Wednesday, April 25, 2007

"It just felt right."

This chilling bit of news left me as numbed as the VT massacre. We don’t have all the facts so we won’t be in any position to understand where these murderous impulses originate. But it certainly brings to mind Paul’s diagnosis in Romans 1 that ruthlessness is a child of godlessness – ‘godless’ not in the sense of unbelief in God, but the knowing rejection of God who has already revealed himself.

"Sunday morning me and (her) woke up, and we were just talking, and for some reason we just decided to kill her," one of the girls told police in her interview.

"We just did it because we felt like it, it is hard to explain," the other girl said.

"I knew we had wanted to kill someone before.

"We knew it was wrong, but it didn't feel wrong at all, it just felt right."

The girls planned their attack and changed into old clothes.

One of them snuck up behind Eliza as she was reading, wrapped speaker wire twice around her throat and quickly tightened it as the other held her down, trying to press a chemical soaked cloth into her mouth.

"She started not being able to get her breath, and we just kept going," one of the girls said.

"She was just yelling at us `What the f**k, what are you doing' .. `Oh you freaks, what's wrong with you psychos."

Mr Stone said they chose to strangle Eliza because one of them had to return to Perth that afternoon and they wanted a quick and "non-messy" killing.

"As our friend, we did not really want her to suffer," one told police. [More]

Monday, April 23, 2007


There were 4 forwarded text messages (sms) in all. All arriving in my mobile’s inbox sometime during lunch on Sunday. Did anyone else receive this?
Don’t miss astro 9.30pm 2nite on aljazeera news. It will make you question wat d msian govt is doing abt apostasy cases, specifically involving conversion out of islam n its impact on non-muslims here. Never b4 seen footage of apostate in detention, taken by Ong Julin, filmmaker re:broga incinerator. PLS 4WARD
Initially it caught my attention, but when I asked if anyone verified the news before forwarding it, my senders merely replied that I could do it by turning on the tv. I don’t have Astro, but I heard there was a lot of confusion out there Sunday about the missing programme.

It now appears that there was indeed such a programme, but the smses got the details wrong.


In today's program, we examine the crime of a baby can be torn from its parents because a Muslim woman dared to marry a non-Muslim.

Religious freedom in Malaysia has been under the spotlight recently, with a string of disputes involving the country's non-Muslim minorities. The most high-profile is that of Siti Fatimah; she was born a Muslim but she married a Hindu man out of love. She calls herself Revathi, a Hindu name, and together the couple have a 15 month old baby girl.

But because she was living as a Hindu, Siti has been accused of apostasy - or deserting her religion. She's been detained at a Rehabilitation Centre, and her baby has been taken away. Her husband Suresh, who is banned from seeing both his wife and child, spoke to Everywoman about the battle to win back his family.

Joining Shiulie Ghosh to discuss the issue is Zainah Anwar from Sisters In Islam, and Farid Suffian Shuaib, Law Lecturer at Malaysia's International Islamic University.

[AlJazeera website here]

The problem with technology (in this instance, mobile phone messaging) is not just that it has an unintended way of consuming cultures and transforming societies; the ease with which it assimilates into our habits makes us careless, even reckless. Quentin Schultz says in his book Habits of the High-Tech Heart that ‘technological reticence’ is necessary if we wish to develop thoughtful habits of the heart in our age.

So the fw that went flying around was a genuine mistake, although correct in substance. All the more reason to be careful when messaging (and blogging!).

STOP PRESS: View a 60-sec clip of the AlJazeera programme on MalaysiakiniTV

Friday, April 20, 2007

Evil in the shadow of the cross

I have always been a fan of Buechner. Such insights, such economy of words. Now, wouldn't he make a blogger's blogger. His thoughts on evil are taken from Wishful Thinking: A Seeker's ABC, a small book that packs a lot of wisdom. A companion volume is Whistling in the Dark: An ABC Theologized which continues his succinct take on words and themes that read like theology in shortform. I'm sure many people are familiar with these words, but they seem so apt in the light of recent horrors.

  • God is all-powerful
  • God is all-good
  • Terrible things happen

You can reconcile any two of these propositions with each other, but you can’t reconcile all three. The problem of evil is perhaps the greatest single problem for religious faith.

There have been numerous theological and philosophical attempts to solve it, but when it comes down to the reality of evil itself they are none of them worth much. When a child is raped and murdered, the parents are not apt to take much comfort from the explanation (better than most) that since God wants man to love him, man must be free to love or not love and thus free to rape and murder a child if he takes a notion to.

Christian Science solves the problem of evil by saying that it does not exist except as an illusion of mortal mind. Buddhism solves it in terms of reincarnation and an inexorable law of cause and effect whereby the raped child is merely reaping the consequences of evil deeds it committed in another life.

Christianity, on the other hand, ultimately offers no theoretical solution at all. It merely point to the cross and says that, practically speaking, there is no evil so dark and so obscene – not even this –but that God can turn it to good.

Frederick Buechner

Thursday, April 19, 2007


Josh Meltzer / AP: Virginia Tech students sing "Amazing Grace"
at the conclusion of a candle light vigil

What do you say to such random violence visited upon the innocent?

The world is swathed in violence, and we are all alike touched by it in varying measure, separated by distance and its intent. The massacre at Virginia Tech, for example, is as horrific as the relentless sectarian bloodshed in Iraq (not to mention Afghanistan and South Thailand) except that the former was perpetuated by inner turmoil, while the latter is an expression of political upheaval. Virginia Tech killer Cho Seung-Hui apparently described as ‘mentally ill’ lost in the battle against personal demons, while militants in Iraq have been dehumanized by a perverted battle for power.

In every case the evil that we see are symptomatic of fractured humanity, a condition that is best described in Scripture as sin.

Yet in every situation, killers do not turn bloodthirsty overnight. There is a gestation, a slow descent into madness, a building up of grievances and anger that boils over – as in the case of Mary Winkler who, overcome by years of unhappiness, shot her pastor husband, because her “ugly came out.” Pushed against the wall broken people break down.

It always bothers me that in every case of violence, the perpetrator always blames someone or something else, as if that somehow justifies everything. It’s the crusading infidels, the imperialistic westerners, and the illegal occupiers and desecrators of our holy land; in videotaped messages, shooter Cho blamed the affluent and unnamed others who made him do it, who “forced him into a corner.” All this oppression and suffering may be legitimate but do they excuse the taking of lives?

Nearer home, in the violent swirl of events few noticed the heart-wrenching story of Donni John Diun, an eleven-year old boy from Kinarut, Sabah. A victim of poverty, scorned by villagers and alienated by his peers, Donni was found hanged from the ceiling of his home on March 20, 2007. The suicide was apparently prompted by his desire to offer his heart to his ailing mother, and to spare her from having to feed one more mouth (Donni was third of six siblings). According to Donni’s mother, her son said he could no longer endure his condition nor cruel teasing by classmates who compared the porridge he brought from home daily to dog vomit. (More here , here, and here)

We were talking about this at home and Sook Ching mentioned that Donni could have railed against society, the bullies and the wealthy, and take it out on those who ridiculed his family. Instead, Donni hanged himself to end his misery.

Cho may have been depressed, thoughtlessly put down, maybe ostracized and rejected by a girl he liked. But he also had a “mean streak” as a former teacher noticed. Say what you like, but suicide bombing is not martyrdom, and violence the likes of Cho’s is not desperation but meanness, plain and evil. It is equally disturbing to read that his videotaped messages, received after his suicide, declared that he died "... like Jesus Christ to inspire generation of the weak and the defenceless people. ..."

As painful as it is, one must still come to terms with the face of evil, its consequences. The Bible does not say much about how evil came about (only what it does) but it has a lot to say about what Jesus came to do about it: he gave up his own life so no one else would have to lose theirs. Meanwhile we weep for the tragic loss of lives swept up in wars and random violence. We weep for the broken who surrender to hopelessness. We weep in our shared humanity. And cry out, “How long O God, how long?”

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

More heartbreak

This latest heart-rending incident (from Malaysiakini) is another reason why urgent action is called for. The rakyat cannot plead ignorance, while the government cannot shut their ears and eyes and deny the terrible injury to human dignity, much less nation-building. If anything, such perceived indifference or foot-dragging merely confirms complicity.

Yoges Palaniappan
Apr 16,07

Rubber tapper P Marimuthu’s life changed drastically when seven officers from the Selangor Religious Department (Jais) came to his house in Kampung Baru Tambahan Ulu Yam early this month.

The father of six was told that his wife of 21 years, Raimah Bibi, was a Muslim and that she and their children - aged between four and 12 - must be placed in a rehabilitation centre.

The couple’s eldest son was staying with an uncle at that time.

Relating his ordeal at a press conference in the Parliament lobby today, the 44-year-old rubber tapper said he had no choice but to let the officers take his family away on April 2.

He also claimed that an ‘ustaz’ (religious scholar) had told him to covert to Islam or threatened to charge him for khalwat (close proximity) with Raimah, 40.

Raimah, who returned to help him with the rubber tapping work two days later, told him that Jais had placed the family in the nearby Kampung Melayu Liga Emas.

She purportedly said the villagers, who are predominantly Malays, have been asked to keep an eye on her daily activities and prevent her from meeting outsiders, especially her husband.

Marimuthu said he felt threatened by the villagers’ stares when he attempted to visit his wife and children.

“My wife was so afraid that she refused to come out and talk to me. I had no choice but to leave that village,” he said.

According to him, Raimah managed to sneak their children over to his house several times without anybody’s knowledge.

“We will be together for some time and then she’ll leave again to the other house,” he said.

Another heart-rending saga

Marimuthu also does not know if his wife was a practising Muslim before they got married. Since then, he said, the two of them have been practising Hindus.

“We got married in a temple, according to Hindu rituals. All our kids were brought up as Hindus,” he said.

He said Raimah, who was adopted by an Indian Muslim family, cannot remember her adopted mother and her late adopted father had approved of their relationship.

According to Marimuthu, his wife’s MyKad had stated her name as Raimah Bibi binti Noordin and her religion as Islam.

The couple did not apply to the National Registration Department to have this corrected either.

Meanwhile, Parliamentary Opposition Leader Lim Kit Siang, who accompanied Marimuthu, said the authorities learnt about Raimah’s ‘religious status’ when the couple enrolled their children into a school and copies of their identity cards were submitted to the Dducation Department.

“It is a simple mistake that has brought a great tragedy to the family,” he said, adding that the matter must be checked with the authorities in order for the family to be reunited.

“This is the latest in heart-rendering family sagas like in the case of R Subashini where human rights are completely ignored. Such incidents should be stopped,” he stressed.

The problem, usually described as 'sensitive', is not given enough column space in the press for several reasons:

1. It is sensitive to a large segment of the population who profess the Islamic religion

2. We who are not muslims have been reminded (nay, threatened) that we do not know what we are saying because we are not qualified, being neither muslim or Islamic clergy/ulamak

3. Open discussion is offensive - again because it's sensitive - and therefore we must solve it through the 'proper' channels, sight unseen because we do not want to sully the image of Islam. Besides it also makes the government look bad, or incompetent

4. The authorities are aware of it and as our elected representatives, we must trust their better judgment and wisdom to do the right thing

5. The fault lies in a few 'overzealous' and 'misguided' religious officials, and therefore clearer guidelines are what's needed, not Article 11

6. Anyway, it's the majority who voted BN in power that count above all. As a case in point, take this comment by Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Mohd Nazri Abdul Aziz. He worries that the 70% Malay constituency might register their unhappiness through the ballot box: "It is just politically impractical for Muslims in the government to support the setting up of the IFC if it did not have the support of the Muslim community."

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Fault-line widens

Is there no end to this “sensitive” issue? We had Shamala, Moorthi, Rayappan, Lina Joy, Subashini, and now to that disreputable list of highhandedness add Madam Tang Siew Yin, and Siti Fatimah/ Revathi. This last one is beyond mind-boggling. Revathi’s situation is a new low in the religious wrangle, where Islamic officials seized her 15-month baby, placed her in a religious rehab center separated from her Hindu husband.

I read the news and feel a pain that verges on anger. I think of the God debate between Sam Harris (The End of Faith) and Rick Warren (The Purpose-driven Life), which appeared in a recent issue of Newsweek. At one point very angry atheist (“I’m not angry, just impatient”) Harris declared that empathy and compassion are undeniable moral impulses that need no theistic justification, and that altruism is just as reasonable sans religious baggage. If an avowed atheist can appeal to our shared humanity as justification for compassion, what does it say about a religion that claims compassion as its ethic but shows little of it?

In the meantime, as the Federal Constitution and Syariah fault-line widens, a lot of goodwill falls between the cracks.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


Easter has come and gone. Holy Week, culminating in a magnificent celebration of the One who lived and died, and lived again.

My mind flashed to that heart-warming movie Bridge to Terabithia based on Katherine Paterson's award-winning children’s story. The movie sticks pretty close to the book, and both print and celluloid are guaranteed to leave you in tears. One conversation stays in my mind.

It’s Easter. Jess, his baby sister May Belle, and his best friend - a girl named Leslie - are traveling home in a pickup driven by Jess’ Dad after having left the church service. They begin talking about Jesus and God, death and hell. Jess thinks the whole religion thing is boring but Leslie feels otherwise.

Jess says: "That whole Jesus thing is really interesting, isn't it?"

"What d'you mean?"

"All those people wanting to kill him when he hadn't done anything to hurt them."

She hesitated. "It's really kind of a beautiful story---like Abraham Lincoln or Socrates---or Aslan."

"It ain't beautiful," May Belle broke in. "It's scary. Nailing holes right through somebody's hand."

"May Belle's right." Jess reached down into the deepest pit in his mind. "It's because we're all vile sinners God made Jesus die."

"Do you think that's true?"

He was shocked. "It's in the Bible, Leslie."

She looked at him as if she was going to argue, then seemed to change her mind. "It's crazy, isn't it?" She shook her head. "You have to believe it, but you hate it. I don't have to believe it, and I think it's beautiful." She shook her head again. "It's crazy."

It certainly is crazy. I often wonder why Jesus’ death and resurrection do not grip us as much as they ought. I also wonder if there’s something in the way we profess and live out our faith that has painted something so glorious in so unimaginative hues of dull grey.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Federal Constitution gets a royal boost

The press came out strongly in support of Raja Nazrin’s clarion call to defend the integrity of nation building under the framework of the Federal Constitution. That was at the heart of his speech at the opening of the Young Malaysians' Roundtable Discussion on National Unity and Development in Malaysia: Prospects and Challenges for Nation Building, organized by the Bar Council and ASLI’s Centre for Public Policy Studies. I wasn’t able to be there, but managed to get a few homeschoolers – including my 2 sons (Ethan's take here) – to attend.

Raja Nazrin: M'sians must defend, promote integrity of Constitution
Cindy Tham
KUALA LUMPUR (April 3, 2007): All Malaysians must defend and promote the integrity of the Federal Constitution, the Raja Muda of Perak Raja Nazrin Shah said today.

The Raja Muda listed this as one of seven things Malaysia has to do to ensure it continues to be successful at nation building.

"All Malaysians, regardless of race and religion, have a place in this nation, and society must recognise that they share a common home and responsibility to build the nation together.

"Malaysians of all races, religions, and geographic locations need to believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that they have a place under the Malaysian sun.

"Only when each citizen believes he or she has a common home and is working towards a common destiny, will he or she make the sacrifices needed for the long haul."

He said the Constitution, the Rukun Negara and Vision 2020 encapsulated the rights, hopes and aspirations of the people.

He stressed that the integrity of these documents, especially the Constitution, must be defended and promoted. [More ]

(Full speech here)

Also read the Star's report here. I eagerly anticipate more commentary and reiteration of Raja Nazrin's keynote address in the coming days. All Malaysians, and particularly the youth, need to know these are not empty sounds of clanging cymbals. The alternative is dire otherwise.