Saturday, June 30, 2007

Little Napoleons

This is upsetting. NST reported that JAKIM raided Restaurant Seetharam in Bangsar a few days ago and confiscated three pictures of Hindu deities placed behind the cashier’s counter. Since when did the display of deities become an offense?

A couple of doors away, Restaurant Aiswaria was similarly raided and issued a notice.

Apparently the restaurant did not have halal certification from Jakim, nor Muslim workers. Officers from the department also removed a picture of Mecca and another with Quranic verses. Aiswaria owner Jehabar Ali Hussain Kader who is Muslim said, "I have not broken any laws. It’s ridiculous that I was cited for these offences. I never knew that it is an offence to display religious pictures in my premises. Being a Muslim, I purchase food items from a halal vendor."

What has Malaysia to show for diversity, unity, and tolerance when news like these are increasingly the norm? Read Lim Kit Siang for more details.

It’s easy to be cynical and imagine that these acts are part of a deliberate and coordinated attempt at pushing the envelope. I hope I am wrong - I want to be proven wrong - but all this show of muscles and self-righteousness seems to me a way of signaling to the non-Muslim public (and indifferent/negligent Muslims) that we’ll need to toe the line, take the backseat, if we want to live in Malaysia. All it takes is a little intimidation, a little selective enforcement, the almost thuggish manner in which authority is demonstrated; and even if such acts were not condoned (as is often claimed), peace-loving Malaysians usually retreat.

Skirts that are already decent are longer at certain government functions, eating of food before Muslims during puasa months are voluntarily stopped, church signboards are made smaller or less conspicuous, couples shy away from holding hands, dvds with christian themes are labeled “Not appropriate for Muslims” etc. In the wet markets, pork sellers operate behind high walls as if the sight of khinzir is as mortally sinful as the Quranic injunction against its consumption. Can anyone tell me if laws and conventions are now so beholden to sensitivities of Muslims they overtake rights and freedoms enshrined in the Constitution? Are not these the result of a public cowered into conformity to avoid ‘offense’ if not by legislation, then by public statements? Again harassment tends to follow in the wake, and again, we step back as if ashamed by our own audacity. This is no way for a people to live together as a nation.

It bothers me that the relevant department heads always deny knowledge (“I didn’t know – we’ll wait for the report”) when these things happen. If indeed the raids the likes we read about in Bangsar were conducted by overzealous little Napoleons, then the authorities must zealously discipline and prosecute them for creating inter-religious tensions. And even if they acted within their authority, they have to learn how to exercise it with more civility because right is no excuse for might. As Zainah Anwar wrote, action speaks louder than words. Otherwise cynics will see them as a grand strategy at Islamisation by attrition.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Speaking up for Malaysia

The Malaysian Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism & Taoism (MCCBCHST) has published a booklet titled UNITY THREATENED BY CONTINUING INFRINGEMENT OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM, which is the strongest statement yet on the erosion of safeguards contained in our Federal Constitution. Launched at the last candlelight vigil on behalf of Revathi (and others who have suffered the loss of their personal freedom to profess and practice their religion of choice) it spells out how all this is happening in plain sight and with utter disregard for the constitutional guarantee that, “every person has the right to profess and practice his religion.

(Pix by sivinkit)

The booklet represents a memorandum of concern submitted to our country’s highest authority which sadly (and perhaps not unexpectedly) has not been responded too, at least not publicly that I know of. Non-Muslims are deeply troubled for good reasons, and the booklet offers 6 critical issues.

  1. The civil courts are reluctant to adjudicate cases where the Islamic ingredient is present notwithstanding the fact the person seeking judicial relief or remedy is a non-Muslim.
  1. While the civil courts are disinclined to protect non-Muslims the Syariah Courts are assuming jurisdiction and power to deal with the affairs of non-Muslims related to matrimony and children’s custody. In doing so, Islamic law is applied to the detriment of non-Muslim affairs.
  1. There is often inexplicable delay in disposing of cases involving those newly converted to Islam and their non-Muslim spouses, thus resulting in gross injustice.
  1. In at least three cases, a non-Muslim (Hindu) parent has lost guardianship and custody of her/his children by a Syariah Court order given secretly in his/her absence with no notice to her/him. The Syariah Courts in those same orders secretly obtained by the converting spouse, also declared those children as Muslim without the non-Muslim parent’s consent. This was even though those children were still under 18, were born to parents who both professed Hinduism and had been raised as non-Muslim children. Ms Genga Devi, Ms Shamala and Mr Nedunchelian all lost a significant part of their parental rights over their children.
  1. There are numerous cases where exhumations have been carried out indiscriminately pursuant to orders granted by the Syariah Courts in respect of graves in non-Muslim burial grounds.
  1. In so-called ‘apostasy’ cases, the civil courts seem o be concerned only with the recanting of Islam but not by the adoption of a non-Muslim religion by the individual concerned.

You can view or download the whole booklet here.

The nation is celebrating its 50th year of Merdeka, shadowed by a fissure that is seemingly not officially discouraged, if not deliberately foisted upon a minority people who are just as Malaysian as the majority.

Who speaks for Malaysia, if not Malaysians?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Percaya Tuhan

Tycoon Eric Chia was acquitted by the Sessions Court of committing criminal breach of trust 13 years ago involving RM76.4mil. I caught a short snippet of the man being wheeled out of court surrounded by newshounds and photographers on TV last night. He spoke in Malay, thanking God for his acquittal: “Mesti percaya Tuhan. Ada Tuhan, mesti sabar..” or something like that. The point is, the tycoon who is Buddhist, attributed his good fortune to God.

Besides the obvious controversy over the long-drawn case and its surprising conclusion, I am often amused at the way God is given credit when good things happen. In Hollywood film stars - Oscars in hand - thank “Jesus my Lord and Saviour” for their win, while in Malaysia their Muslim counterparts thank Allah. With reference to C.S. Lewis, if God does exist, would an honest man continue to believe even if it offered no help to him in his time of need? Or should one continue to believe when there is little or nothing to be gained by it, say, while one is still earthbound?

Of course, other questions arise. For instance, is it possible to believe in God and yet not put your trust in Him? And if one does not ‘trust’ this God (that good and bad are in his absolute control), does it constitute unbelief?

Monday, June 25, 2007

Sad days

The weight of these sad times we must obey;
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.

King Lear, Shakespeare

Saturday, June 23, 2007


Excerpts from an NST report on Pak Lah’s speech in Sarajevo.I don’t know if it was out of shame or anger (or both), but it made me wince.

Build nation the Malaysian way, PM suggests to host.

DATUK Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi yesterday proposed Malaysia as a template for similarly multi-ethnic, Muslim-majority Bosnia and Herzegovina to reinvent itself in the wake of civil war.

"In a plural society like Malaysia, the need to be just and fair towards all without distinction as to race or religion forms an integral component of the principles in developing a stable, peaceful and prosperous country," Abdullah said.

Justice and fairness necessitated a philosophy of growth with equity as expressed in the New Economic Policy. "The need to ensure an equitable distribution of the country’s wealth is a challenge for us because economic disparities continue to exist among the various ethnic groups."

As the religion of the majority Malays, Islam had been made "the unifying rather than dividing factor in the Malaysian political system" and applied for its universalism, Abdullah said.

[Now this is the strange bit. It reads like an afterthought or a later scribal insertion. How else to explain a statement like this – addressed to Malaysians – when he was reportedly speaking to a foreign audience in faraway Bosnia-Herzegovina]

"We publicly declare to the people of Malaysia that it is the intention of the government to nurture into being a progressive community that is firmly rooted in the noble values and injunctions of Islam but compatible with modernity.

[Then it's back to platitudes]

"You can accurately say that the government in Malaysia is Islamic-based, but it governs fairly and justly on behalf of all the multi-ethnic and multi-religious citizens of Malaysia.

"Islam Hadhari calls for the enhancement of the quality of life for everyone, regardless of religious belief. This has ensured domestic peace and gives Malaysia a good name internationally as a tolerant society," he said.

"In a multiethnic country, no one group can rule alone. Everybody has to be involved and no one must feel marginal, set aside or insignificant."

The prime minister was conferred the Golden Pin, the university’s highest honour, for academic achievement and his contributions to economic development.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

TED talks

Ever heard of TED Conference? That’s TECHNOLOGY. EDUCATION. DESIGN, an annual conference that is headquartered in California. A friend’s lead brought me to the non-profit foundation’s website where its stated aims include the spread of ideas to change the world. You can find out all about it here and and their blog here.

What immediately caught my attention was its series of talks which are archived on the site. More than 100 talks from some of the world’s most innovative thinkers and performers may be viewed or downloaded here. Fascinating. Even inspiring.It’s almost like YouTube with brains. Its PR blurb gushes that TED represents a gathering of “remarkable people exchanging ideas of incalculable value.”

I would certainly agree that, yes, they’ve got a slate of extraordinary people who are completely engaging in their scale and scope, covering global issues from a wide range of communities and disciplines.Whether their ideas are of incalculable value is, erm, for you to decide. Most of the talks and performances average 18 minutes. But a lot are longer. Here are a few I caught that was so stimulating I was hooked for nearly an hour:

Rachelle Garneiz (accompanied by Thomas Dolby). Quirky NY singer whose offbeat performance of the Edith Piaf standard "La Vie en Rose" started with a sweet but loopy bell-ringing prelude.

Richard Dawkins throws down the gauntlet, urges worldwide opposition to theism and their crackpot proponents. But atheists need of a rallying new war cry (‘atheism’ just doesn’t hack it) and lots of funding, the trenchant Darwinists admits.

Hans Rosling demonstrates a new stats software that turns figures into animated globules and graphic flotsam. Using UN data from the early 60s to the year 2000, he argues that the so-called third world gaps are already narrowing.

The deaf percussionist Evelyn Glennie explains how music may be experienced as a multiple range of vibrations. This renowned musician also demonstrates her prowess on the snare drum and marimba in her talk.

British singer/songwriter/cellist Caroline Lavelle enchants on her cello and with her haunting vocals. Spellbinding. Made me do a search on her and promised myself to get her music very soon.

In the archives, Dawkins speaks more than once, while fellow atheist Dan Dennet gives Rick Warren a thrashing. Also interestingly, Rev Tom Honey (who’s presently vicar of CS Lewis’s church) wonders if God and the recent tsunami devastation shouldn't drive Christians out of their traditional boxes in search of deeper truths.

All in, very stimulating. Makes for good conversations and discussions.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


This is a book for our times.
“In a world where practically everything can be manufactured and where faith in God is often hard to find and hold on to simulations seem easy. We may believe the world could be a better place, yet ingredients like security, acceptance, dignity, etc, don’t materialize with the flip of a switch. God promises these valuable items, but sometimes it feels like he works too slowly. We want goodness now, and we’re willing to settle for second-rate options if the good stuff is hard to get. Combine our human longings and lack of patience with the motivation for companies to sell products, and what we get is SimGospel.”
Sam Van Eman’s take on commercial hype and its hold on our consumer society pops some darling bubbles. The promise of hope, packaged for instant gratification, and then sold through the media – especially TV commercials and ads - is what the writer calls SimGospel. If you have ever played SimCity (and The Sims) you get the picture; you write your own script, you play God. It’s “goodness borrowed” as he goes on to say, because SimGospel is really a simulated version of the familiar biblical narrative.

Of course, students of mass media and sociology, will immediately recognize that Eman’s thesis can be traced back to Marshall McLuhan (‘the medium is the m(e)ssage”), and fellow cultural critic Neil Postman, best known for Amusing Ourselves To Death (1985). It’s easy to dismiss Postman as a throwback, a remnant of post-war conservativism. But he’s sharp as well as eminently quotable. That writers like Eman pays him tribute tells how relevant Postman remains. The message may not be original, but at least the voice is all Eman's.

For instance, what Eman calls SimGospel harks back to Postman’s acute observation of tv ads as pseudo-parables: i.e, The Lost Traveler’s Checks, The Phone Call from the Son Far Far Away. Indeed commercials as metaphor deliberately offer visual symbols about how to live one’s own life, and how to find instant solutions to complex problems. After a while, the stories they tell no longer come across as silly or odd, but as an acceptable way of looking at life. As Postman wrote,
“There is no more disturbing consequence of the electronic and graphic revolution than this: that the world as given to us through television seems natural, not bizarre. For the loss of the sense of the strange is a sign of adjustments, and the extent to which we have adjusted is a measure of the extent to which we have been changed.”
On Earth As It is In Advertising acknowledges that yes, we have been changed, we are being changed, and yes, it's not all for the better. Few things, if any, shock or surprise us as unnatural, or unreal. As media junkies fed on an incessant supply of SimGospel, this generation must choose to turn heretic (Eman's word) and renounce its subversive allure.

While Eman isn’t saying go lock yourself in a monastery, he does think there’s a need for a reality check, a sort of “reacclimating” so we know what’s real and what’s pseudo in our Sim-saturated world. Besides, the extent to which we accept unquestioningly the bizarre values of consumerism suggests that we not only are in the world, but that we now are of the world. If we are able to appreciate this, we have taken the first steps away from hype to hope, and towards reclaiming life as it was meant to be lived.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Not your superhero.

The church is not your superhero.
It wasn’t meant to be, it will never be, and the sooner you get over it the better.

Sarah Cunningham’s very sensible article in The Ooze debunks a few myths as follows:

  1. The church will always appreciate my investment. False.
  2. The church will always take the time to understand me. Nope.
  3. The church always offer the kind of support I need when I need it. Myth.
  4. The church leadership is 100% admirable. Wrong.
  5. The church will always give equal attention to all portions of the bible. Sorry.

She ends by saying that the failure of the church is a reminder of human frailty and our own need for God’s forgiveness and restoration. The church after all, is not the hope of the world. Jesus is. Follow the link to read the whole article.

Her short commentary reminded me of another piece I read some time ago at the House Church Blog. In a post dated 2004, the church is no superhero, it is also uncool too. Here’s an excerpt:

Churches, themselves, are not cool. House churches are not cool. Traditional churches are not cool. Emerging churches are not cool. Mega-churches are not cool. Seeker churches are not cool. Cell group churches are not cool. Churches with buildings are not cool. Churches without buildings are not cool.

We have such a human tendency toward unhealthy self-centeredness that we want to take our human expressions of God's grace and admire the human aspects of them.

Churches are not cool.

God is cool. God's redemptive power in the lives of humans is cool. God's grace expressed in and through humans is cool. God humbling himself to take the form of a human is cool. God giving himself to die because of His desire and love for humans is cool.

Humans responding to God are cool. Humans filled with the grace of God are cool. Humans gathering to worship are cool. Humans going into the world to express Kingdom life are cool. Weak humans filled with the grace of God are cool…..

We are the church. How we express the church, or "do" church, or gather, or build, or worship when we gather, doesn't make it any better. How we be the church, today, ourself, is the only point. How we, as humans, reflect the wonder and grace and beauty of God, and point to Him, and let Him express His glory through our weakness and brokeness, is the point. God's grace seen is the point. God's redemptive work displayed through us is the point. God's Kingdom revealed is the point.

God, of course, is w-a-y cool. It's just that he often chooses to work through and in very uncool people. Institutions, structures, systems, included. That's cool. To help you think beyond structures and systems, you might want to read this heartwarming book by Wayne Jacobsen aka Jake Colson. Download or read the whole book here.

On the other hand A.B Simpson (founder of C&MA) shared this vision of church in his 1890 book, A Larger Christian Life, and here's an excerpt:

[The]... Christian church that is much more than an association of congenial friends to listen once a week to an intellectual discourse and musical entertainment and carry on by proxy a mechanism of Christian work; but rather a church that can be at once the mother and home of every form of help and blessing which Jesus came to give to lost and suffering men, the birthplace and the home of souls, the fountain of healing and cleansing, the sheltering home for the orphan and distressed, the school for the culture and training of God's children, the armory where they are equipped for the battle of the Lord and the army which fights those battles in His name. Such a center of population in this sad and sinful world!
Well. The church is no superhero. She's so uncool. And all that. But can she be 'mother and home' (by proxy, perhaps) and should she? If not, why not? If the people of God can't be all these good things, what are they good for?

37 Banned Books

The Internal Security Ministry recently announced that it has banned 37 books and publications containing twisted facts about Islam, and therefore unsuitable for distribution in Malaysia. Here’s a partial list - which leaves no doubt why they were found to be potentially dangerous to public order.

  • Unveiled At Last: Bob Sjogren (YWAM Publishing, United States)
  • Now You Can Know What Muslims Believe: (Ministries to Muslims, US)
  • Answering Islam The Crescent in Light of the Cross: Norman L Geisler, Abdul Saleeb (Baker Books, US)
  • Islam in Context Past, Present and Future: Peter G. Riddell, Peter Cotterell (Baker Academic, US)
  • Feminism and Islamic Fundamentalism, The Limit of Post-modern Analysis: Haideh Moghissi (Zed Books Ltd, UK)
  • Nine Parts of Desire. The Hidden World of Islamic Women, Geraldine Brooks (Anchor Books, US)
  • Glad News! God Loves You My Muslim Friends: Samy Tanagho (Authentic Media)
  • Inside Islam The Faith, The People and The Conflicts of the World's Fastest Growing Religion (Marlowe & Company, US)
  • The New Paths in Muslim Evangelism, Evangelical, Approaches to Contextualization (Baker Book House US)
  • One True God. Risiko Sejarah Bertuhan Satu: Rodney Stark, Sadat Ismail (Penerbit Qalam, Yogyakarta)
You can read the whole list here.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Rated 'fresh'

Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis has been rated fresh by 6 reviewers in Rotten Tomatoes. Although the movie had a limited screening and therefore did not have wider reviews, that’s still good news (for now). Reviewer Patrick Z. McGavin who gives it a B, says:

“Persepolis” turns occasionally sentimental and crude. The illustrations by Satrapi and Paronnaud take on a beguiling form and attraction. It never avoids complex issues of how the personal and political intersect. It is told from an emerging woman’s point of view though it never shelters the harshness of life and emotional complications that ensue. It is streaked in pain and sadness, of loss and pain. The world is vivid, detailed and alive, always looking at the past to shape the future.

The reviewer also says the film is “marked by a permanent sadness and sense of lost promise and hope.” Hmm. Pain. Sadness. Loss. In the wake of a religious revolution, too. It's a must-see then.