Gaza

August 1, 2014

gaza

Perhaps because I live faraway I feel immune and thus less invested in the war in Gaza. Perhaps because I am an atheist I am nonplussed to the numinous claiming that they have god’s mandate and perhaps I think they are all fools. With the internet and social media and 150 channels on cable I am of a generation desensitized to bombings and maimings and dead babies and falling planes. Sometimes I feel it is not easy to be human, or indeed be humane, in that our daily lives are mundane and routine and we are barely surviving for its own sake.

And so being human is something I remind myself to do everyday in different manifestations, and they are not always automatic. In gestures as simple as smiling at somebody or saying thank you or holding the elevator door, to forging more meaningful friendships, to involving in local communities, to being part of nation building, to contributing to a pluralistic society – are deeds, though not automatic, always in my mind whenever I make a decision, an effort to feel not so detached. Sometimes empathy needs to be coaxed.

But my impulses and ideas of humanity and of morality are not religion based, nor do I believe that religion sets the moral compass in which humanity aspires to. I do not subscribe to claims that only God holds the key to moral values, and certainly not one that condones or even advocates genital mutilations, slavery, the subjugation of women, of homosexuals and so much more.

And so it plays out, and this time the theater is in Gaza, acted out by representatives of 2 of the great monotheistic faiths, whose motivations are utterly irreconcilable, and millions are caught in the crossfire. On one side, a chosen people will only rest when they have fully claimed their promised land, and on the other, interpretations of their holy scripture ranges from the mild ‘can never be friends” to dictating that “they are to be wiped out” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam_and_antisemitism. The Hamas charter is a genocidal document http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/hamas.asp incompatible to peace.

As the death toll rises, and the gruesome images increase, and i get updated mainly through my newsfeed on facebook. My friends or friends of friends would take sides, and overwhelmingly against Israel. In so much as I want to condemn the parochial view that many have taken to reach this conclusion, such as “I am muslim so I have to support the muslims”, they are oblivious to the fact that the blame lies both ways. Hamas fires missiles from densely populated areas, from schools and buildings, they use human shields as they see people either as collateral damage or as sacrificial martyrs. The Israelis build bomb shelters to shelter their people, the Hamas do not, instead uses their limited funds to build tunnels to try to kill more people. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ali-a-rizvi/picking-a-side-in-israel-palestine_b_5602701.html

As it were, I sit in the anti-Israel camp, but not before weighing that Israel’s leadership are only slightly more evil.

But also from where I stand, ISIS and Al-Qaeda and Hamas are not extremists groups, but mainstream adherents to teachings of the scriptures. They are conservatives and traditionalists so eager to die and along the way drag as many people with them as they can to reach paradise.

When so many of the conflicts in the world and throughout its history spring from ideologies based on religious faith, why do we not attack religion as the root cause? Can we say to one to not take everything as offences to his religion but if he truly believes in the almighty that let Him mete out the punishments in the afterlife? Can we say to the other that two wrongs does not make a right? That you do not get to your heaven by killing other people?

Will there ever be a time when this God could be relegated to Poseidon, Zeus and Ra?

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I am Malaysia

May 12, 2013

I cannot seem to shake off this feeling of grief. Like many other urbanite non-malays I had voted for a non-BN candidate in my constituency, and the indelible ink on my finger was coming off. At 40 I had just taken part in my first elections, fueled by the responsibility I felt as a parent and a tax paying citizen. But I never used to care. I speak English, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish and Mandarin better than I speak Malay. I was born in a foreign land and look foreign. I was never educated in Malaysia- growing up in Johor in the 80s it was an easy choice for my parents, and I started at age 7 commuting to Singapore everyday, and later the U.S. Like many other stories out there I grew up with prejudices and pre-conceived notions of how the other races were, how the civil service was, how everyone was different, cloistered in my own community, sheltered by something unwritten that you live and let live.

Yet I am Malaysian, strange as it may seem to most. Over the years I have given up the chance of citizenship in another country, permanent residency in 2 others. Like many in forums who recounted that they grew up a certain race but once they were abroad they identified themselves simply as “Malaysian”, I have never felt any other. I feel tied to the land, to my friends and family, to the neighborhood where I live, to my neighbors, to nasi lemak and petai bee hoon, and teh tariks sessions in mamaks. I am proud of P. Ramlee and Sheila Majid and Tan Twan Eng as I am of Lee Chong Wei and Nicol David.

And funny how it is when you “awaken” and you start to care – mine was six years ago the day Maya was born. When it is that you know that you have the ability and the immense power to shape and influence a person’s life, you must experience, in your own time, a myriad of differing but not mutually exclusive feelings, and some of which should be pride, anxiety, helplessness, despair, stoicism, sacrifice. You become acutely aware of your limitations, but the impulse of wanting to protect her and a hand in nurturing her makes you strive to overcome your fears and your imperfections.

For the sake of my daughter I resolved to be a better person.

I write this essay to recount the things that transpired in my life that culminated in me queuing up in a saluran and casting a vote that helped decide the fate of the nation. There are many others out there with their own stories of how they got to that queue, and many like me were voting for the first time in GE13. But I like my story. I am grateful that somehow an altruistic urge of wanting the best for my child made me start to look at my surroundings in more detail.

That her best friends are Eurasian kids- Jade and Maloe. That she learnt to sing Malay songs in kindergarten. That she speaks mainly in English but professes that she prefers speaking to me in Chinese. That she goes to a government primary school next year, but should it be an international school? Am I earning enough? Why I am spending a third of my income on a car? Should I get medical insurance? What is this thing about math & science subjects? Which box should she be ticking under bangsa? What are her chances of higher education in this country? As much as I am careful to balance with expectations and the modern pressures of a kid growing up, I had severe doubts with the political and economic system we have in this country.

As it were, it was not as if I had my eyes closed the whole time before this. As a working adult I drive across potholes and uneven roads on tolled highways that cost 3 times more per km to build than in Singapore or Switzerland, to get to government offices that reeked of inefficiency, and officers who blatantly hint that you-help-me-I-help-you in speeding up applications. I have interviewed countless young engineers who have no clue of their value in society, much less be able to articulate what they could bring to my firm- why should I hire them?

But like so many I had merely complained in mamaks, and lived and let live.

As paternal instincts hastened those feelings of anxiety and helplessness and despair and morphed them into anger, I am faced with a choice not uncommon to many who are able – do I plan to join the brain drain and run, or stand with fellow stakeholders. The choice wasn’t clear in the beginning. Bersih 1.0 passed and I scarcely knew that it even happened, but as social media picked it up, it fueled my imagination as I’m sure it did many others, that a grassroots apolitical group of citizens have started the first probably most effective method of exacting change in this country. I did not go to Bersih 2.0 as well, but the poignant images of Auntie Bersih and Karpal Singh in his wheelchair probably did me in.

At Bersih 3.0 I sat at the front on Leboh Pasar Besar and got tear gassed and sprayed with chemically laced water.

Before GE13 I had already posted in several other articles that I thought it was highly unlikely that the opposition would win. We should acknowledge that money politics and gerrymandering were far greater impediments to a fair election than phantom or bogus postal voters ever would. Yet I ran around with friends that day shuttling between the different Lembah Pantai polling stations, joining the thousands in the human wall hoping to safeguard what little we could of the integrity of the electoral process.

I thought about it a lot, but I did not go to Kelana Jaya. I did not want my struggle to be associated with any political party. I do not trust politicians, period. Even if the opposition had personalities like Lim Guan Eng, who once spent time in jail under ISA for defending a Malay girl, or Nurul Izzah Anwar, who I see as the great big hope of this nation, I could not see myself taking part in a rally under a political banner.

But that grief I felt at the beginning of my essay has now given way to hope. I feel that my story should also get to represent the middle ground in Malaysia, part of a sea of stories now emerging in the zeitgeist of our times. The socio-political landscape has changed. The way we naturally want to live is peace and prosperity for all. Little by little, society should naturally veer towards inclusiveness, the division across racial lines should diminish incrementally. Religion should have no place in governance, serving only as moral guides. The excesses and abuses by people in authority will continue to shift public perception, and this 48%/51% gap should get even wider.

As a society we will only consider our work done when we have nurtured a populace who can constantly hold those in power accountable. The rakyat must be masters and politicians its servants. There is no room for complacency in this endeavor. The work will not be done at the end of a general election.

I dream of Maya growing up in a beautiful country where she and her rainbow colored friends have equal opportunities to learn and contribute in building a clean, safe and respectful community, and I’d wish that her voice never be silenced, and her will never be diluted.

“Whenever I despair, I remember that the way of truth and love has always won. There may be tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they may seem invincible, but in the end, they always fail. Think of it: always.” – Gandhi

https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/opinion/2013/05/13/i-am-malaysia/
http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/sideviews/article/i-am-malaysia-jun-watanabe/

In spite of the fact that Malaysia has just plunged to record lows with the latest international ranking on press freedom, we now possess better access to information with the advent of the internet and social media, than our parents ever did in the dark decades they lived through since Merdeka.

The veracity of the information however, is always suspicious. While it is easy to dismiss mainstream media, with manipulation as its main agenda, as biased and selective, alternative media has not fared much better. It is at best a contrarian voice, and at its worst suffers the same lack of journalistic integrity as its counterpart. Though this fault is untenable, because of its intrinsic association with official media, there is a two-fold problem of that the powers-that-be subjecting information to spin and misdirection to suit their purposes, and thus facts and figures not readily verifiable, the system simply renders everything suspect.

But this essay is not about the media or the freedom of the press. It is the recipients of information who worries me, because the citizenry are cavalier with the information they receive. We blindly digest information we want to hear, no matter what our personal agendas are or which side of the political divide we are on. We take them often at face value and we do not subject them to rigorous scrutiny. That in schools we are not taught to think, that as a culture we are nurtured to avoid confrontation, that as a nation we have been programmed to not question authority, and as a people we have become the risk adverse; all devastating ingredients in turning us into an apathetic lot.

While encouraged by the recent showing in the 2008 elections and with Bersih, we are as a general population distracted easily. This distraction is easily explained – that the average Malaysian is just too caught up in their daily lives in the middle income trap of a country we are. We make too little money to afford imported items and overseas vacations and we pay too much for transportation to spend too much time in traffic and too much for decent housing. We have so many other short term things to worry about than to worry about something as abstract as leaving the earth for our children. Whatever furor we conjure up with news of police beatings, MACC suicides, white collar crimes, corruption scandals, misuse of public funds, bible burnings, territorial disputes, abuse of power, judicial injustices, university rankings, dissipates from public consciousness almost as fast as they enter it. There will be small groups of people who would always work to keep the issues alive, but the majority of us will have discussed and complained in coffee shops, cracked some “Malaysia boleh” jokes and accepted the anal penetration as the prevalent way of life.

We do not know our neighbors, we do not volunteer for anything, our idea of supporting a cause is to like a facebook page, but yet we do not contribute money to the cause. We worship titles and luxury cars. We lead shallow lives, governed by traffic conditions and Astro programming. Our kids are encouraged to memorize and score in standardized tests. We do not care if our kids speak badly mangled English, Malay, Mandarin or Tamil that someone from England, China or India would see as acutely bastardized. We complain about AirAsia yet we ride on its planes. We do not stick to our principles and accept the RM 300 summons, preferring the RM 50 bribe. We hide behind the computer and sign off with fake names. We vote for the hot looking contestant in a reality show.

We have collectively lowered our standards.

That the majority of us have chosen to not to fight for equality in this country, to stand up to racists and bigots and history revisionists. That we do not protest when the civil servant instead of true public service is in the position to betray our trust, to hold us ransom. That he can be unreliable, mercenary, partisan, unscientific, unprofessional, irrational, wittingly or unwittingly part of a patronage system that is characteristically weak of ideals and accountability. The average civil servant certainly does not think he is accountable to the public, he thinks he is owed a living by the government; he does not readily make the distinction between government-of-the-day and the public he serves. Like the rest of us, he also thinks he is able to get away with prolonged coffee breaks & leaves of absence. He was not taught by his civil servant teacher in school that as the civil servant he is supposed to be holding himself to the highest of standards. The description of the civil servant is interchangeable for the judge, the university professor, the prime minister, the policeman, the clerk in the Land & Survey department who if you protest too strongly will conveniently “lose” your file and asks you to resubmit.

Why is it so difficult to understand that for the off-duty policeman in his squad car that if he were to be speeding beyond the limit in a non-emergency without the sirens and the flashing lights then it would constitute an abuse of power? And the civil servants in the car with “Jabatan Warisan Negara” logo on the door panels, when they speed at 160km/h on the Karak highway, are abusing public property.

Why is it so difficult to understand that there should & must be a double standard? A private citizen who speeds at 160km/h on the highway risks his life and others on the road, and faces the consequences on his own and the responsibilities are his and his only. But public servants who do the same with public assets must be held to a higher standard simply because his purposes are much bigger and more consequential than any single individual’s.

Malaysian society in general does not require the civil servant to commit hara-kiri, but perhaps it should. That society condones by way of apathy is the biggest crime of all, and we are all guilty of it.

In most elections, most people vote anonymously. For some of us, it will not be. From the longhouses of Sarawak who faces sanctions if a particular candidate loses, to whole states denied federal funding, the upcoming GE13 will probably have the most painful repercussions in the Malaysian history. A likely BN victory will make it unlikely that necessary reforms be made to keep the country off the path to financial & moral bankruptcy. An unlikely PR victory will likely see influx of the vast wealth of BN trying to wrest back control, interest groups & the partisan civil service resorting to subterfuge & sabotage to destabilize the government, and/or a larger outflow of capital from our shores than what we have already experienced; whatever it is, will keep the PR government in its rightful lame duck place. Voting either party in may potentially leave the country tethering on the edge.

Therefore what is more important in the coming years than the results of GE13 will be the ability of grassroots and nonpartisan organizations like Bersih to galvanize the public in the spirit of fraternity and justice and equality, to actively take part in the improvement of our society.

Our participation will have to start from a paradigm shift.

We have to first accept that we the ordinary citizens have the power to change the world we live in. That our words and actions mean something; that our votes mean something. That we do not take for granted the relationships that ties us to fellow human beings. We must learn the true meaning of hard work & sacrifice. We must take calculated risks. We must learn to question authority, to question the news-makers, to decide for ourselves if something we choose to believe in is based on hard evidence rather than hearsay or just faith. That because of the differing preferences in the population we must inculcate altruism as the leading actor to meld the religions.

Instead of waiting for someone else to call for help in an accident scene, we do it. Instead of waiting for someone else to report a rape in a parking lot, we do it. Instead of waiting for someone else to improve the cleanliness of our neighborhoods, we do it. Instead of waiting for someone else to accept the gay friend first, we do it. Instead of waiting for someone else to bring down the illegal tree-logger, we do it. If we were Muslim, we defend our Christian friend. If we were Indian, we let our daughters convert and marry a Malay.

To be a good son first, a good mother first, a good worker first, a good employer first, a good neighbor first, a good policeman first, a good land & survey clerk first, a good prime minister first.

To be Malaysian first.

When we improve our surroundings, our workplace, our family lives, we improve our standard of living. We will become more exigent with how we want to live – whole of society benefits.

We must realize that we do not want real power in the hands of idiot politicians from both sides of the divide, that we must maintain our voices and our rights in a democratic government.

We must learn that the nation’s fate will not be dependent on any political party but the change within ourselves.

“To know and not act is not yet to know” – Wang Yang Ming, 12th century philosopher.

http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/sideviews/article/the-biggest-problem-is-apathy-jun-watanabe/
http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/opinion/2013/02/06/social-media-power-and-idiot-politicians/

The seed of hope

April 29, 2012

I was at the head of the sit-in protest on Leboh Pasar Besar when the police started mobilizing the armored tanker-trucks to the front of the police line and without warning started spraying chemically laced water onto us. From later accounts after I got home it seemed that some protestors got violent and broke through the barricades in another location, but from where we were we had no intention or at least urgency in crossing the line. I found out also later that the bell that rang was a warning that they would start spraying, but at that time I suppose we were not familiar with riot procedures.

Most of us were visibly stunned, not unlike deers caught in headlights, displayed delayed reaction in view of oncoming water gushing juggernaut. It wasn’t until the pop-pop sound of tear gas canisters being emptied and started falling around us that we turned around and ran for dear life. We took shelter behind buildings and road signs, where some of the more foolhardy amongst us would emerge again into the open and taunt the police. Some petulant ones would rummage for anything to throw at the trucks, but being too far or his chosen projectile too unwieldy, almost always comically failing to hit the mark.

It was then most of us started to feel it.

The chemical water was irritating my skin, but not enough to persuade me to give up my ground and continue taking pictures. With the first whiff of the gas however I started to choke, and within the next few seconds I heaved and wheezed with much difficulty, my eyes started to hurt and water, and the pain was quickly becoming excruciating. I ran away a few blocks disorientated, clashing bodies and tripping over pavements. I could hardly open my eyes, but spied a young Malay couple running with a young child in the father’s arms, all wrapped up and bawling her lungs out. All I could think then was thank you for being here, but leave the kid at home.

At a clearing at the Tun H S Lee junction I paused to take in my surroundings. I accepted some salt this lady was handing out at a street corner, and quickly ingested it. People were streaming in from wherever they were running from. Everywhere I looked, people were exhausted, disheveled, wet from sweat or the chemical water or having rinsed themselves, their eyes blood red from its effects or some visibly crying. Some defiant ones pointed their middle fingers to the riot police in the distance or above at the helicopters.

We lingered at little bit more, got boxed in a little bit more, got shot at with tear gas a little bit more, and ran a little bit more, but it was clear to me that our day was done. We had proved a point.

We came out in encouraging numbers, approaching 100,000 according to some media estimates. From my start point in Brickfields we moved off in the direction of the city with a couple of hundred people which quickly swelled to the thousands, whopping in welcoming groups to merge into us from the highway ramps & the side streets, motorists honking and takings pictures and giving out thumbs up signs. We held up banners. We chanted slogans, and at underpasses, our echoes resonating even more and reverberating with spine chilling effect.

The point that some would make is that most who attended the Bersih 3.0 rally were already the converted, that they would be voting for the other side anyway. But it is not just about that. It is also not solely about marching regardless of race or creed or religion, that the Indian man would be walking side by side with a Malay woman, and on her side a Chinese boy. It is not just about that.

We are probably the-already-converted who attended the rally, but having been there reinforces us, dispelling our big brother fears and entrenches the belief that what we are doing is right, that we are holding up our democratic rights, the right to a clean and fair electoral system, one that decides our representatives in government. This year more people openly wore the iconic yellow than before. Most importantly, we knew that we were heading towards Dataran Merdeka not as the opposition or to meet with a politician or a political party, but with the knowledge that we were there for ourselves and the future we will leave to our children.

The fight will not be easy, and it will not be fair. Already the cynics among us are saying that the unruly protestors who broke through the barricades may have been Special Branch, that the people who threw the gas canisters back at the police line looked like they knew what they were doing, as if they had military training in the way they threw them. It may turn out untrue, but whatever the story is, we know that we can no longer trust the sitting government. We know that they control the mainstream media, the civil service and a compromised judiciary. They have a huge war chest and they will do whatever to desperately cling onto power. We know but can’t blame the poor amongst us who sell their votes for a sack of rice. With everything going against us we must possess the fortitude to see through the promises of this awakening – that it is the people who wields the power.

http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/malaysia/article/the-seed-of-hope

http://blog.limkitsiang.com/2012/04/30/the-seed-of-hope/

My Bersih 3.0 photos

April 29, 2012

What comes after?

July 16, 2011

I read accounts of what happened July 9th and I regret not being able to recount any acts of bravado nor put my body on the line for the sake of fellow malaysians.  A cousin from Japan came to Singapore that day, and so I was probably tucking into expensive dim sum in Takashimaya when marches started gathering steam sporadically around KL city, and while protesters were tear gassed I was probably inside a car in the Singapore flyer explaining the skyline to him.

As it had transpired, I count myself as one of the “silent majority” of citizens who did not attend the demonstration, though hardly in PM Najib’s definition of the phrase. We are a majority of people who were fence sitters or procrastinators or glass-half-emptiers or for whatever reason we had to not attend that day, I believe we will no longer be silent.

The brave people who rallied that day gave us the entire nation the courage and the impetus to act.

Bersih 2.0 is a grassroots initiative demanding reforms to be taken up by the Election Commission to ensure clean elections & fair representation of voters, remains apolitical to the extent of even admonishing opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim as an opportunistic hijacker when he said in days leading up to the event that he would cancel the rally if demands were met. The Bersih movement was probably defined that day, serving notice that it is not to be a tool used by political opposition to serve their interests, but one that is endorsed by all citizenry, one that includes old women clutching flowers & wheelchair bound patriarchs. 

Often in the past I thought “so what?” if by some miracle the opposition were to win a general election and take control of the country, a more likely scenario is that a PR coalition government would succumb quickly to infighting within its ranks, beset by an inertia of not being able to enact painful but necessary kaizen measures for fear of losing power, be it the continued dependance on Petronas money or the cutting of subsidies or trimming the bloated civil service.  More importantly, would they possess the will to enact exactly the same 8 points raised by Bersih on electoral reform and risk losing power in subsequent elections? And the people who were so brave on the streets, when the day comes and the country needs you, would you come to its aid and collectively tighten belts and support your representatives through thick and thin? 

However precipitous the road shall be, July 9th was a turning point and a vital first step in the path to building a mature and inclusive society.  It is a seismic paradigm shift in that through our shouts & protests that we witnessed fear in our government, who brought about swift oppression in the only way they know how, in which we the silent majoriity in turn received our political awakening. In the photos that later emerged, we were able to witness displays of courage in average citizens who were no longer afraid of the powers that be, exhibiting traits not unlike the unknown hero who stood in front of the tank in Tiananmen.  The silent majority will continue to take the fight in making our votes count, though we must know that with power comes responsibility, that it will be us who will be accountable, not BN, not PR, nor any other political party. I remind you that we must have the fortitude to overcome roadblocks in terms of difficult transformations the country will surely go through.

And yet it is not enough. We must continue to shout, we must continue to wear yellow on saturdays, we must register our kids as anak malaysia, we must continue to question authority, and in order to do all these we must learn to speak freely and without fear, which is why we must also elect representatives who would act to repeal the Printing Presses and Publications Act, the Sedition Act & abolish the ISA, the Official Secrets Act.

There must be a day the malay majority in Malaysia elects a gay, non muslim, non malay woman to become Prime Minister, and holds her accountable only by the virtue of her work.

http://www.malaysiakini.com/letters/170521

http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/sideviews/article/what-comes-after-jun-watanabe/

Bersih 2.0

July 5, 2011

http://english.cpiasia.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2207:debunking-the-bersih-20-critics&catid=219:contributors&Itemid=189

The link above is for an article written by a Pak Sako, clearly a rational and eloquent mind, for the Center for Policy Initiatives. It is by far the most logically argued article I have read so far on bersih.

As for CPI, this from their website http://english.cpiasia.net/:

Mission Statement

The Centre for Policy Initiatives was formally established as a non-profit policy reform organization in June 2007. Its mission is focused on providing the policy interested public, academia, private sector, government and other key stakeholders with accurate information, data and analysis on vital national issues affecting the country’s economy and society. The Centre also aims to act as a independent and uncompromising watchdog on democratization, good governance and public policy reform.

CPI Activities

Since its establishment, the CPI has been active in efforts aimed at raising the level of public awareness and discourse on key national issues. It is also working with other civil society organizations in monitoring our progress towards a strong and resilient democratic system

Besides its website work, the CPI has been actively engaged in

  • organizing public meetings on important subjects such as restoring local elections and the role of bloggers in promoting civil society
  • issuing press statements and policy notes on issues of public concern, including those focusing on civil liberties, the judiciary, the mass media, repressive laws and regulations such the Universities and University Colleges Act, academic freedom, local government reform, etc.
  • disseminating information providing guidance to voters during the March general election.