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Jan. 17th, 2010

Dari kebatilan, kembalilah kepada kebenaran

"...Dan kalaulah Allah tidak mendorong setengah manusia menentang pencerobohan setengahnya yang lain, nescaya runtuhlah tempat-tempat pertapaan serta gereja-gereja (kaum Nasrani), dan tempat-tempat sembahyang (kaum Yahudi), dan juga masjid-masjid (orang Islam) yang sentiasa disebut nama Allah banyak-banyak padanya dan sesungguhnya Allah akan menolong sesiapa yang menolong ugamaNya (ugama Islam); sesungguhnya Allah Maha Kuat, lagi Maha Kuasa." (Surah al-Hajj, ayat 40, 23:40)

Setelah lebih seminggu berlalu sejak bermulanya siri serangan ke atas beberapa gereja di negara kita, ada baik dan buruknya natijah yang telah terjelma. Sememangnya saya berbesar hati melihat respons dari berbagai pihak, merentas pemisah politik dan merangkumi spektrum organisasi Islam yang luas sekali, rata-rata mengecam sekeras-kerasnya perbuatan yang haram ini. Jika sesungguhnya ada umat Islam di negara ini yang bertanggungjawab atas serangan-serangan tersebut, ataupun yang masih lagi menyokongnya, saya amatlah berharap bahawa hujah-hujah yang telah dikemukakan sekian ini sudahpun mengubah paradigma fikiran anda.

Saya juga amat gembira melihat tindakan PAS yang luar-biasa, dengan bukan sahaja mengecam serangan tersebut, malah membela hak saudara-saudara Ahlul-Kitab kita untuk menggunakan kalimah Allah. Jika masih ada yang belum membacanya, saya amatlah mengesyorkan agar dibaca ulasan Dr. Dzuklifli Ahmad tentang hal ini, yang mengemukakan hujah dan dalil untuk menyokong kesimpulan ini, yang saya fikirkan tidak dapat dinafikan lagi.

Namun demikian, saya masih kecewa melihat kata-kata yang diucapkan sesetengah pemimpin, yang seolah-olah memberikan implikasi bahawa jika isu penggunaan kalimah 'Allah' itu tidak dibangkitkan terlebih dahulu, maka serangan yang kita lihat sepanjang minggu ini tidak akan telah berlaku. Dari segi kronologinya semata-mata, ini mungkin ada logiknya. Walau bagaimanapun, pada hemah saya, adalah amatlah tidak bertanggungjawab untuk fokus wacana serangan ke atas gereja ini ditumpukan pula kepada tindakan orang Kristian itu sendiri.

Sewajarnya, sama ada isu ini ditimbulkan ataupun tidak, sebarang bentuk keganasan tidak patut berlaku sama sekali. Faktor pokok yang berada di sebalik kejadian minggu ini bukanlah tindakan sesetengah rakyat beragama Kristian untuk menggunakan kalimah Allah, tetapi sebaliknya hanyalah kesongsangan pemikiran, nilai dan etika yang dipegang oleh pihak yang bertanggungjawab melakukan serangan tersebut.

Saya percaya bahawa dalil dan hujah yang dikemukakan Dr. Dzulkifli sudah cukup untuk mencapai kesimpulan bahawasanya agama Islam tidaklah mensyariatkan supaya kalimah Allah itu menjadi penggunaan unggul umat Islam sahaja. Jika benar demikian, maka sebarang tentangan yang dikemukakan terhadap penggunaan kalimah Allah oleh umat Kristian di negara kita tidak disokong agama, dan hanyalah sekadar sensitiviti dan kepelikan pemikiran umat Islam di Malaysia sahaja. Saya sememangnya berasa agak ironis jika ada di kalangan kita yang begitu tekad sekali untuk mempertahankan penggunaan kalimah Allah oleh umat Islam sahaja, sedangkan Allah S.W.T. sendiri telah menetapkan sebaliknya.

Sepertimana yang saya telah fikirkan berulang kali, kita orang Melayu sering-kali membiarkan ketakutan dan kebimbangan yang menyelubungi pemikiran bangsa kita untuk menguasai tindak-tanduk kita sendiri, sehinggakan syariat agama yang sepatutnya menjadi tunjang kehidupan kita seolah-olah terbiar begitu sahaja. Tidak susah untuk mencari contohnya - lihatlah sahaja keghairahan kita berwacana tentang ketuanan bangsa, dan memperlekehkan bangsa 'pendatang', sedangkan kita lupa bahawa Allah S.W.T. dan Rasul-nya, Muhammad S.A.W., telah sebulat-bulat menolak sebarang perasaan perkauman, atas dasar persaudaraan jitu antara manusia.

Lihatlah betapa senangnya kita berpolemik tentang pendatang, sedangkan bukankah Hijrah itu sendiri satu proses melahirkan pendatang; bukankah Nabi S.A.W. yang tercinta sendirinya seorang pendatang ke kota Madinah; dan bukankah sahabat tersohornya seperti Salman al-Farsi r.a. itu semata-mata pendatang ke Tanah Arab? Adakah kita begitu mudah melupakan implikasi sirah agama kita sendiri? Dan janganlah kita sekali-kali terlupa bahawa kita sendiri adalan pendatang ke Tanah Melayu, sementara pribumi sebenarnya, iaitu Orang Asli, terjebak dalam kancah kemiskinan dan ketakutan, akibat tindak-tanduk pendatang yang bernama Melayu.

Cukuplah. Sudah tiba masanya untuk kita berhenti berlawan dengan bayang-bayang. Sudah tiba masanya untuk kita menjunjung keadilan, dan berlaku adil terhadap semua, atas dasar persaudaraan sejagat. Sudah tiba masanya untuk kita bangun daripada mimpi, dan bertindak menangani masalah-masalah sebenar yang menghantui masyarakat kita.

Tidak sukar untuk melihat mengapa masyarakat Islam di negara ini sudah hilang kepercayaan diri, dan terbantut di bawah mentaliti terkepung (siege mentality). Kian hari, kian lebih ramai antara kita kelihatan semakin jauh daripada kehidupan Islam, dengan hubungan seks di luar pernikahan, penyalahgunaan dadah (termasuklah alkohol), rogol dan sumbang mahram, serta keganasan rumahtangga, seolah-olah semakin dibudayakan bangsa kita sendiri. Semakin ramai di antara kita meninggalkan agama secara langsung, menambahkan kepada catitan statistik murtad negara. Rasuah berleluasa tanpa henti, dipelopori tanpa segan silu oleh orang Melayu yang bergelar Islam.

Namun begitu, kita semua haruslah menyedari bahawa segala kebobrokan yang diperincikan di atas hanyalah buah hasil kelemahan dan kegagalan masyarakat kita sendiri, dan bukannya hasil percaturan anasir luar yang ingin memusnahkan kita. Musuh umat Islam yang utama hanyalah diri kita sendiri.

Remaja-remaja kita bukannya murtad kerana melihat salib ataupun dikelirukan al-Kitab yang memperihalkan kisah Allah dan Isa al-Masih. Sebaliknya, remaja kita murtad kerana kita sudahpun gagal menyampaikan kebenaran Islam itu sendiri.

Tindak-tanduk dan percakapan kita yang tidak mencerminkan akhlak Islamiah yang murni, ditambahkan pula dengan terbiarnya perkembangan kerohanian di dalam hati sanubari mereka itulah yang menyebabkan mereka murtad. Bak kata bekas Presiden Iran, Sayyid Muhammad Khatami, jika kita benar-benar berjaya memperkasakan jiwa dan rohani golongan muda, maka mustahil sama sekali untuk mereka memalingkan diri daripada kebenaran.

Oleh yang demikian, saya menyeru sesiapa yang menentang penggunaan kalimah Allah oleh umat Kristian di Malaysia, untuk menghentikan tentangan tersebut. Agama kita tidak mensyariatkan tentangan tersebut, manakala tindakan sebegini hanyalah akan memesongkan kita daripada perjuangan yang sebenar, iaitu untuk menjunjung keadilan dan membawa umat kita kembali kepada cahaya kebenaran. Janganlah kita sekali-kali membenarkan diri berlaku tidak adil kepada orang lain, kerana sesungguhnya Allah S.W.T. membenci kezaliman.

Sebaliknya, bukalah hati kita, dan terimalah penggunaan kalimah Allah oleh saudara-saudara Kristian kita sebagai satu perkembangan positif, dalam mencari jalan menuju kebenaran. Gunalah tenaga yang kini kita bazirkan dalam polemik yang sia-sia sahaja, untuk menggembleng bersama menghidupkan kembali pendidikan kerohanian, dan memikiran idea dan tindakan bernas untuk menarik masyarakat kita sendiri kembali kepada akhlak dan akidah Islamiah. Lupakanlah matlamat yang salah, dan letakkanlah matlamat kita sebagai menghapuskan rasuah, keganasan terhadap wanita, dan ketidakadilan sosio-ekonomi yang lahir akibat jurang pendapatan di antara umat Islam sendiri.

Saya percaya bahawa jika kita berfikir dengan jitu, kita akan sedar bahawa tindak-tanduk dan prioriti kita sekarang adalah salah dan menjurus terhadap ketidak-adilan, yang haruslah kita ubah dengan serta-merta. Marilah kita bersama-sama memperjuangkan keadilan dan persaudaraan dengan niat yang ikhlas. Janganlah kita menuding jari terhadap orang lain kerana membaurkan porak-peranda dan ketidak-tenteraman, tetapi sebaliknya memilih untuk meninggalkan sensitiviti yang tiada asasnya, dan kembali kepada kebenaran Islam yang hakiki.



Jan. 3rd, 2009

The prodigal returns: Letters to a young friend 2.1.09

(After 55 weeks [according to LJ], I'm back, and hopefully for good. Sorry for the super-long hiatus, but I had to take time off to sort a few things out in my head [and heart]. But it's a new year, and hopefully an old me. From now on, this journal will be strictly epistolary in style, with my actual articles going to CEKU for the time being [though not to say I won't try tackling some serious issues as well, in these pseudo-letters]. Hope you've all been well - a very Happy New Year to all!)

2.1.09

It's been a long time since I last wrote to you, but I find that the ink flows just as smoothly as it used to, even aftr all this time. Funny, that. But perhaps it's because it's you who hasn't written for so long, and thus I have had little chance to reply to your thoughtful queries, my dear muse. To new beginnings, then, and endings which are nought but beginnings themselves.

You watched the news the other day, and you went to school the next day filled with an unquiet anger, as you had been taught by your immensely worthy parents to do. In the face of injustice, anger must come forth - not a God-hating anger, nor still a murderous unthinking flame, but an unquiet passion leading to implacable action. Yet your friends only laughed at you, belittling your letters and spirited words on the soapbox. You went home crushed, convinced that your crusade was for nought, and that your friends were right - you can't change anything, so why even try?

I say to you now, your friends are dead wrong. And you can go back to them, and tell them the two reasons why. Firstly, maybe if you're the only one doing it, nothing happens. But the doing has to start with yourself. If you don't do, you can't expect anyone else to do it too. But what one person does, when multiplied by the millions, becomes something far greater than than the sum of its parts. And that does lead to change - but it all starts with one small act on your part.

But I think there's an even more important reason, and this one remains true even if you were the only person on the whole planet who cared about the suffering of these poor souls - you and I, all of humanity, we are witnesses unto one another. And we owe it to our fellow human beings to not allow them to be forgotten, even if we are the last people on earth who remembered their names, and their suffering. Our poets tell us of the importance of memory; of the significance of remembrance. And just as we honour God in our remembrance of Him, we honour our fellow brothers and sisters in humanity by remembering them. That is why, each and every time you write or speak about the suffering of others, even if it doesn't seem to be doing anything, always remember that by doing what you do, you are honouring them, and standing witness to their existence. As long as you are doing what you do, they will not go gently into that good night.

Remember that, and continue doing what you do - and when you next look into the eyes of your friends, roaring defiance in the face of their mockery, know that I am prouder than you can ever know.

Dec. 13th, 2007

Between what is easy, and what is right

The Star Online reports that 5 Hindraf leaders have been detained under the ISA, with 2-year detention orders under s.8 having been signed by the Prime Minister.

To me, when I look at the ISA, I see a choice between what is easy, and what is right. There's no denying that the ISA is the easy choice. It is easy to just trust that the government knows best; that they know what they are doing. It is easy to not have to bring out evidence and sensitive inteligence into open court, and to ask the people to trust that the evidence exists. It is easy to look at these 'troublemakers', and think, at least we have a superweapon that can make sure they can't ever hurt anyone, even though it's not actually proven beyond reasonable doubt that they will do so. It is easy to know that your government can strike pre-emptively at people, and keep you safe. It is easy to see all those people arrested under the ISA as 'them'; to never think that you might ever agree with what they say or do; to think that tomorrow, it could ever be you, or any of your loved ones. So very easy.

But does that make it right? I don't believe so. And the simplest reason for this is one of natural justice - how can you punish a person without having proved her crime, and without giving her the chance to disprove the allegations made against her?

This is natural justice, for the simple reason that we do it all the time. A simple example. A window is broken in your home. You call your two daughters. One blames the other for the broken window. Would you immediately start yelling at her, and setting her punishment, based solely on what your other daughter said? One would think that you would at least ask the allegedly wrongdoing daughter whether the allegations were true, and if she said otherwise, you would listen to both sides and make up your mind. This pattern of natural justice repeats itself every single time we deal with disputes in our daily lives. So why are we so eager to deny its relevance when it comes to the ISA?

When there is an allegation of wrongdoing, justice demands that if it is disputed by the alleged wrongdoer, then it must be proven, and the alleged wrongdoer must be given a chance to defend herself. And all this takes place under the watchful eye of a neutral arbiter.

None of this happens under the ISA. The government does not have to prove its case - no evidence needs to be tendered in a court of law. The alleged wrongdoer has no chance of defence - she gets picked up, and processed immediately. As for the neutral arbiter? The ISA detainee has not been convicted in a court of law, by the judgment of an free and independent judge - she has been sentenced by the act of a single signature. And ever since the government restricted further the jurisdiction of the courts to examine the grounds of detention, even habeas corpus will not avail her.

And that's not even all, because we also need to remember that the ISA has been a cover for torture in the past. We only need to look at the recent judgment in the case of Abdul Malik Husin to see judicial condemnation of the torture inflicted on him during the course of his ISA detention. It happens, we cannot deny it, and it is a very powerful reason to do away with the ISA. Secrecy breeds torture. We only need to look at the accounts of life in Guantanamo Bay to realise that the less openness and exposure to the watchful legal eye there are, the more easily human beings degenerate into little more than sadistic beasts. For that matter, just read the judgment, and understand the depth of suffering that was inflicted on En. Abdul Malik.

Doing without the ISA is not easy. It means that the government and law enforcement agencies have to do a lot more work, and actually have to prove beyond reasonable doubt that someone is a threat to national security. It means that we'll have to listen to those we fundamentally disagree with, even when we think they're troublemakers, because chances are, as troublesome as they are, they won't be proven to be threats to national security. If you ask me, that's not necessarily a bad thing. And of course, there is the age-old consequence - that we may well end up letting a genuine threat walk free, and people may die because of it.

I will put the last statement into perspective, by noting that the record of ISA usage in Malaysia includes a whole lot of opposition leaders and NGO activists and political dissenters, not to mention passport forgerers - all of whom aren't exactly the next Al-Qaeda or Tamil Tiger bomber, in my humble opinion. But yes, at least half of the current detainees are suspected KMM or JI members. Please bear in mind, however, that links with Tamil Tigers aside, Hindraf does not strike me as a terrorist threat.

But even when dealing with alleged terrorists, the ISA is not the way. Alleged terrorists remain very much alleged; they deserve the right, just as much as a pickpocket, to have their side of the story heard, and the allegations against them proven. Yes, we may make mistakes. But have we so easily forgotten the Prophet's advice: better to let a thousand guilty men go free than to punish one innocent? That is the balance of justice in Islam. It is not easy to live in the insecurity that this balance creates. It is not easy to contemplate that the man you free today may kill you tomorrow. But as long as we believe that at the end of the day, justice trumps fear, then the choice is clear, no matter how hard the consequences may be.

And when it comes to equating Hindraf's loose statements and borderline racism with a 'threat to national security', I believe that again, we're taking the easy way out. Of course it's unpalatable to a lot of people. But what we should be doing is countering the rhetoric with a genuine desire to help our Malaysian Indian brothers, and framing this as part of a drive to help all Malaysians who still live in poverty and deprivation. Instead of thinking that people are automatically going to riot the more they listen to Hindraf, we should be saying: we should not resort to violence, but we must do all we can to help each other. Yes, it's a whole lot harder than just shutting them up with the ISA. But which is easy, and which is right?

I ask you to please think about the question of justice I brought up earlier, and really consider whether the ISA can be reconciled with that conception of justice at all. And if you believe, as I do, that the ISA completely offends against that natural justice, then I would ask you to at least join all the other Malaysians who now say to our government: we choose what is right, over what is easy; and if you choose what is easy, over what is right, then let not this injustice be done in our name.

Nov. 25th, 2007

Letters to a young friend #3

NB: Just in case anyone's wondering how I can go from 'disappointedly furious' to 'happy' in the same breath, I made a promise that every time it seemed that I was going to be stuck in 'furious' gear, I'd write a 'happy' post. Proof of the mantra: your best friend knows what's best for you.

A tip led me to a sighting of a particularly wonderful moon yesterday. It was bright and cheery and remarkably pretty. I saw it again this morning, and just had to marvel. Subhanallah. All Glory be to God. Somehow or the other, full moons over here are just so much more impressive - must have something to do with the being in the northern hemisphere rather than near the equator.

I liked your stories about your teachers at school the last time round. Teachers have a tendency to be awfully nice, and quite unforgettable. And sometimes, even if their names do tend to disappear into the mists, you're still left with vague notions of warm feelings and good times. Every class teacher you have will be different, but each would have had their own special 'good memory' associated with them (I hope). From the teacher who would always sigh exasperatedly at the class; to her of the quaint phrases (I will never forget 'tidak bertamadun' as long as I live); to the all-important Standard 1 class teacher, the one who would be the only shield between you and all-consuming fear of school (I didn't exactly take to school like a duck to water).

I've lost touch with far too many of my old teachers. But whenever I do come across them, those are special moments. I've been told often enough that they never remember you - that's why the same old questions keep coming up: what are you studying, where are you studying, and 'dah ada girlfriend ke?' But nevertheless, it's always nice to know how people you care about are doing; listening to tales of student terror (the innocent kind), exclaiming in wonder at their children's latest exploits; shaking your head gravely at 'kids these days'... makes you feel almost like a makcik on the stairs. Not a bad feeling to have, some days.

So, my dear, the moral of the story is: before you leave school, make sure you take down all your teachers' contact details, and don't forget to drop them a line once in a while. Will regale you with more tales of my wonderful teachers another time, but for now, I think I have a few postcards that need sending. Till next time, gentle thoughts, and warm days.

Appalled.

Update: At least 400 people have been reported as having been arrested.

Nat has a powerful piece out on the Hindraf rally. It makes for painful reading, but you must read it nonetheless.

Nik Nazmi has a lucid, sobering reminder of the sad fate of the Indian community in Malaysia. Two statistics he quotes speak for themselves. They only possess 2% of the country's wealth, and removing the 5 richest Indians from that list just makes it so much worse. In 2003, one in twelve did not attend primary schoool. Does this look like a rich, fairly treated community to you?

There is an argument, and one I support, for saying that it's better to frame this fight in terms of justice for all poor, regardless of race. At the very least, the plight of the Indians should be proof that the NEP needs replacing, that our focus needs to shift from handing out contracts and worrying about equity to tackling poverty, the first prong of the NEP that has too long been subordinated to this UMNO-twisted Frankenstein that is the Malay Agenda.

We should also not forget temple demolitions. These are just as significant as the economic plight facing the Indians. How can we seriously stand by and just watch as temples are demolished? 'Illegality' is not an excuse. How would we Muslims feel if a surau that's been there for years is demolished because it's 'illegal'? Places of worship have a special status that need a whole lot more than just illegality per se to contemplate getting rid of them. We need to deal with this in a civilised manner, giving priority to the sanctity of places of worship, and the freedom of religious practice, not just ride rough-shod over the cherished faith of our Hindu brothers and sisters. Why is this so hard?

But all this deserves more expounding another day. Today, however, is about what happened when our Indian brothers and sisters wanted to channel their frustration, and have a peaceful protest. Nat's piece is painfully illuminating, as are the news reports coming in. Tear gas fired from 7.40 am. Tear gas fired even when the crowd wasn't doing anything more than milling around. Racist police officers hurling abuse at protesters.

I'm angry at the police, but I'm angrier at the men pulling their strings. I'm angry at a government whose first reaction to a legitimate outpouring of people's frustrations is tear gas, and loads of it. No mercy. No dialogue. No respect. Just tear gas (and Nat's account of the pain is... sigh.)

En. Abdullah, I hold you responsible. These aren't disorderly drunks, or violent rioters, or armed revolutionaries. These were your own citizens, your own people. They just wanted a chance to be heard, to assemble for a little while, march peacefully down Jalan Ampang, and maybe for one day, feel a little less powerless. You didn't even want to give them that much. When they went to KLCC, your policemen fired tear gas at them. When they went to Batu Caves, your policemen fired tear gas at them. They didn't do anything, and your policemen fired tear gas at them.

Your government tells us that these people are inciting racial hatred. No, they're not. Some extremists may hate everyone else in Malaysia, but the vast majority of people out there are just sad that their lives are so bad under your rule, and the so-called 'protection' of the MIC. They're not trying to incite hatred, or riot and hurt their fellow Malaysians. All they want is a better life for themselves, and their children. Is that too much to ask?

The best way forward is still a struggle for all poor, regardless of race. But the Indian poor have had it bad, and they have a right to voice that out. But you didn't have enough respect for them to let them do that.

Don't let them get away with this, people. Please. Hold this government to account. Vote for change.

Nov. 24th, 2007

In solidarity with HINDRAF

First of all, please read Nat's brilliant post on the Hindraf march tomorrow.

He's right. You may not agree with Hindraf's methods. You may think a 4 trillion suit pointless. But can we really deny that the Indians in Malaysia have got a raw deal? Can we deny the plight of the estate workers? The temple demolitions? The millions lost by poor Indian savers after MAIKA collapsed? MIC has done wrong by the Indians. BN has done wrong by the Indians. And we've done wrong by the Indians too - we should have been speaking out years ago.

That's why people are marching tomorrow. People are angry. People feel betrayed. And what do the police do? Act like this peaceful gathering is a threat to national security, and shut down the city.

It's sad. It's sad that even after the Indians have been betrayed so many times, when they just want to do something, just one march, to express their anger in public, the police treat them like dirt.

Court orders placed round the city? Jalan Ampang will be closed off? Anyone going will be arrested? Teachers will be sacked, students will be expelled? Even the King of Perlis stepping in and saying that people shouldn't join an illegal rally?

Come on, people, it's only illegal because you made it illegal. You could have granted the permit so easily, but you didn't. This is a peaceful gathering, not a riot-in-the-making.

I know I shouldn't have any good expectations of this government anymore. I know they don't care about the people at all. I know they're cruel and oppressive. But this... this just makes me want to scream and cry all at the same time.

You just think of a poor Indian worker, earning maybe less than RM300 a month. His wife earns even less as a cleaner. They've got 5 kids to feed and clothe and send to school. They've barely got a roof over their heads. They used to have a temple, but then the State Government says it's illegal, and demolished it a month ago. They feel so helpless, they don't know what they can do. They put in a bit of money into MAIKA, but we all know where that went, and they just got even poorer. They look to the MIC, but the MIC just whistles on, gets a few people nice and rich, and look the other way.

Then he hears of P. Uthayakumar. He hears of HINDRAF. He hears of the march. He wants to go. His wife wants to go. His children want to go. They've all lived a hard life, and for once, it seems like there's something they can do to make someone listen. But what do they get? They get treated like criminals. They're threatened with arrest, their children risk getting expelled. They know there'll be water cannons and tear gas out there.

And the government has absolutely no sympathy for them. They won't even allow them this much, just one march. Not even one chance to speak out. This is the government we have.

It makes me sick. It makes me want to cry, thinking of that family, and those kids. And it makes me so, so, so angry at this heartless government.

This is not a racial issue. This is a Malaysian issue. Our fellow Malaysians are suffering. They want to do something about it, and this is the only way left for them - the government's certainly not listened to anything less. And by denying them the right to voice their frustrations, the government is making a mockery of any claim to be a government of the people.

Don't you talk about 'right channels'. I marched last week in Oxford for Burma, and the police didn't tell me it was the 'wrong channel' - they escorted us all the way, holding traffic back for us, and giving us the thumbs-up in the end. And if this government learnt to actually care about the rakyat, instead of just pretending to, it would do the same thing. Shame on them.

I ask each and every Malaysian reading this to stand in solidarity with our Indian brothers and sisters. SOme of us may not be able to march tomorrow. But we can speak out. We can make some noise, as little as it may be. And we can vote for change.

Nov. 19th, 2007

Letters to a young friend #2

19 November

We should go and see Wicked! one of these days - I remember how amazing it was when I first watched it, and I think it should be quite an experience for you. It would be nice, would it not, to make it into an outing with your friends as well, with ice-cream after, perhaps?

I don't know where you unearthed those pictures of me marching in London, but it did remind me that I've been awfully remiss in never bringing you along for a march before. Of course, your parents might have had a thing or two to say about that. Which is why I wasn't surprised when you asked why I liked going on marches so much.

It's an exhilarating feeling, being in a march. All those cliches about giving power to the powerless - they're all true. If you marched alone from Trafalgar Square to Westminster, holding up a forlorn solitary placard and chanting till you grew hoarse, alone, you might just end up feeling rather miserable. But the moment you're part of a crowd, that changes everything. Instead of being just one person with a cause, and no one listening, you're part of a movement, a collective - people listen, because your voice is too loud for them to ignore anymore, because it's not just you anymore. The sound of a hundred, a thousand, twenty thousand voices just crying out for change makes you feel like you're actually moving the world, even if it is just by a single inch.

Human beings need collectives, need collective action. One person can slice a thousand little cuts, but if you want to break the door open, a single knife won't do it - you need thousands of little knives, fashioned into one big, bad battering ram. Think of us as being like ants (sort of). We walk upon this earth, looking for those tiny crumbs we can carry ourselves, and picking as many of those up as we can. But every once in a while, you stumble upon a beetle. You wring your feelers in despair, looking up at that enormous beetle, but then you get a tap on your metaphorical shoulder, and you see a thousand ants behind you. Hope flares, the light flashes on, and a thousand ants heave-ho and carry that beetle home. And so it is with us too.

Your friends might say, my dear, that millions have protested before, and achieved nothing. But that's not true. Some fail, but many others succeed. And even those who fail, in the long run, succeed. And failure is never total. You might fail to change the world today, but if by marching today, you feel more empowered than you did yesterday, then call that a success. Because if you feel empowered today, then chances are, you'll feel the same way tomorrow. And the day after. And the day after that. And an empowered people will win out in the end. Maybe not in my lifetime, maybe not in yours, but someday. But if people don't even feel empowered, then that process dies before it even has a chance to be born. And that's a real shame.

So, what say we pick up a couple of placards, tell your parents a white lie (one must be wild, sometimes), march down Jalan TAR, and have us a little empowerment? And hope I don't get arrested for child endangerment, but it's ok - I have a running list of lawyers who've all promised to get me out of jail, not to mention one supremely brilliant advocate for a best friend. Isn't life a doll?

Nov. 15th, 2007

*Ahem* Yes, we are in a state of Emergency

Today, En. Najib Tun Razak was quoted as saying that Malaysia is not under a state of emergency.

Might I remind our DPM that we are currently operating under at least two Proclamations of Emergency which are yet to be revoked? And that this singular fact is why the Emergency Ordinances are still in operation, and still used to arrest people who have already been judged not guilty by our ordinary, non-Emergency laws?

If you're serious about Malaysia not being in a state of Emergency, En. Najib, I suggest you move for Parliament to revoke all operating Proclamations of Emergency, and stop using the Emergency Ordinance as a criminal short-cut to nab people whose guilt you can't prove in an ordinary court of law. You're a smart man, En. Najib - surely you know what the rule of law is. And this abuse of Emergency laws is just not on at all.

I was also deeply angered by this revelation at Nat's blog. The police beat up an innocent pisang goreng seller who was just a bystander at the protests, and Nat has the pics and his account of the crime.

This is the problem. The rakyat are perfectly capable of mounting a peaceful demonstration. Where the police did the right thing, and did not interfere, there were no problems. The only time the demonstrations on Saturday were not peaceful was when the police initiated the violence, by using tear gas, water cannons, and now even brute assault. Shame on those responsible.

People like EC Chairman En. Abdul Rashid need to realise that peaceful demonstrations are a perfectly legitimate way to dissent. That we need to stop the fetishism of the 'proper channels', and admit that in a profound way, demonstrations are the only way for the downtrodden and the marginalised to express their feelings. These demos are only violent when the authorities inflict the violence, either openly or through agents provocateurs. Instead of criticising the method, En. Rashid, you should be taking the message to heart, and working towards electoral reform immediately.

Nov. 14th, 2007

Letters to a young friend §1

14 Nov 2007

I saw two cats today. No, don't laugh, I really did. And you know how much I love cats. I swear, if I could, I would follow the footsteps of Mrs. Figg and fill my house with cats from top to bottom.

A particularly dear friend of mine once told me that sometimes, you have to forget about Nazri and Adnan and all the rest of these thugs, and just watch the butterflies go by. And so today I did, and I revelled in the joy of seeing two cats. Perhaps tomorrow I will see a butterfly at my windowsill.

You asked me once: Why does God give us best friends? The answer to that, my dear, is that God is fair. God knows that the world is full of struggle - that life is one constant, unending jihad, fighting both the tryanny of the nafs over purity as well as the tyranny of man over man. I will not live to see the road of equity prevail, and sadly enough, I don't think you will either. That means that every single day of our lives, there will be some injustice that must be fought, some oppression that must be ended, some tryant who must be overthrown. It's not easy, living life that way.

But God is fair. God does not give us a burden we cannot bear. God tells us, I will give you hardship, and woe, and struggle, but I will also give you love, and kindness, and tender compassion. God tempers the agony of this world with the promise of a better world beyond anything that we have known in the Hereafter, and in the meantime, he gives us best friends, so that in every act of love and kindness that passes between us, we see a glimpse of Paradise, to whet our thirst. Moments of infinite beauty and grace, to hold back the lasting night.

And remember too, that our best friends remind us of what we are fighting for. That the true potential of the human condition is not the arrogance and cruelty of our so-called leaders, but the warmth and tenderness of a dearest friend. That the world is always worth fighting for, because a world capable of bringing forth people like your best friend is worth a lifetime of struggle. Now isn't that a nice thought?

So don't forget to tell your best friend how much she means to you, and treasure every moment with her, for every moment is God's gift to you.

Until next time, happy thoughts, and gentle dreams.

Nov. 13th, 2007

If they're on the offensive, we have to be to!

First of all, a job very well done to all those who marched to Istana Negara on Saturday - a truly heartwarming sight, seeing 40 000 Malaysians in yellow demanding change!

They've done their part. Now all of us have to do ours. The fight has only just begun.

Nat has a brilliant but painful piece on how bad the media coverage of the event is.

It's pathetic. It's obvious. It's sad. But the most dangerous thing is that as unlikely as it may seem, the propaganda will still work, unless we fight back.

Don't believe the newspapers at first glance. Check out the pics. Check out the reports from Nat and Nik Nazmi, amongst many others. And then read between the propaganda and see the truth.

And Polytikus had a wonderful response to two hostile reactions to the march.

I'm feeling rather furious at the moment.

Teargas and water cannons used on illegal assembly, 245 held

Not 4000 marchers, but 40 000. Not 245 arrested, but only around 30. Not just an illegal assembly, but an assembly that would have been legal had it not been denied on spurious grounds. And I especially like the way they focused on the teargas and water cannons, and relegated the Istana part to the end, forgetting conveniently that 40 000 marches were arrayed outside the Istana Negara, supporting their representatives as they went up to meet the King's representative.

Shame on you all, editors of The Star.

And I'm even more furious at the politicians.

1. Adnan: Use ISA

I feel like screaming at you. The ISA, En. Adnan? The most draconian legislation we have, 60 days detention pre-charge, 2 years renewable without trial, all for a protest through KL? You disgust me.

Protesters are not a threat to national security. Peaceful protests do not in any way prejudice national security. They go out there, express their anger, and work for change. They don't blow anything up, they don't attack anyone, they don't threaten national security. You are living in a Twilight Zone, I'm afraid.

'We are fighting for our survival.' The only people fighting for survival is the BN, not the country. The country will survive just fine, notwithstanding regular peaceful demonstrations. It's your Government that needs to be afraid for its survival. Don't you there twist the issue to make it as if it's the country that's being threatened.

And national security is more important than legality or human rights, eh? So we'd be fine under a dictatorship which suspends all laws and rights, just as long as our 'security' is ok? And this is the man we voted in as a Menteri Besar of a Malaysian state. Vote for change.

2. Najib on why the police didn't permit the gathering

En. Najib, peaceful demonstrations do not cause chaos and disturb the peace. The only chaos and disturbance of the peace happens when permits are not granted, riot police are deployed, and trigger-happy police (who were thankfully a minority on Saturday) shoot chemically-laced water cannons at protesters.

2 million marched in London on the eve of the Iraq war without incident. I've been involved in a 20,000 strong demo for Palestine, again without incident. And I notice you didn't call En. Khairy's demo when Ms. Rice was in town a cause of chaos and the disturbance of the peace.

Peaceful demonstrations only create chaos with external provocation. Left to themselves, as most of the protesters on Saturday were, and people will march peacefully.

As for traffic jams, might I remind you, En. Najib, that the traffic jams were caused more by your numerous roadblocks than anything else? Had you allowed the gathering, and created a route from Dataran Merdeka to Istana Negara for an allotted period of time, there would have been minimal disruption to the city's normal life. It was your Government's intervention which created chaos, not the protesters.

3. Pak Lah: Don't drag royalty into politics

This is not politics, En. Abdullah. This is 40 000 of your own rakyat, demanding free and fair elections. The Agung is our head of state, and the guardian of our Constitution. When your Government fails us, when you refuse to acknowledge that our electoral system needs reform, where else are we to turn but our King?

It's not a gimmick, En. Abdullah. Those 40 000 people were angry. They wanted change. And they went to the one person who they believed could actually change anything. Because going to you has proved utterly futile.

4. Zam: Tear gas and water cannons not violence

En. Zainuddin, if you really wanted non-violence, don't use tear gas and water cannons at all. Let the people march in peace. If the police hadn't tried to stop them, there would have not been any disorder. Tear gas and water cannons seem pretty violent to me, as anyone at the end of chemically laced jet-pressure water will attest.

As for al-Jazeera's coverage, you have no right to talk about bias, not when RTM and the mainstream newspapers are as biased as can be. Shame on you.

5. IGP: Parents endangering their children

Let me get this straight, En. Musa. The only reason why children would be in danger whilst in a march is because your policemen shoot water cannons and tear gas at their parents. So, you're saying that parents should be prosecuted under the Child Protection Act because they put their children into a dangerous situation that your men created, and that would not have existed without them?

What utter rubbish. Children are perfectly safe on marches, as long as their parents keep a tight hold on them, and police don't shoot water cannons and tear gas at them. Before blaming the parents, could you look in the mirror first, please?

A couple of other general points. You said that roadblocks had to be there to make sure that no one was carrying any weapons. En. Musa, this is not a riot. This is a peaceful demonstration. People manage to demonstrate peacefully without bringing weapons, last time I checked. If you ever learnt to leave the rakyat alone, you'll see that we're perfectly capable of marching peacefully without attacking anyone or damaging any property. Those roadblocks were not necessary.

As for shops having to close, again, you could easily have provided for minimal disruption by agreeing to let everyone gather at Dataran Merdeka and then march peacefully at an allotted time, on an allotted route, to Istana Negara, with the disruption only lasting a limited time. It was your 4000 riot police, and the numerous restrictions on routes and such, which forced protesters to disperse and take many different routes from different spots and at different times. The disruption was not the protesters' fault.

***

Break the propaganda. Rebut the lies. Don't let 10 November 2007 be forgotten in the web of deceit that these people spin. Vote for change.

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