allies, the use of state enforcement agencies against citizens.

All these have been used before by other authoritarian leaders, and my friend’s eyes widened with alarm when I described what was happening back home.

In our country, there is a large number of us who are willing to overlook major faults such as kleptocracy as long as our elected leaders make laws that basically reduce us to infants with brains too undeveloped to know what’s good for us.

I read an article about our neighbouring leader’s assertion that nobody need fear if they hadn’t done anything wrong. He was referring, of course, to the killing of thousands of alleged drug sellers and users but I still shuddered with the familiarity of it.

The trouble is, when there is no standard process of judging who has committed a crime or not, how does anyone know if they have done something wrong?

The rule of law as determined by a Constitution that everyone respects is the only true protection for the innocent.

But in our case, when people can be arrested for wearing t-shirts, throwing balloons, drawing cartoons, making private comments or making public comments in their professional capacity, when labels are used to demonise people and there is little opportunity for them to clarify what they stand for, just about anyone can be considered to have done something “wrong”.

The only “right” people are those who say that yes, the emperor’s clothes are beautiful. Are we living in North Korea?

How come, my friends ask, we don’t say anything about all these injustices? Some of us do, I say, but not enough. Most people are busy trying to make a decent living and putting food on the table for their kids.

But, they also said, there will be no decent living if your leadership gets it wrong and you have no idea how long it will take to get back on track.

I know, I said, but we Malaysians are submissive people who’ve had it pretty good for so long that we can’t imagine having a different life. And it may well be too late for us already.

It got awkward when my friends asked if all the weird things that happened in my country – such as the banning of the words “hot dog” – were normal.

No, I said, it’s not normal at all. Once we were a sensible and calm people, not quick to take offence at shadows invented by our masters. But perhaps these are but distractions from the many real crimes taking place, for the media to have something to talk about since they cannot talk about really important stuff.

Or perhaps the real crime is the infantilisation of our people, so much so that we have to be constantly told that we are confused.

To be protected from being offended by a sausage is apparently more important than to be protected from those who would steal from us. Such is the upside down world we live in today.

Perhaps the only thing we can cling to is that in this gloomy world, what doesn’t change are friendships amongst people, across communities and nations. I at least take comfort in knowing that despite decades of separation and political winds and whimsies, friendships can and do last.

21 October 2016

DON’T we all have moments when we dream of being led by inspiring leaders, rather than the dim wet blankets we currently have? Don’t we wish we could listen to them and feel our hearts soar with hope, rather than having to figure out what is the latest mumbo jumbo nonsense they are dishing out?

Like many Malaysians bored with the clowns we see in our media, I have turned to watching the American elections. It is an activity I do with horrified fascination.

On the one hand, the long complicated process of electing a president and Congress gives us an opportunity to really get to know the candidates, rather than the hurried two-week dash we call our elections.

From a list of several candidates at the beginning all aiming to get into the White House, it gets whittled down quite brutally to only two, which is a relief given the jaw-dropping awfulness of some of the candidates.

Then every bit of detail about the final two contenders is examined with journalistic microscopes. It is their stated policies that come under the closest scrutiny, not just their looks. Unlike in our beloved land where lacklustre political parties openly state that they want to field young, pretty and sexy candidates. Female ones, of course.

In some cases in the US election, there is no need to have a microscope because they themselves lay out all their flaws for the world to see, albeit unintentionally.

I’m sure there was a significant number of Malaysians who watched the presidential debates, a totally novel idea in our so-called democracy. And we watched not just the words but the tics and quirks that sometimes tell you more about a person than what they say.

I personally don’t think much of either candidate and I’m very glad I don’t have to vote. It’s a choice between the not-great and the even-worse. And the even-worse is so grotesque, you have to sometimes wonder if this is real or a movie. Except that movies would not also have the enormous impact on the lives of those of us who can’t vote.

But one thing good about the US: nobody truly awful gets away with it. When a video came out that the candidate with the testosterone had said some pretty despicable things about women, he was pilloried by all but the most diehard supporters.

He is reeling from the onslaught and bleeding potential voters.

Whereas if the same thing happened here, supporters would actually outnumber critics.

We’ve seen it happen before where our supposed elected representatives felt free to insult women and then only had their wrists slapped while they issued a half-hearted apology.

Not that the said US presidential candidate is contrite at all.

In fact, he is behaving in the way we are familiar with: blame the victim, blame the opponent, blame the media, blame the world. Should we check his birth certificate in case he was born here?

But no less than the First Lady of the United States decisively took him down in a speech so impassioned it had me wondering if the wrong woman candidate was standing for election.

Michelle Obama’s speech was the sort that many women dream of listening to because it made the insult to women a mainstream issue. Indeed it was a speech many of us, regardless of sex, dream of listening to: full of conviction, focused, articulate and inspiring.

Instead, we live in a country where even women politicians will not convincingly defend women and where we have to put up with the sort of schoolboy politicians who think tearing down tall buildings is a legitimate way to deal with opponents. This is now the final stretch towards electing the new US president and nobody knows what will happen.

The polls say one thing but as Brexit showed us, reality can be something else.

The key is motivation to vote. The Republican candidate may be floundering but his supporters are extremely motivated and will turn out to vote.

His opponent’s supporters don’t seem as galvanised, except perhaps women voters who cannot stomach a boorish groper as their leader.

Whether they, as well as other minority groups summarily dismissed by him, will be enough is the mystery question.

Over here, on social media at least, people seem to be motivated towards change. Which means nothing unless it turns into action.

Over four million eligible voters have not even registered to vote.

If they don’t register in good time before our own elections, they cannot participate. So let’s not talk about change unless we’re motivated enough to register as voters.

Meanwhile, I’m going to ignore our local horror show for a while in favour of the one happening thousands of miles away. Popcorn!

06 October 2016

Class reunions are a reminder of an education where we learnt about the world, about how to treat one another and how to write properly.

THE year 2016 seems to be the year of reunions for me. Early this year, I was reunited with my alma mater, the University of Sussex – quite a nostalgic experience, even if the student population has grown five-fold and some old faculty buildings have been pulled down.

Later this month, I will be reuni­ted with some of my small circle of friends in Kobe, Japan, where I lived for more than two years and where my older daughter was born.

Last weekend, though, I had a reunion with some of my oldest friends from the school I was at the longest: St Nicholas Convent in Alor Setar. It had been one year in the planning and we exceeded our aim of getting at least 60 alumni to attend.

A reunion with old friends can be a risky endeavour. You’re likely to meet up with old schoolyard enemies, open up old wounds and be reminded of things you’d rather forget.

I went to one reunion where an old schoolmate made the fateful mistake of reminding me why we never got on, thinking that the old episode was funny rather than hurtful.

This reunion had none of that. Although some of us couldn’t remem­ber some of our old schoolmates, we were still joined by a common love and a shared history with a school that sadly does not exist anymore.

Some people still looked the same, albeit with an expanded waistline, some people had changed their whole look (thus making it difficult for those of us with memories of young schoolgirls) and some already had grandchildren galore.

But we still had fun remembering our old teachers and their idiosyncrasies, the types of innocent naughtiness that schoolgirls could get up to in those far simpler days. We remembered the nuns who were also our teachers and who taught us how to behave well, at least according to them.

I remember silence was consider­ed a great virtue. There were also amusing attempts by the nuns to warn us about boys.

“If a boy asks you to meet him, do not go!” the Irish nun thundered, which raised curiosity about what a boy would want to meet me for!

It’s really odd what tiny details the memory records. I remember my Year One teacher’s bright orange skirt and the wonderful white slingback shoes my Year Six teacher wore.

The friends I had been in kindergarten with even remembered the types of activities we had then. Everyone remembered, with some affection, the very fierce Domestic Science teacher we had.

At our gala dinner, we showed old photographs, sang old songs and simply chatted away about old times. The next day, we had a brunch at the site of our old school (predictably enough, now a mall) and took a group photograph at the old school sign.

And then spontaneously, we were all invited to visit a friend whose home was in the middle of padi fields and who laid out a spread of typical Kedah dishes.

I look back at that weekend as a reminder of what we have lost in the years since then. For one thing, we all speak English very well, having been drilled in its grammar and use by some excellent teachers.

We had a well-rounded primary education where we learnt about the world through General Know­ledge, about how to treat one ano­ther in Civics and even how to write properly, first in single letters and then in cursive.

We all remembered when we moved from using pencils to the more grown-up pens, and how we constantly smudged our fingers with ink.

Convent schools in those days were not particularly diverse, mostly because Malay parents were uncomfortable about sending their daughters to be taught by nuns.

Malay girls were thus a minority but despite the big cross on the main school building, Christian imagery on the corridor walls and songs at assembly, none of us have ever left our faith.

We never felt oppressed or sidelined. We went to our Ugama classes, while our Catholic friends went to catechism. The rest of the time we moaned collectively about homework, exams and strict tea­chers.

We ate together, played together, joined the same clubs and participa­ted in the same performances.

When we saw one another again, some after 40 years or so, it was as if time had stood still in our friendships. Hugs were abundant and warm. Sentimental old me couldn’t hold back tears upon seeing my childhood chum’s mother. Their family and ours had spent a lot of time together.

We’re still talking and reminiscing about those times now that we’ve parted again. And we’re well aware that we had something precious which must be preserved.

Will our collective children and grandchildren be able to say the same?

09 September 2016

ONE of the things I like to tell young people is that if they do well at school, they will have more choices in life. Having choices is one of the great privileges in a human being’s life and many of us are working to ensure the greatest number of people have the ability to make the most choices for themselves as they see best.

Hence, for example, we work so that parents have a choice of where they can send their kids to school.

If their choices are limited because of poverty, then we have to address that, by either ensuring that their few options are nevertheless good ones or that they can earn enough to be able to have a wider selection to choose from.

The days are long gone when we did not have choices in our life partners. Nowadays, for better or for worse, we make our own choices.

We choose to better our lives or sometimes we do not, but it is still our choice and we live with the consequences of either one.

We also choose every few years who gets to rule us, and we live with the consequences of that too.

Although we don’t always have to put up with bad choices, we are certainly free to let our choices know that we disapprove of what they say and do. We didn’t hand over our right to have a say once we voted them in.

So choice is really the ultimate privilege and all of us should be working towards a situation where the gap between those who have the most choices and those who have the least is as narrow as possible.

Having a just and equitable society is also a choice. Steering a nation towards such a society, or not, is also a choice for our leaders and it’s amazing how they sometimes fail to exercise that choice, usually by saying that they had no choice.

However, like many things these days, the meaning of the word “choice” can be different to different people. For most of us, it means the freedom to decide something based on an array of options.

If I decide I need to get fitter, I have many different types of exercise regimes I can try and I just have to choose the one that best suits me.

But for some people, the right choice is the one that they, and only they choose, and everyone else’s choice is wrong.

For example, in a country that prides itself on freedom and equality, France is incredibly adamant that some of its female population, specifically Muslims, may not have the choice of what to wear on the beach. And it will actually enforce this limit on choice by law.

Or even against the law, since some mayors have decided to disobey the court order to overturn the ban on burqinis.

Here is a funny situation; normally court orders give you no choice but to obey. Yet here we are with municipal authorities exercising their “choice” to disobey the law.

The ostensible excuse for the burqini ban is apparently security, although how a woman in a figure-hugging swimsuit much like a diving suit may be a security threat is a question nobody wants to answer.

Someone commented that it’s the mindset, not the dress. Well that’s correct, although why would we suppose that every woman who wants to be modestly dressed for the beach is also thinking of bombing some place? And since when has modesty been a crime?

The sexism in this ban is so obvious. Any man can go to the beach in an outfit that would betray nothing about him, yet statistically he is just as capable, if not more so, of endangering others.

How can you tell what’s in his head when he’s lying there in surf shorts like anyone else? Or is the next step simply banning any Muslim from Europe’s beaches?

At home we may protest these bans by calling out the hypocrisy of countries that purport to uphold human rights. But we are no better at choice either.

We too believe that the best choice is what we think it is and not what an individual thinks is best for him or her. So if a woman makes the choice to put on the tudung, she is applauded. But if she makes the choice to take it off, hell on earth descends.

It seems there is no greater betrayal than by people who make their own choices in life, rather than bending to the choice of the self-righteous masses.

Worse still if they actually dare to be happy afterwards. And heaven forbid if it’s women exercising their right to choice!

26 August 2016

With the exception of the spoilsports, the rest of us came together to cheer as one.

THE Rio Olympics finally arrived and this time we had the best medal haul ever, four silvers and one bronze.

We may not have heard Negaraku being played at the victory ceremonies but we did see the Jalur Gemilang being raised five times, more than ever before. Tell me your heart didn’t burst with pride when you saw that!

The hours put in by our athletes, the hard work, the pain, the sweat, the sacrifice, all of these culminated in these medals.

Of course we are disappointed that we didn’t get a gold but we did come very, very close.

Whatever it is we have world-class Olympians and we should rightly be proud of that. Congratulations to our badminton players, our two synchronised divers and our keirin cyclist!

The Olympics may come only once in four years but for everyone in the world, it’s an opportunity to watch the fittest and strongest compete for sports glory for their countries.

It’s amazing to see the most famous and the least known compete together and sometimes deliver a few surprises.

There seems to be a big difference between competing for individual glory and for your country. Winning for your country seems to be more moving and easily brings out the tears.

And while everyone roots for their own countrypersons, we can all be inspired by the stories of athletes from other countries, especially those who had overcome all odds to come and compete.

This year there was a special team of refugees and although none of them won anything, understandably given their circumstances, watching them participate highlighted their humanity and reminded us that refugees have abilities just like anyone else.

We watched athletes who never gave up, no matter how badly things turned out for them.

Sandra Perkovic, the defending champion and discus-thrower from Croatia had two fouls (disqualified throws), which put her at risk of elimination before she threw one so good that she won the gold.

If you’re a champion, you don’t let failure discourage you, you give your all one last time.

For us in Malaysia, once again the Olympics is the opportunity to come together to root for our national athletes.

We forget our differences, settle ourselves in front of our TVs preferably with friends and family, and yell encouragement to our fellow Malaysians competing at the highest level.

We laugh together, we smack our foreheads in frustration together, we cry together and we cheer together. For a short while we are united.

But there are always spoilsports. Apparently some people think that commenting on the most inane matters is more likely to get them to heaven than compliments for sporting achievement.

There was the newspaper which described a silver medal as disappointing while celebrating a bronze medal in another event. Unsurprisingly, these mean-spirited headlines caused much consternation.

As expected, the crotch-watchers and tut-tutters were out in force, ready to police what our female athletes wore rather than how they performed.

Someone actually described Pandelela Rinong’s outfit as ‘incomplete’ although it is unclear what sport it was incomplete for.

It was certainly correct for her sport, diving.

Interestingly enough, there was no excessive praise for the female athletes who wore ‘religiously correct’ outfits, perhaps because they didn’t get very far in their events.

Ultimately, you just have to watch the female team events such as synchronised diving or gymnastics to realise that the hundreds of hours of practice it takes to get their routines perfect matter so much more than their costumes.

These armchair critics can make mean comments all they want but how many of them can say that they have stood on the world stage, competed with the best in the world and actually beat some of them?

How many of them can one day tell their grandchildren that they were Olympians, and even medallists, members of a very exclusive club?

I watched the athletes at the victory ceremonies and had to recognise that that is an experience I will never have.

It’s a truly humbling realisation.

Indeed humility, with a few exceptions, seems to be the stock character of top athletes.

Joseph Schooling, Singapore’s first ever gold medallist, could hardly believe he had beat his hero Michael Phelps in the 100m butterfly event.

Mo Farah, the British distance runner, has dedicated every gold medal he has won to each of his four children.

We watched so many winners thank God first for their win before showing their joy.

Every four years we watch the ultimate sporting event with all their triumphs and heartbreaks and learn a few things about dedication and passion.

And for a few weeks we take a tiny break from the negativity, bloodymindedness and dishonesty we have to face around us every day.

14 July 2016

Preachers can have a tremendous influence on desperate souls looking for answers to their troubles, and the latter may take everything literally.

IT seems as if the last month has been marked by nothing but violence. Beginning with Orlando, Istanbul, then Dhaka and then the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, followed by those of several police officers in Dallas, everywhere you looked, there was bloodshed, as if the whole world had gone to war with one another.

And we weren’t spared either. First an apparent first attack by Islamic State at the Movida club and then what seemed like a spate of gunshot killings in Kuala Lumpur’s suburbs.

The Inspector-General of Police became concerned enough about the killings to set up a special taskforce to investigate them.

Meanwhile, reams of articles are written about the profiles and motivations of the perpetrators in Orlando and Dhaka particularly. It turns out that these perpetrators were far more complicated people than any stereotype could predict. Which just goes to show the limitations of profiling anyone.

Indeed, stereotypes were very much defied in the Dhaka attack. Rather than being poor, disaffected youth who might have been led astray by men wearing robes and bearing money, the attackers were in fact young men from upper middle class families, who went to good schools and even studied abroad at private universities in Malaysia.

These were young men who were thought to have everything going for them. Until they started disappearing, only to re-appear carrying out an extremely vicious attack, even killing young people of the same background.

In the investigations into their backgrounds, much has been made about who could have influenced them. Perhaps theirs is an abject lesson in what all human beings need: spiritual succour.

Could it have been that while these kids had every material comfort, what they did not have was comfort for the soul? And so they went looking, and as fate would have it, found the ones that were easiest to understand, where blame could be laid on others, rather than on showing compassion and kindness in order to nurture the soul?

There have been suggestions that some of us have made too much of the influence of particular religious personalities and politicians in creating the sort of climate in which young people get attracted to IS ideologies. This is disingenuous, to say the least.

For one thing, nobody sets out to become a politician or a religious preacher without the aim of influencing people. That is the whole point of these jobs.

Whatever they say is lapped up by many people because it is assumed by the public that what they say must be important simply because of who they are. Politicians can turn what they say into laws and policies which will affect people’s behaviour. For example, if they pass a law that says you must wear seatbelts in the car, you have to do it or face censure.

Religious personalities may not always be able to pass laws but their influence can be even more powerful, because often people assume that what they say is the word of God.

Certainly those who do not have much religious knowledge (and thus far studies have suggested that IS members know very little about religion) are particularly susceptible to whatever they say because they have no other point of reference. They do not see these pronouncements as mere opinion or only one out of many interpretations, only that these words come directly from God’s vessel, the preacher.

It is even more disingenuous to say that those words were misunderstood. A person who does not allow for different interpretations of God’s words in the Quran cannot claim that he can’t help it if people understand his words differently from what was intended. Unless you’re unequivocal about what you mean, you can’t blame others for supposedly misinterpreting what you said.

Supporters of such people claim that they can’t be that influential anyway. Again, this is disingenuous.

If these preachers have only marginal effect on people’s lives, they would not be able to fill arenas with ticket-buying devotees. For sure, some people may go for the halal entertainment value but you never know what desperate soul might go to find answers to his or her own troubles and then take everything literally. After all, these preachers preach certainty. If you follow me, you WILL go to heaven. A potent message, which isn’t limited to Muslims only.

Ironic, isn’t it, that the ones who always call for the banning of Western performers because they might influence our young are also the ones who don’t believe that consevative preachers have any influence at all? At least Beyonce has never told her audience to go out and terrorise anyone.



30 June 2016

WELL, it’s been some week! To the shock of everyone, Britain voted to leave the European Union. I was in Britain not too long ago and nobody I knew believed they would leave. But by a whisker, they did. And the consequences are still rolling out all over the world.

All this can be put on the shoulders of one man, David Cameron. What started as an internal party issue was allowed to spin so much out of control that the shockwaves are still being felt.

The pound sterling has dropped, stock markets everywhere are falling and Brits are suddenly waking up to a world vastly different from just last week. A passport that is almost the equivalent of a world passport is no longer theirs.

Along the way people’s emotions got worked up into the nastiest form. Xenophobia suddenly became the norm. People became so divided; one young woman MP even got killed presumably for her views, a tragedy so rare in Britain that it shocked both sides of the divide.

It did not help that the right-wing media whipped emotions up for the Leave campaign with sensational headlines and very few reasoned arguments. In fact there was very little in the way of sensible and factual arguments.

The PM lost his gamble so he stepped down.

History will probably remember him as not only the man who broke up the EU but possibly also Britain because now Scotland is talking about another independence referendum. Perhaps Northern Ire­land too. Who wants to stay with a bunch of insular provincial people when there’s a whole world out there?

Which brings us back to our little country here, which seems to be getting ever more insular every day.

In this holy month, a religious leader, for unfathomable reasons, decided to declare non-Muslims not only infidels but the type of infidels that should be killed. Uncon­ditionally, only because they are not Muslims.

Naturally all right-thinking people, Muslim and non-Muslim, are reacting badly to this. Shockingly, he is not getting admonished by his superiors for such uncharitable talk about fellow citizens in the month of restraint.

At least in Britain when pro-Brexit people start talking about taking back the country for citizens of the white persuasion only, there will be people in high positions who will criticise them sharply.

But as usual in this country, when a man of the turban and long gown says anything nasty, nobody in a position of authority will protest.

They seem to think that God speaks through him so his word cannot be challenged. Someone should send him on a study tour to post-Brexit Britain where they would take one look at him, look up what he just said and promptly deport him for incitement.

Then there was the case of the Ipoh City Council that issued an invitation to an event for its staff and felt the need to detail what people should wear.

Instead of trusting that people would have the common sense to know what would be suitable to wear to such an event, some pea-brained person decided that they needed to underscore what could not be worn, the elegant and graceful saree.

Forgetting that they now live in the age of camera phones and social media, the council got caught out and added insult to injury by giving the lame excuse that the word kecuali does not actually mean “except” but means what you should not wear when you’re out in the field, even though this is presumably an indoor event with food.

In my childhood, my Mum’s friends Dr Sundra and Dr Ranjit wore sarees to work in the hospital and absolutely nobody freaked out about it. When she got married, my mother even wore a saree at one of her nuptial events because her friends had given her a beautiful one.

What I wish most, really, is that one of our leaders has enough of a conscience to step up and say “Enough!” and tell everyone to stop this nonsense.

Not saying anything is like David Cameron letting the Brexit ghouls out of Pandora’s box. Once such hate speech (and there is no other word for it) is allowed out, there is no pulling it back.

But looking at the calibre of our Cabinet in its latest iteration, there is no hope of that ever happening.

There is simply no moral leadership in this country, no one in Govern­ment who has the courage to point out what is patently wrong in our society today.

The tragedy is that nobody does anything that is not self-serving.

If this continues, then they may find they are ruling a country with no people. Sooner or later, (more) Malaysians may decide that it’s time for Mexit.

Selamat Hari Raya, maaf zahir batin.

16 June 2016

Instead of looking into how a man with a record could easily get a gun, some have focused on his religion and the alleged sins of the victims.

IS it too much these days to expect Ramadan to be the month of restraint, reflection and rest? In the past few years it has been anything but, both domestically and internationally. This year, sadly, is no exception.

This week in Florida a gunman allegedly shot and killed 49 people in a club and wounded another 53. That alone is tragedy enough.

After sending condolences to the families of the victims, the conversation should then turn to dealing with what is an obvious crime. Isn’t murder a crime in every country in the world?

Yet the conversation about a crime and its motives has been diverted towards other things. The fact that the gunman was allegedly Muslim. The fact that the victims were presumably gay.

Not the fact that an American citizen with an assault rifle massacred and wounded a lot of other American citizens. When it boils down to it, those are the bare facts.

But as things are these days, everyone wants to make a meal of it. The presumptive Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump basically used the tragedy to praise himself for having “warned” Americans about this danger. Never mind that the shooter is a United States-born citizen who, despite a record of being a wife-beater and being questioned by the FBI, had purchased his guns legally.

Various Republican politicians tweeted their sympathies to the victims, blamed Muslims and said nothing about the ease with which people can get guns in America. But then many of them had received money from the National Rifle Association to not vote for any legislation that would make it tougher to buy guns. Basically they helped put in place an environment which made it easier for these massacres to happen.

Most also ignored the specific targets of the shooter who were LGBT people, not the Republicans’ favourite people. The same people whom they have condemned and discriminated against for a long time.

In this, they may have been more aligned with the views of the shooter. But alas, he happens to belong to a faith that some of them, especially current and past presidential candidates, are also prejudiced against. What a dilemma!

It is a dilemma for American Muslims as well. On the one hand, here was another incident where the predictable reaction would be more general condemnation of all Muslims as if all are responsible for the murders. As has happened with past violence, a rise in Islamophobic incidents will no doubt occur.

On the other hand, many Muslims are uncomfortable with the LGBT community, believing that they are sinful aberrations of God’s creations. Still, discomfort does not mean that Muslims believe that they should be killed, hence for many American Muslim organisations, their position is clear.

The largest Muslim organisation in North America, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), immediately issued a statement expressing sympathy with the victims’ families and calling on Muslims to donate blood to the injured survivors.

The Executive Director of CAIR, Nihad Awad, was quoted as saying that the attack was “a hate crime, plain and simple”. 

He said CAIR’s sympathies lie with the LGBT community, and that the goal of extremism is to create divisions among as many social groups as possible.

Meanwhile thousands of miles away, Muslims living in a Muslim country where they should be fasting and doing charitable things are instead taking to applauding the shooter for killing those 50 people and hoping that the other 53 will die too. Easy for people who live in their own little bubble to say things like this when it isn’t their own family and when they have never felt the fear such violence evokes.

How many Malaysian Muslims have truly experienced what it means to be in extreme danger? And how many Malaysian Muslims have ever experienced out-and-out Islamophobia?

So easy to express outrage at people marching against Muslims in Europe, yet even easier to hypothetically tweet that even a gay sibling should be killed. What is all this murderous talk in this holy month?

Our ignoramuses in Malaysia should take heed of what Nihad Awad, at the frontline of so much hate, said: “ Homophobia, transphobia and Islamophobia are interlocked systems of oppression. We cannot fight one and accept another.”

They need to understand that all Muslims are being unjustly blamed once again for the act of one man. By applauding his act, they are agreeing with the Islamophobes that we are inherently a violent people.

Meanwhile in Los Angeles, the police have caught another heavily-armed man who was hoping to “harm” the gay pride parade there. He is neither coloured nor Muslim.

Perhaps the most pertinent comment comes from the activist filmmaker Michael Moore: “This is the 163rd day of a year in which there have already been 173 mass shootings in the US.”

20 May 2016

In addition to what we learn in school, other people we meet can give us valuable lessons, too.

MONDAY this week was National Teacher’s Day. I had lost touch with this day until a friend reminded me in a rather unique way.

Although we usually think of teachers as the ones in school, my friend used a broader definition of “teacher” and thanked all the people she had learnt something from in life including, to my surprise, me.

Going by the conventional definition, I did have a lot of good teachers. I can remember my primary school teachers, Miss Ong who came to school in a bright orange flared skirt, and Miss Chew whom everyone adored so much, we all cried when she was transferred.

I had teachers who gave me my love of the English language and who made sense of Mathematics to me, who guided me all the way through my exams and believed that I had more potential than I thought.

I had a History teacher who taught me to organise my thoughts so well when writing essays that I still use her method today. And last year I visited my old Physics teacher and found out that although I always thought I was quiet, she remembered me as very opinionated.

Of course, there must have been teachers who were also mean and nasty but time seems to have softened my memory of them. In any case, I don’t remember them being too awful and none of them were bullies like those I hear about today.

My teachers taught us a lot about values, about the need to be aware of what is going on not just in our country but also around the world, about right and wrong.

If anyone says I am well educated, I have to say that my education started well in my childhood and continued all the way until adulthood.

As I grew up I had many more teachers, some of whom were in unexpected quarters. When I first started working on HIV issues and knew nothing about any world different from my own, my teachers were all the people who were most affected by the epidemic.

I remember Jack, the first Malaysian to ever come out as a person living with HIV, teaching me how to use non-discriminatory language when I wrote about the people most vulnerable to the disease.

Drug users and sex workers told me their life stories and taught me that some people have been dealt really bad cards in life yet they soldier on, especially when other people depend on them for survival.

All of these people taught me that every human is entitled to respect and dignity, regardless of their circumstances in life. And I think that’s an important part of everyone’s education.

A great teacher is one who is able to make you see something so clearly that the world never looks the same again afterwards. Dr Jonathan Mann was the first director of the Global Programme on AIDS at the World Health Organisation, and then went on to head the Institute of Health and Human Rights at Harvard University.

In 1994, I was fortunate enough to hear Dr Mann articulate a human rights approach to health that made more sense to me than anything I had ever heard before. From that day I really wanted to learn more from Dr Mann but it was only four years later that I got to meet him at a conference in Geneva.

I really should have used that opportunity to talk to him as much as I could but I thought I had time. Sadly, only two months later, Dr Mann and his wife were killed in the crash of Swissair 111 off the coast of Nova Scotia. In the worst possible way, I learnt that we must always make full use of every opportunity given to us.

Of course, I have had many other teachers as well. Women’s rights activists are a particularly inspiring lot, Muslim women activists even more so because they are often misunderstood by everyone.

Women like Amina Wadud, Asma Lamrabet, Kecia Ali and our local Zainah Anwar, Norani Othman and the late Dr Nik Noriani have so much knowledge based on both scholarship and the lived realities of women that their detractors can do no more than question their credentials.

Yet all round the world, their work is resonating with women, including me, because it provides hope, something we don’t find anywhere else.

So we go through life meeting many teachers, not just the ones at school. School teachers may be the ones we meet first but we should always be open to all sorts of other teachers in our lives, sometimes who we don’t even recognise at first.

Education doesn’t end with school. Too bad not everyone learns that.

05 May 2016

I CAME across this great quote the other day. It’s by a filmmaker called Pierre Sauvage who, as a child, was saved by German villagers during the Holocaust. Interviewing the villagers as an adult, he found out one thing: “Those who agonise, don’t act. Those who act don’t agonise.”

In other words, when it comes to doing the right thing, people who do take action don’t spend a lot of time thinking of what might be reasons not to do it.

That’s probably true about all the people who want to do good in society. If they see someone in need, they start thinking of how to help them, not hoping that someone else will.

That’s how people start soup kitchens, collect clothes and essentials when disasters happen or read for the blind. Or get into boats to run supplies to refugees stranded at sea.

People like that don’t think about how much work it would take, how much it would cost or what risks they would face. All those are just problems to solve, not barriers to action. People like these are can-do people and a lot of the time, they are quite effective.

On the other hand, there are the agonisers who may have good hearts but spend so much time agonising over every possible consequence of their potential action that they wind up being too slow or not doing anything at all.

If Pierre Sauvage’s saviours had agonised about saving him and several thousand others, he would likely not have survived to become a filmmaker.

I remember one reader’s response to a column I did about the late Princess Diana who had not hesitated to hug HIV-positive people in hospitals and consequently set an example against the stigma and discrimination that such people faced. “We can’t do that,” said the indignant reader. “What if they are a different sex from us?”

Suffice to say that one of the reasons we remember Diana to this day is because she did not agonise over such matters. Every human in distress needs comfort. It was not about her, it was about them.

Most of us, me included, spend a lot of time agonising over the big decisions in our lives. If it’s going to cost money, change our usual life or involve some personal risk, then of course we are going to think it over thoroughly. Few people rush into buying homes, marrying someone and moving to a foreign country or undergoing major surgery without mulling over many factors, and taking our time about these decisions.

But when we’re thinking about other people and doing right by them, then mulling too much may not be the best response. Especially when the mulling involves thinking up imaginary reasons not to do something.

I know people who worry about whether they should put their thoughts in a blog, for instance, before they write a single word. They believe that it would attract negative reactions from the authorities because they’ve seen what happens to other people’s blogs.

That’s exactly the type of self-censorship that the authorities want, where people worry so much about consequences that they don’t write a single word. The thing is, it may be that what they write will attract not that much attention at all from the people they fear, or very little relative to other people. That may sound disheartening but if you’re worried about nasty consequences, then why should it be an excuse for not expressing your thoughts?

Similarly I get lots of people who say that they cannot do what I and a lot of other activists do because they stand to lose so much. Well, so do we. Being locked up, even for a night or two, is tough and something I hope I never have to experience. But activists do what they do because they believe in it. They don’t agonise, they act.

If we see something terribly wrong happening around us which will lead to so much future suffering, it would be so easy to close our eyes and ears and wish it would all go away by itself. But it won’t unless we act.

That’s why there are people who, regardless of race, religion, age, station in life and political beliefs, are taking action to try and right what is wrong. It may seem futile to some but it’s a lot better than doing nothing. People who act can always hold their heads up high that they tried to do something, and not passively let misery rain upon them. Foolish they may seem to some but a lot of people are, as Nelson Mandela once said, making choices that reflect their hopes, not their fears.

So, ask yourself, are you an agoniser or a person who acts?

21 April 2016

YOU have to hand it to some people. They can be quite barefaced hypocrites when it suits them.

The same people who say that “too much freedom is a bad thing” can suddenly invoke freedom of speech when someone they like is banned from speaking. Usually it’s not someone telling them anything new, because new ideas would require thinking. And thinking, of course, should be banned.

But if someone confirms their opinions, no matter how wrongheaded they may be, then suddenly a whole new breed of “human rights defenders” sprout up.

These are what I call the Human Rights Are Good But (HRAGB) defenders. They are ready and willing to fight to the death to defend their own human rights. But not anyone else’s.

So for example, if anyone with a different point of view wants to speak, these HRAGB will protest because those people will cause “confusion”.

By now we should know that anyone who can think is likely to be confused while those who cannot, or refuse to, are the “enlightened” ones. This is the Age of Inverted Meanings after all.

But if they or their ilk want to speak and others protest, then immediately the protesters are trampling on their so-called freedom of speech. Never mind if they use that freedom to tell others that they may not speak and if they do, they ought to be prepared for dire consequences.

It makes you reflect on how the word “freedom” has been so abused these days. If you talk about the freedom to think, others will come back and talk about the freedom to be sheep. If you talk about freedom of expression, they will talk about the freedom to conform to oppressive norms. And nothing gets more abused than the term “freedom of religion”.

To most people who think, freedom of religion means the freedom to decide what faith you want to adhere to, free from coercion of any sort. It means that you are able to study all the faiths that interest you and decide on the one that sits best with you spiritually. It may well be that in the end, it is the same faith that you were born in that most resonates with you, but the journey to that discovery is actually what strengthens it.

But for some people, freedom of religion only means the freedom to embrace one religion and not to ever even consider any others. And for those who happen to be born in a family of that religion, then there is no freedom to decide for themselves, once they are mature enough, to leave it. Or indeed to make the conscious decision to stay. We are supposed to have free will after all.

Such is the distorted version of freedom that some people believe in. Freedom of speech means essentially “I am free to abuse you but you are not free to abuse me”. It also means that “I am a sensitive human being while you are some hard-shelled creature that I don’t recognise”.

I also often hear people talking about “too much freedom”. This is a very curious term because where is the “just enough” bar? Some people have even described the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) as a document that gives people “excessive” freedom and that “some religions” do the same.

Anyone who actually reads the UDHR will realise that the human rights it describes are very basic and universal (the right to a name, or the right to the highest attainable level of health for example) and that all religions talk about human rights and responsibilities.

The right to life goes hand in hand with the admonition not to kill, for example. There is no such thing as a religion that gives “too much freedom” unless it is some small cult led by a dubious charismatic leader. Certainly none of the major religions of the world can be described that way.

The hypocrisy that some people exhibit about freedom knows no bounds. They defend the right to dress as they want while sneering at those who are different. They tut-tut at personal sins while blithely ignoring major sins like corruption. They talk about always obeying God while at the same time forgetting God’s injunctions to always be just.

What do we do in the face of such hypocrisy? We have to keep calling them out.

When they put on a pious face and then lie, we have to say so. When they chastise others for being sinful, then we should ask if they have no sins themselves. When they are blatantly unjust, those of us who consider ourselves believers must heed God’s word to put right the injustice.

Only then can we have that most desirable freedom from hypocrisy.

07 April 2016

MALAYSIANS are having to get used to a schizophrenic life. The other night many of us watched a thrilling Moto3 Grand Prix race in Argentina when 17-year old Khairul Idham Pawi became the first Malaysian ever to win it.

Tears welled up with pride when the NegaraKu was played as he stood there on the podium. After endless bad news, this was a much-needed moment of joy. Congratulations, Khairul Idham and his team.

Meanwhile, back home on the very same night, we had yet another moment of infamy when the Federal Territory “religious” authorities raided a closed-door event in a five-star hotel and wanted to arrest everyone in the room.

Their alleged crime? For being transgendered people who, by the way, were citizens having a private dinner to relax and enjoy one another’s company.

If it were not for one brave and feisty female lawyer who happened to be there, God knows what would have happened.

She knew what rights every citizen has and asked the right questions, forcing the “religious” officers to back off. (I am putting the word “religious” within quotes because I don’t think what they did was very religious.)

In the end, they let everyone go except for one of the organisers, but made a lengthy police report against them (which they did not show the organisers, so they don’t know what their “crime” is) while the female lawyer also made a police report against the “religious” authorities for abuse of power.

Why does this keep happening? Under what laws do these “religious” authorities operate and why bring the media along with them to record these raids?

We should ask the media owners whether they actually have a policy of allowing their employees to follow these “religious” authorities on these raids, and why.

These types of raids are not new. It seems no one is safe.

I met a couple married for more than 20 years whose sleep in a hotel was disturbed in the night by a raiding party. Why should they have thought this particular couple was a khalwat case?

On reflection, the couple figured out that firstly it was because they had checked in late at night (they were to attend a wedding the next day in that small town) and had done so separately.

And secondly, they realised that the only people who could possibly have alerted the authorities must have been the hotel staff.

This was not the only mistake the “religious” authorities have made.

There was that well-known case of the foreign non-Muslim couple who were raided for khalwat in Langkawi and the case of the CEO of a local think tank who was sharing a hotel room with his own aged mother.

Was there ever a word of apology for the embarassment and inconvenience? Of course not, because apparently “religious” work requires no humility. Let’s not even go into the cases where they have caused people’s deaths.

Which brings me to a matter often overlooked. How would our “religious” authorities know about possible khalwat cases in hotels? Is it because hotel staff tell on them?

When anyone registers and pays to stay in a hotel, or holds a function in a hotel, is it not a contract between the hotel and the guest?

Doesn’t the hotel have any obligations towards their guests, including protection of their privacy? Is some guests’ money worth less than others’?

In the case of the married couple I met, they think the hotel staff get a commission for each “successful” raid. Is this not corruption? What is religious about this?

In the case of the dinner that was raided, it was not held in some cheap hotel in the shadier parts of KL, but a five-star hotel in the Golden Triangle.

What is the hotel going to do about the money they have been paid for the dinner?

Should every reception desk clerk now be obliged to ask each registering guest what religion they are, and then warn them that they may be subjected to raids by the “religious” authorities regardless of whether they’ve done anything wrong or not?

Can you imagine what the reaction is going to be? But if they don’t do that, then I think every guest who has been so humiliated is entitled to sue the hotel.

Perhaps someone should make an app where you can check which hotels are the sort to allow such busts and which don’t.

This means that those who don’t protect their guests’ privacy will be avoided at all costs. This might stop these ridiculous raids.

Otherwise the continued harassment of citizens will continue. Our brief moment of pride in Khairul Idham will continually be overshadowed by these events of unIslamic arrogance.

24 March 2016

I GREW up with perhaps a heightened awareness of God. As a child I was told that if I ever told a lie, God would cut off my tongue.

If I ever fancied myself as well off, I was admonished that there was absolutely no one on earth richer than God.

If I tried to hide from my elders after doing something naughty, I should rest assured that even if they couldn’t see me, God always could.

Small wonder that I was mostly an obedient little girl, terrified of both my parents’ and God’s wrath. It took me many years to understand that God was not as terrifying as all that, that He will forgive you if you’re really really sorry and that the worst thing is to hurt someone by telling lies. But I never got over the belief that everything I do can be seen and judged by an Omnipotent Being who will one day ask me to account for it all.

Apparently not everyone believes this. Not counting atheists, there are people who claim to believe in God but seem to have no awareness of constantly being watched. They think that as long as other humans don’t see what they do, they’re okay. Until they get caught, of course.

It’s astounding to read that a ­government official recently got caught for siphoning off RM100mil to buy first class tickets and expensive handbags for his family. How come nobody noticed any of this for so long?

Or rather, and perhaps this is what this fellow counted on, people noticed but decided to mind their own business. There’s something to be said for respecting people’s privacy of course. But did they forget who else is watching?

In fact, sometimes people don’t even bother to hide anymore. It’s all out there for everyone to see, unabashedly. We all lap it up, buying magazines to read and gawk over all those diamonds and cars. But we rarely ask where they come from, or at most we might snigger a bit and then turn the page.

This turning-the-page attitude of ours is what allows all these things to happen. We look, we wonder and then we move on. Which is exactly what the corrupt want us to do. So we are really complicit in their crimes.

Why should we be surprised therefore that when we finally say something, they turn round and unleash all sorts of charges against us, including for disobedience? We had obediently turned our heads away all these years, how dare we look harder now! And the more we look, the tougher the backlash is.

Last week we were told that disobedience to our leader is akin to disobedience to God. Oh my, my! But isn’t our first duty to be ­obedient to the All-Seeing God?

In Chapter 4, verse 135 of the Holy Quran, God says to us: “O YOU who have attained to faith! Be ever steadfast in upholding equity, bearing witness to the truth for the sake of God, even though it be against your own selves or your parents and kinsfolk. Whether the person concerned be rich or poor, God’s claim takes precedence over [the claims of] either of them.  Do not, then, follow your own desires, lest you swerve from justice: for if you distort [the truth], behold, God is indeed aware of all that you do!”

Sounds very clear to me that ­obedience to our leaders is conditional on whether they are being just to us or not. Justice and upholding equity is meant to be our leaders’ main concern, as it is with all of us. So when we see them doing wrong, especially by treating us like naughty children, why should we not say something?

God repeats this in Chapter 5, Verse 8: “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.”

My holy Book also repeatedly reminds us to never ascribe divinity to anyone other than God. This is the greatest sin in my understanding because it undermines the core belief in One God.

Yet there are people who keep equating their own human qualities and foibles to the Divine. We must never criticise them because that would be like criticising God, they say. Surely this must be the height of hubris.

But they get away with it because we are silent and look away. Who then do we fear more, them or the Almighty?

14 March 2016

SOMETIMES you need to be confronted with ugly reality in order to make you pause and think. This happened to me when I visited the Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre just outside Phnom Penh recently.

Also known as the “Killing Fields”, Choeung Ek was, before 1975, a two-hectare orchard filled with longan trees and watermelon, although part of it was also a cemetery for the Chinese community nearby. Between 1975 and 1978 however, this tiny plot of land became the execution ground for 20,000 Cambodians killed by the Khmer Rouge for no other reason than that they were educated city folk and not peasants.

It is a surreal experience visiting Choeung Ek. For one thing, it is a silent place. In order to be respectful of the dead, visitors walk around with an audio guide and headphones that tells you the history of the place.

It even includes the voices of survivors. It is hard to imagine the horror that took place in this quiet place but some of the exhibits bring the point home.

I remember seeing a piece of red rag, part of someone’s clothing, on the ground and being caught between the urge to pick it up and the realisation that this was what some poor soul wore before he or she met his or her brutal end.

Or it may have been a child’s shirt. One of the most unnerving sights at Choeung Ek was the “killing tree”.

It is a tree on which are hung hundreds of cloth wristbands in remembrance of the children and infants who died there. They died in a way so cruel, it brings shudders to the spine. They were simply held by their legs and bashed against the tree until they died, often while their mothers were forced to watch.

Visiting Choeung Ek gives you pause to reflect on the nature of the human mind. How was it that an otherwise gentle people could succumb to such collective madness that they were willing to kill so many of their friends, neighbours and even parents? Three million people out of a population of only eight million died from starvation, torture or outright murder. Anyone above 50 years old today would know someone who died in those hellish years.

Of course this was not the only example of collective murderous brutality. It has happened in Germany, in Rwanda and Bosnia.

When you look at the types of torture and murder, including by beheading, practised by the Khmer Rouge, you can’t help but think of the Islamic State today in Syria and elsewhere.

Human beings have a propensity to do this over and over again it seems.

None of this happens overnight, although it can go from mild craziness to outright insanity in a very short while. If you go to the exhibition on the site in Berlin of the former headquarters of the SS, the paramilitary organisation that was eventually found guilty of crimes against humanity for its role in the Holocaust, you will find some unnerving information.

They implemented Nazi policies including the burning of books by authors labelled “un-German”, marginalising those labelled political opponents or enemies of the state and using newspapers to spread Nazi propaganda.

“All men are not equal” was the slogan the Nazi leadership used to justify the exclusion and extermination of anyone who was not of Aryan stock, people they called sub-human. Just as the Khmer Rouge defined anyone not a peasant as somehow a traitor to the “egalitarian” vision of society that they had.

As a society, we in Malaysia are not anywhere near these sorts of brutalities. But it is easy to slip into a subtler version of the mindset without noticing.

Sometimes, the demonising of groups of people because they are different, due to nationality, religion, creed and class trips off our tongues subconsciously. The use of the media to propagate discriminatory stories and untruths about people is becoming the norm.

The demand to prove our patriotism, loyalty and faithfulness or to be deemed traitors to nation and religion is a constant needling noise. The banning of anything that might make people think differently and question things is becoming a regular occurrence.

All these terrible events in history finally ended because there were people who retained their humanity and decided to risk their lives and do something about it. In the end, it will always be the people who wake up from their stupor and take action who will save their country.

It is easy to either deny any such thing would ever happen to us, or to complain endlessly but ultimately do nothing. Or worse, criticise those who are trying to do something at great risk to themselves.

Or is the Malaysian credo “As long as my nasi lemak is still there every day, I don’t care what happens”?