May 29, 2006

Howard Bloom

Posted in Literature, Philosophy at 7:37 pm by egalitaria

Heard of this guy? Said to be the next Stephen Hawking, or so his website here says.. 

(of course they would)

But check it out. If I read correctly from the reviews, he combines spirituality, philosophy, science, anthropology, history and psychology into explaining humanity. Very strange combinations, and even stranger titles: The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History, and Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century. 

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Freedom

Posted in Philosophy, Religion at 7:19 pm by egalitaria

This will stay in my head.. Excuse me for finding it profound despite its simplicity, but it is: There is no freedom without responsibility. (no, it is not the same as Spiderman's great power quote) How true this is. There is, in no sense, absolute freedom. Any sort of freedom .. of speech, to criticise, of religion, of expression.. comes with an equal responsibility to handle the freedom. 

And a second statement: My freedom ends when someone else's dignity is taken away. Perhaps this is not the literal translation of the word freedom in itself, but it is one that sits well with me. 

This link gives crisp comments on the cartoon controversy a while back. Although it took place a while ago, perhaps it is a good idea for us to, after the dust has settled a little, approach it in a civil manner to explore what went wrong, and the relationships between the various threads at work.

From the site, comments by American philosopher Dallmayr:

It is well to remember that the uproar in this instance was not instigated by Muslims or Muslim countries.It was a response to a prior incident or provocation. Reason dictates that, here as elsewhere, one consider the cause-effect nexus, the relation between action and reaction. In this matter, it is tempting to wax fundamentalist on both sides. In Western media, the uproar is usually portrayed as the conflict between “freedom” and dogmatism or fanaticism. “Freedom” in this context is often treated as something absolute and nearly sacred, while religious faith is presented as deplorable and obsolete.

For a Western person, it is important to ponder a bit this “absolutism”. Does freedom really mean that we can do as we please, that we can insult or malign other people at will? This assumption is at odds with both the religious and the ethical traditions of the West. Western civilization is often called “Judaeo-Christian”; but neither Judaism nor Christianity instructs believers to insult or injure other people. On the contrary, both Judaism and Christianity uphold the biblical injunction to love our fellow-beings (and this does not exclude Muslims). A prominent peak of the ethical tradition of the West is the moral philosophy of Kant. That philosophy stipulates as a “categorical imperative” the duty to treat other human beings as ends, not as means. And nowhere in Kant’s work is there a hint that this imperative does not extend to Muslims.

Silent Night

Posted in Music, Personal at 1:45 am by egalitaria

Love Damien Rice, as blogged before here

Never listened past the last song's 15th minute on Side-A of his first album, "O" before, and was pleasantly surprised to have a new and rather warped version of "Silent night":

Silent night, broken night
All is fallen when you take your flight
I found some hate for you
Just for show
You found some love for me
Thinking I'd go
Don't keep me from crying to sleep
Sleep in heavenly peace

Silent night, moonlit night
Nothing's changed
Nothing is right
I should be stronger than weeping alone
You should be weaker than sending me home
I can't stop you fighting to sleep
Sleep in heavenly peace…

I guess this is yet another example of people's disillusionment with institutionalised religion. Another topic to talk about is the separation of religion and spirituality (or at least, people's interpretations of the two), something I studied in Sociology years ago, but the trend seems to be accelerating indeed.

Demodoom

Posted in Malaysia at 1:29 am by egalitaria

It was supposed to be the climax of a series of anti-fuel hike demonstrations, yet it ended on a tragic note when police today forcefully broke up the protest with at least two seriously injured.

(taken from Malaysiakini.com – full link here

Malaysian police used batons and water cannons to disperse hundreds of anti-government protesters in the capital, arresting around a dozen activists and beating several.

Some 200 people, including opposition parties, non-government organisations and student groups gathered in front of Kuala Lumpur's iconic Petronas Twin Towers in the latest of a series of rallies against steep fuel price rises.

Chanting "Protest!" and carrying banners saying "Cronies get rich while workers are oppressed", they also slammed a decision last week to raise electricity tariffs, the first hike in nearly a decade.
(taken from Malaysia-today.net, full link here). 

Questions to ask:

  1. Fuel hike and electricity price increase: necessary for the government or not?
  2. If it was necessary, has the government acted responsibly in ensuring the welfare of the lower income group is taken care of sufficiently?
  3. If it has not, why not? If it has not, in what ways have the government acted irresponsibly, and has it been for any vested interests?
  4. If it has acted irresponsibly, is this reason enough for the public to react?
  5. If so, what is the correct method in which the public should react? Legal and social restrictions?
  6. If the public has reacted and responded according to legal principles, what was the reason for the "violent" acts today?
  7. Is this something that should be brought to the Human Rights Commission, as the protestors are going to do (as reported)?
  8. And what are the implications of these on your stand towards government policy? (economic, social and otherwise)

(i'm figuring out the last one for myself too)

Global Ethic Project

Posted in Personal, Religion, The Cause at 1:10 am by egalitaria

Think about the two crucial artefacts of modern-day society that Malaysians still need a long way to go in terms of public discourse: Religion and Media. More specifically, the way in which Media presents Religion. The way we know religion today, the way our worldviews are formed, have all been influenced by one way or other by the mass media.

Broadcasting, print, magazines, you name it. Religious tolerance or the lack thereof can be closely traced to the way in which norms and values are presented to us. Think: Cartoon incident.

I could go on into the theoretical aspects, but I'll highlight an interesting project that has been taken up by Konrad Adenauer Foundation, based in Germany with a branch in Malaysia.

It is called the Global Ethic Project, which seeks to bring together the major religions of the world, and connects all of them by intrinsically extracting their common values and ethics. This is what I have been saying all along! There is a separation of beliefs (faith) and values (teachings) in every religion. While there is clear difference between the belief systems of the various religions, there is hardly any discrepancy in their teachings of values and ethics.

The Project has taken off in Penang, and the Foundation together with Malaysian Interfaith Network (MIN) has distributed booklets in Malay, English and Mandarin. It's pretty impressive!

Taken from their website here, the Global Ethic Project has sought to do the following:

The term Global Ethic refers to a set of common moral values and ethical standards which are shared by the different faiths and cultures on Earth. These common moral values and ethical standards constitute a humane ethic, or, the ethic of humanity. In view of the process of globalization this ethic of humanity has been termed by the famous Roman Catholic theologian and philosopher Professor Hans Küng as the Global Ethic.

They start out the Global Ethic booklet with a basic premise of "the Golden Rule": Treat others as you would like to be treated", which is found in every religion of the world.

It goes on to highlight the basic teachings that are COMMON to all major religions of the world:

  • Every human being must be treated humanely
  • Have respect for life
  • Deal honestly and fairly
  • Speak and act truthfully
  • Respect and love one another

Now, I am not one to subscribe to a supermarket-type religion, and this project is by no means a religion all on its own, as clearly stated in its objectives. Instead, it is seeking the public space morality, which I've written about before here. I believe this is one of the ways forward in searching for solidarity amongst the various races and groups in the current pluralistic society we live in. It is impossible to ignore the fact that, quoting from someone today, each of us is adhering to and practising a religion that each feels is special and unique. However, this does not mean that I expect someone else to feel that my religion is special and unique. It is special and unique to me.

This creates for my personal convictions a certain implication, which I am still trying to explore. A friend mentioned the other day to me, that my interest in interfaith work is limited purely to the socio-political perspective. Beyond that, into the personal sphere, I still believe in the verity of my belief. I think my take is that, this is unavoidable, and I would expect just as much from any other religious adherent. If all are able to at least, desire to reach some commonality in humanity, (even if it is for a socio-political reason), then we would be able to promote some civilised dialogue.

May 27, 2006

Tunku Abdul Rahman

Posted in Malaysia, The Cause at 2:08 pm by egalitaria

Amidst my hectic supposed off-day yesterday, I strolled into a bookshop selling mainly academic texts, which happened to sell second-hand historical books as well. 

I picked up a treasure which I am pretty sure is no longer in publication today. Written by our Father of Independence (Bapa Kemerdekaan), Tunku Abdul Rahman, it recollects the personal memories and records of events leading up to and thereafter, of 13th May 1969.

It reveals a whole lot of historical fact, step by step, to those who did not experience this infamous incident. To understand race relations and the reason why policies are what they are today, it is essential to backtrack into the timeline of Malaysia's history. Only then will we have a complete and comprehensive picture.  

The descriptions were brutal, the pictures gruesome. I am not surprised it no longer sells in bookstores, although if people were mature enough they would be able to decipher these as the past, and not bring them into the present again. The basic assumption of course, is that the public is generally unable to determine for themselves what is relevant and what is not.

A dark, dark year it must have been for all alike. I do not wish to ever see or experience the likes of that fateful day. I feel even more urgently the need to ensure that steps are taken to inculcate goodwill between the various groups…

The scary and daunting thought is that the events leading up to that incident are not so alien and far away as we would want them to be, today. Back then, way before the incident itself, the people were unsatisfied with the way certain component parties of the then-"Alliance"- responded to current issues. The MCA (Malayan Chinese Association) and MIC (Malayan Indian Congress) were perceived to be incompetent in handling issues. In response, the then oppositionist Gerakan party and DAP (Democratic Action Party) played up the issue of race relations, thereby defeating the Alliance in many constituencies. In my opinion, these oppositionists were too extreme in their party campaigning. People have to be careful in the issues they select. Taking things into the extreme, name-calling, is all done in bad taste. 

What we saw in the recent Sarawak elections was an exact repeat of the incident so many years ago. The people being unsatisfied and thereby turning to alternative groups. The pressure is now mounting on the component parties of the current alliance government. I hope they rise to the call, to respond to what the people are asking for.

Nobody wants another incident of '69. 

Sad Said

Posted in Malaysia, The Cause at 1:57 am by egalitaria

In my earlier post, I outlined the key events that highlight the Sad Case… I mean, the Said Case. 

Now the ACA, Anti-Corruption Agency, is given the task of investigating it in entirety. Now, do we have a good track record with the ACA? Will the facts be considered as hard evidence? Will this be acceptable into the very narrow definition of what "corruption" really is? 

Isn't it absolutely amusing to all that such a public figure (in a soon-to-be 1st world, developed nation) is given the chance to explain these things away absolutely superdupily easily? Let's all us citizens really monitor this and see if anything happens. 

If it's not reported in the newspapers, it might be easily forgotten though.

Out of sight, out of mind. 

The NST reported this a couple of days ago:

Najib was reported yesterday as saying the panel would meet with Mohd Said soon, and that the inquiry was separate from the ongoing Anti-Corruption Agency probe into the matter.

Mohd Said, when contacted on his cellphone, declined to confirm if he had been called to attend the inquiry. "Enough, please… enough. Thanks," he said.

Efficiency

Posted in Malaysia, Personal, The Cause at 1:29 am by egalitaria

The passport office seems to be much more efficient than the last time I went.
With the exception of the horrendously long queue to get the photostat copies of your Identity Card and instant passport photographs. You have ONE guy to do BOTH duties for an approximate total of 25 people at a time. Not good management.

Other than that, officers work speedily, efficiently, and my passport will be ready on Monday. Very good timing. Kudos.

Praise should be given where praise is due, and likewise for criticism!

If only more people could see that.

To quote from an article recently, being able to keep the government in close check and accountability does NOT make any citizen less patriotic. We need to investigate the terminologies here.  

Malaysian Vs. Singapore Culture

Posted in Malaysia, Reflections at 1:07 am by egalitaria

Malaysians and Singaporeans. Same difference?

The two peoples are really cut from the same stone, and yet only a couple of decades after its separation, there can be a defined difference between the cultures, which some would say is growing.

The development of any society can be closely intertwined to the political and administrative system of the country.

Singapore, together with many South East Asian countries, had for many decades the privilege/hegemony (delete whichever necessary and appropriate in your opinion) of a dictator-like leader. In a strange way, these strong-willed and almost theocratic leadership was necessary to allow control and positive development of the society. Think Philliphines, think Singapore, think Indonesia, and surprise surprise, think Malaysia. 

A strong leader like Harry Lee, brilliant and intelligent in leading his country, allowed for a refined political system that could not be questioned. Economic development into the country will always be received positively by its people. If you satisfy the basic need of the people, by filling their pockets and tummies, it is difficult to complain, really.

By having an administration provide virtually everything for you, you also subject yourself to allowing the system to do all the thinking. You are merely a follower and an implementer.

This is one of the major differences I often hear of people doing business and working in political fields in both countries. That Malaysians have a much stronger entrepreneurial spirit. Flexibility and adaptability are some of the characteristics often quoted, currently lacking across the border. This is a result of the way in which the mind has been developed to think.

On the other hand, Malaysians should not rejoice. Singaporeans are far, far ahead in terms of efficient implementation of anything. Even if our policies can be beautifully worded, we are so inefficient and ineffective that the means never even get to the "end".

Isn't it interesting that the same people groups have dichotomised in such a short period of time? Doesn't this speak volumes for political systems and what a huge role they play in the development of the peoples it commands? 

May 23, 2006

PAS redefined

Posted in Malaysia at 12:01 am by egalitaria

PAS… i.e. Parti Seislam Malaysia, may open party membership to non-Muslims. Reported here:

For a start, he said, non-Muslims could be admitted into the party as associate members.

“And, when the time is ripe, they may become full-fledged members to strengthen the party’s political clout,” said Nik Aziz, who is Kelantan mentri besar.

Some people may find this ridiculous and absolutely undoable. But really, if the basic principles of believing in transparency and accountability are similar to that of Christianity, what is the theoretical fault in someone of a different faith joining it? 

If non-Muslims can accept Islamic banking, and indeed are customers of Islamic Banks because they believe in the same principles and values that the Banks advocate, i.e. non-interest paying, then what about this?  

Of course, whether or not their own political party members are able to accept this is a different story.

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