February 16, 2007

Incredulous

Posted in Reflections at 7:53 pm by egalitaria

That religion and morality dictate principles set forth for mankind is understood. The values that we hold in high esteem form a guide for us all. They are touchstones and markers against which we evaluate right and wrong. We presume the highest values reflective of a highest being, the divine creature who can do only Right.

That Christianity dictates we are fallen beings in a fallen world is prescriptive of each person’s incapability at living up to the standard by which we judge ourselves. Humanity is theoretically UN-able to live by the principles set for us through Religion or Society.

Traditionally, one would reply by saying that this is the crux of the matter. Perfect God, Imperfect Humanity. Problem: Imperfection unable to live by Perfect standards. Solution: Rely on His Strength to get you to the Divine.

Again, I reiterate, theoretically this is ideal. We are therefore theoretically “bridged” to the God whose standards are impossible for us to follow.

This does not solve the problem of daily living and interaction with other equally “inadequate” creatures. How does one “fallen” individual interact with another equally “fallen” one? With all the inadequacies as a given, it is inevitable that something will crack. Something gives way. It always does.

And when it does, people are surprised. Why should we be surprised?

Rethinking standards means that: Principles are not to be followed, because we accede that they cannot be followed in reality. Like Louisa May Alcott says,

Far away in the sunshine are my highest aspirations;

I may not reach them, but I can see the beams and follow where they lead.

That religious principles are merely “highest aspirations”, and that humanity is incapable of keeping to every principle, what then do we do? “Try our best”? And when we do, we fail?

I postulate that failure to keep to standards is by no means unusual, nor reflective of a failed individual. Every person fails. We should stop judging those who do. We should stop judging at all. (Does this mean not judging leaders morally? Hmm)

Falling short of a highest-possible standard… Not so incredulous!

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Pigging Out

Posted in Personal at 7:31 pm by egalitaria

 Happy Chinese New Year to everyone!!!

Let’s pig out this year with lots of Kuih Kapek, Pineapple Tarts, Peanut biscuits, Kuih Bangkek, groundnuts and more!

Family time, I suppose, beats having to think and fret about my country Malaysia. At least for a couple of days.

People come and go, but Malaysia will stay Malaysia. (good or bad thing?)

Institutional Nightmare

Posted in Malaysia at 7:25 pm by egalitaria

The government forms and shapes institutions like Zam churns out silly statements. Go figure.

How many institutions and organisations have we had in the past few decades? How many Commissions (whose recommendations we unfortunately fail to consider), how many committees, how many initiatives? How many Charters, how many Resolutions, how many more of these formations are needed before the content is actually Really Implemented? It reminds me of social protest singer Bob Dylan’s song, Blowing in the Wind: “How many roads must a man walk down, before you call him a man?”

We look great on paper. We churn out resolution after resolution. Everything on document looks picture perfect. But let’s get going on the recommendations, buddies.

So now we have Pemudah. But don’t we already have sufficient institutions that are SUPPOSED to come up with and brainstorm ideas for improving the public service delivery system already? Aren’t there already enough bodies that hopefully can come up with something feasible? Or does it mean that the system has failed us, that we need to keep coming up with Body after Body.

The real question to ask is this: Why is it that the current adminstrative system does not have what it takes to brainstorm new ideas? Why must new institutes and committees be set up? What IS the current administration doing then? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not questioning the capability (or even the necessity) of inviting people from outside the government to submit recommendations. My grouse is that it is for a negative reason that the private sector is being called upon, not a positive one. It’s not a “You are a valid representative we need to listen to”, it’s “We don’t know what to do. So yeah, come on board and please help”.

We’ll soon have bodiless heads mucking around Malaysia, with grand titles like Heads of Committees and Ex-Advisors to Commissions and the list goes on. We puff ourselves up with grand ideas, and strut around pretending to look great in the mirror. What an institutional nightmare we live in sometimes. But then again, maybe this is exactly how things need to get moving. Maybe humans are so incapable of anything but structured institutions where form weighs mightily more than substance. A sorry state of affairs.

February 12, 2007

On words

Posted in Literature at 2:38 am by egalitaria

I’ve been indulging myself recently with poetry and prose, and none of them to do with my supposedly intellectual study of theology and public policy (the two subjects I ought to drown myself in). Words stir in the hearts of man and change the world by changing the mind.

Public policy educates,

Philosophy confounds,

Prose stimulates,

Poetry liberates.

February 8, 2007

The Model Model

Posted in Malaysia at 4:23 pm by egalitaria

What is the ‘model’ model?

Well, apparently not Eurasian faces, according to Zam, our beloved Information Minister.

Pan-Asian features (the mixed look) may slowly be phased out of the Malaysian commercial advertising industry, according to some new rules. Apparently they are not “Malaysian” enough.

What a stupid ruling! I can just feel the furore rising from the likes of our many Malaysian models who have made it big through their mixed look. Whether or not they have mixed parentage is beside the question. Fact is, they are born and bred Malaysian. They are as Malaysian as any of us others (who don’t have the looks to make it big in the modelling scene). They have every right to strut our TV screens and billboards.

Some argue that this is because some have been dominating the industry more than others. So what? They have been born with the looks that happen to appeal to the public. It is to their advantage, and I believe they should be fully capitalising on what they have been given. Open competition… means very little in this country.

Aman & Damai

Posted in Reflections at 9:39 am by egalitaria

The Perdana Global Peace Foundation in Malaysia had a 3-day conference on “Expose War Crimes: Criminalise War”, very much Tun Mahathir’s initiative. The most heart-wrenching sessions, I suppose, were the testimonies of torture victims from Abu Ghraib, Fallujah, Palestine, Lebanon. Most popular was Ali, the well-known victim who was photographed standing with a black hooded cloak in Abu Ghraib. They shared very gripping accounts of how they were physically tormented (electrocuted penis, objects forced through rectum etc), made to give false statements that they were either terrorists or had information on other terrorists, a lot of other gruesome details.

The conference was an eye opener for many who have not considered the evil and destruction of mankind. In fact, I encourage all Malaysians to visit the International Exhibition at PWTC, still going on till the 11th Feb – it recreates the environment of war, full audio-visual experience, with deformed babies in cribs, babies crying, artillery sounds, blood splattered all over, torture instruments, pictures and information on the wars in Vietnam, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine etc.

Humanity is depraved, and I’m not sure any amount of justification will suffice for the torture of civilians.

I was, however, a little peeved when some of the witnesses began to bring in religion, saying especially that Allah was punishing Ariel Sharon for killing many Palestinian children – and therefore he was suffering in illness. I don’t think it was necessary at all to bring that up. Look at it in humanitarian terms, and try not to evaluate it based on God’s judgment. I for example am a Christian but do not support the unlawful attacks perpetrated by Israel upon Palestine – far from it. And yes, surprise surprise, American Republican’s version of Christianity is not the only one available. Some Christians in the US are calling for the retraction of troops in Iraq, ending of the occupation, and not complying with Bush’s call to increase penetration of troops. See here, and especially here, which explains why the initiative is being carried out: Christian peace witness. And why purely “Christian” and not an interfaith thing?

While we are grateful for common ground we clearly have with many Jews and Muslims on this issue, as well as with those of countless other sisters and brothers who are not of the Abrahamic family but who clearly desire peace just as we do, we will gather to name the inescapable truth that this war is antithetical to everything that Jesus taught and did.

Whilst many people around the world have been victims of American foreign policy, I also don’t think that slapping hatred upon them is the most strategic stand either. It takes a heck lot of maturity, but they are still a superpower whose economic relations one would choose not to neglect.

There’s room for much disillusionment with the world today. But maybe we just have to stop and realise in fact, yes, we are a fallen people in a fallen world. The sort of torture and warcrimes that still go on till today are evidence of a sick, sick humanity. I think everyone should support peaceful solutions as far as possible – Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Jew, or otherwise.

February 7, 2007

Islamic Banking

Posted in Malaysia, Religion at 1:19 am by egalitaria

Al Rajhi Bank was officially launched in Malaysia yesterday. It has 15 branches open now and is planning a whole lot more this year. Yes, already we see its trademark deep peacock blue knocking at our doorsteps through big banners claiming “Just Values” all around LRT pillars, and the branches themselves popping up like nobody’s business in the Klang Valley.

Islamic Banking. That’s something I haven’t actually thought through very thoroughly indeed. If you think about it, its values and principles are based on those that have built up the monotheistic religions of today. Some questions to think about, before I give my approval rating for the GREAT emphasis Malaysia has been placing upon Islamic banking recently. Just check out newspapers today and you’ll realise that this is the “next big thing” for Malaysia. Tan Sri Zeti certainly has her hands full trying to implement it all: A Malaysia that is a central Islamic hub.

Can citizens in Malaysia, who are not Muslim, affirm Islamic banking? Can they subscribe to it in principle, not just because it makes good economic sense and brings in the dough? I suppose this warrants the larger question of whether non-Muslim Malaysians can adhere to general Islamic values? My personal answer is yes, if it sticks to what it preaches. However we are not fooled into thinking this is the reality.

But one thing at a time. Islamic Banking. Think about it. If non-Muslims can subscribe to these values, because they are… as Al Rajhi puts it so succinctly, “Just Values”, then perhaps this is the stepping stone we’ve all been waiting for to bring people together. Just a tiny weeny step closer.

The majority of these principles are based on simple morality and common sense, which form the bases of many religions, including Islam. The Islamic financial system employs the concept of participation in the enterprise, utilizing the funds at risk on a profit-and- loss-sharing basis. This by no means implies that investments with financial institutions are necessarily speculative. This can be excluded by careful investment policy, diversification of risk and prudent management by Islamic financial institutions.

February 6, 2007

Welcome to Blog World

Posted in Malaysia at 2:43 pm by egalitaria

Welcome to Blog World, no holds barred. We have to be willing to accept and embrace the very thing we call for: Openness and Freedom of Speech.

Welcome to Blog World, where people can make any such statement about anyone and lo and behold, the herd mentality rules. People believe the unbelievable.

Today’s article in the Sun – featured quite prominently, thanks to their fearless editors – click here.

And the same article published on Malaysia-Today here, with loads of comments – you pick and choose what to believe. After all, aren’t we a birthing nation of mature citizens?

We might just have to believe so. (Read: herd mentality)

Bookie Haven

Posted in Reflections at 1:14 pm by egalitaria

Amidst some of my heavier reading material I’ve had to sift through, in the past month I managed to sneak in some private reading of my own. Here’s a quick sample of what I’ve been digesting:

The Tipping Point

An inspiring book in which Malcolm Gladwell talks about how ideas and trends are like epidemics. Think about how influenza spreads. Think about how some seemingly unheard of brand becomes instantaneously popular. What is it that tips the market trend, and causes it to spread like wildfire amongst a crowd? Gladwell says it’s due to a number of factors like having a “Connector” – people who are influential in various different circles, a “Sticky Factor” – factors that allow ideas to stick to people’s heads, and “the Power of Context” – the right conditions. These are common sense notions, but written in the right marketing jargon for the man on the street (like me, or woman in my case) to digest. The application for me, of course, is to see how I can continue to spew out ideas for change and market it for the Malaysian public. What is the method by which I can influence the most number of people in the most effective manner? This book may help to answer that question.

On Beauty

This was simply absorbed as an amazing literary read; the kind you can slouch on your bed over, on a lazy Sunday afternoon. This is Zadie Smith’s third book, her first being “White Teeth” which is also a great read. On Beauty took the crown, though. Smith has a powerful way of drawing out such depth in the life of her characters, building up the storyline slowly to a climax – and you can hardly breathe in the last chapters, emphathising completely with each of their lives and experiences. It’s a book that makes you think about Love, what it Costs, why it Falls Apart, and whether it’s all worth it. Marriage, separation, affairs, getting too used to being with Someone, humanity, people being who they are and realising that hey, it’s alright to fall down in life. Love cuts deep but you wake up and say, thanks for the pain – I learnt something there I wouldn’t have otherwise.

A History of God

Currently reading: A History of God by Karen Armstrong. Review to come up soon, but the introduction has been enlightening already. Wonder how this will coincide with my current study of Theology.

February 5, 2007

Malaysia’s Secret Garden

Posted in Malaysia, The Cause at 2:25 pm by egalitaria

Welcome to Malaysia’s Secret Garden. The well kept, well tended garden, at that. Wonder what lies beneath the rosy bushes and piles of dried leaves. What are the borders to these lovely beauties? Some Acts and Laws, perhaps, that maintain strict boundaries?

A really good article on Human Rights in Malaysia here, by lawyer Tommy Thomas, while I was surfing around. Here is another good article by the United Nations’ Economic & Social Rights Council, special report on Malaysia.

A brief introduction for those who don’t already know:

  1. Malaysia is still under the state of “Emergency”, which means it can invoke laws pertaining to “ensuring national security” anytime it wants.
  2. The Acts that are commonly used against citizens when they want to speak up are the ISA, OSA, PPPA:

Internal Security Act:

The most pernicious legislation is the Internal Security Act (“ISA”) which gives sweeping powers to the Executive, (the police and the Minister of Home Affairs) to arrest and detain any person for a period of 60 days; thereafter the Minister can order that person to remain in detention for a further two years, which detention can be renewed indefinitely every two years. Preventive detention is terribly insidious because a person’s liberty is deprived without trial. Other extraordinary powers extend to prohibiting meetings and banning publications, books and periodicals.

Official Secrets Act:

The OSA proscribes the collection, possession, or distribution directly or indirectly to a foreign country of official information.

Any public officer can declare any document or other piece of information an official secret, a certification that cannot be questioned in court. The OSA carries a mandatory one year to seven years’ imprisonment.

Printing Presses and Publications Act:

The Printing Presses and Publications Act contains numerous restrictions on the publication of newspapers and periodicals, including the requirement for an annual licence which may be revoked by the Minister at any time.

Finally, some quarters have been calling for a Freedom of Information Act – primarily driven by CIJ (Centre for Independent Journalism), and being echoed by others. Here is a really good article on WHY Freedom of Information is so important! It makes really good sense, and it’s a surprise that Malaysia hasn’t taken heed of its call yet. (Actually, not so much of a surprise really, and plus the Rakyat aren’t all that awake to push the government. So why bother, right?)

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