Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Religious extremism - all because of a sound-recorder

ABC Middle East correspondent Anne Barker’s encounter with Religious Extremism. Says a lot about the kind of violence, intimidation and fear that religious extremists tries to impart on those who might hold a different view from them. Sick fucking morons. As you can see from her well written piece, she clearly had a fright with that experience.

Here’s her story. Reprinted from ABC News Online

Reporter feels mob's hate in the Holy City

As a journalist I've covered more than my share of protests. Political protests in Canberra. Unions protesting for better conditions. Angry, loud protests against governments, or against perceived abuses of human rights.

I've been at violent rallies in East Timor. I've had rocks and metal darts thrown my way. I've come up against riot police. But I have to admit no protest - indeed no story in my career - has distressed me in the way I was distressed at a protest in Jerusalem on Saturday involving several hundred ultra-Orthodox Jews. This particular protest has been going on for weeks. Orthodox Jews are angry at the local council's decision to open a municipal carpark on Saturdays - or Shabbat, the day of rest for Jews. It's a day when Jews are not supposed to do anything resembling work, which can include something as simple as flicking a switch, turning on a light or driving.

So even opening a simple carpark to accommodate the increasing number of tourists visiting Jerusalem's Old City is highly offensive to Orthodox Jews because it's seen as a desecration of the Shabbat, by encouraging people to drive. I was aware that earlier protests had erupted into violence on previous weekends - Orthodox Jews throwing rocks at police, or setting rubbish bins alight, even throwing dirty nappies or rotting rubbish at anyone they perceive to be desecrating the Shabbat.

But I never expected their anger would be directed at me.I was mindful I would need to dress conservatively and keep out of harm's way. But I made my mistake when I parked the car and started walking towards the protest, not fully sure which street was which. By the time I realised I'd come up the wrong street it was too late. I suddenly found myself in the thick of the protest - in the midst of hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews in their long coats and sable-fur hats.

They might be supremely religious, but their behaviour - to me - was far from charitable or benevolent. As the protest became noisier and the crowd began yelling, I took my recorder and microphone out of my bag to record the sound. Suddenly the crowd turned on me, screaming in my face. Dozens of angry men began spitting on me.

Spit like rain
I found myself herded against a brick wall as they kept on spitting - on my face, my hair, my clothes, my arms. It was like rain, coming at me from all directions - hitting my recorder, my bag, my shoes, even my glasses. Big gobs of spit landed on me like heavy raindrops. I could even smell it as it fell on my face. Somewhere behind me - I didn't see him - a man on a stairway either kicked me in the head or knocked something heavy against me.

I wasn't even sure why the mob was angry with me. Was it because I was a journalist? Or a woman? Because I wasn't Jewish in an Orthodox area? Was I not dressed conservatively enough? In fact, I was later told, it was because using a tape-recorder is itself a desecration of the Shabbat even though I'm not Jewish and don't observe the Sabbath.

It was lucky that I don't speak Yiddish. At least I was spared the knowledge of whatever filth they were screaming at me. As I tried to get away I found myself up against the line of riot police blocking the crowd from going any further.

Israeli police in their flak jackets and helmets, with rifles and shields, were yelling just as loudly back at the protesting crowd. I found them something of a reassurance against the angry, spitting mob. I was allowed through, away from the main protest, although there were still Orthodox Jews on the other side, some of whom also yelled at me, in English, to take my recorder away.

Normally I should have stayed on the sidelines to watch the protest develop. But when you've suffered the humiliation and degradation of being spat on so many times - and you're covered in other people's spit - it's not easy to put it to the back of your mind and get on with the job.

I left down a side street and walked the long way back to the car, struggling to hold back the tears.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Which comes first ? Race or religion or both or none?

There’s currently a debate in the Malaysian bloggersphere about the recent election of Nasaruddin Mat Isa, a known conservative to the Deputy President position at the recent Parti PAS General Assembly. Debate has centred on the struggle between the “conservative ulamaks” and the “progressive professionals” factions within the party. Nasarudin’s victory over the popular and progressive Husam Musa has been seen as a victory for the conservative faction who had secretly held unity talks with the much despised UMNO party. Following his victory, there’s now calls within UMNO to engage with PAS under the guise of protecting Malay interests and special rights within a framework whereby both UMNO and PAS are both Muslim parties. Nasaruddin and others within his group has not totally disregard this possibility.

The opportunity to share power even with an enemy can be enticing for some within PAS. Whether PAS will identify and subscribe to core democratic values that Pakatan Rakyat component parties aspire to remains to be seen. It has certainly come a long way towards making itself more “palatable” to non-Muslims and moderate Muslims as well. Mind you, I don’t think for one moment that their Islamic credentials and yearning to impose an autocratic Islamic state has diminished. Is just that there’s a realisation amongst the progressive faction within PAS that it will not get very far if it does not recognise the multi-racial character and changing needs of the population; non-Muslim and Muslim Malaysians alike.

It must be said though that it is always premature for us to assume that most PAS supporters have somehow put their Malay identity on the backburner and have been totally Islamic centric. This cannot be further from the truth. To digress for a moment, even at this recent General Assembly, a motion was passed to ban the activities of the Sisters In Islam (SIS) who have unashamedly champion the rights of Muslim women and women in general in Malaysia. SIS may be seen by some as a feminist Muslim group which is a "NO NO" but for the majority of Muslim and non-Muslim women, they are seen as a progressive lot who have done a lot to lift the debate on gender equality in Malaysia. Suggestions of punitive or rehabilitation measures against supporters of SIS if they do not accept PAS’s view is simply repugnant. If they can’t tolerate dissenting views on gender equality from Muslim women, what are we to expect on dissenting views from Non-Muslims?.

In Malaysia, the ruling BN led by UMNO has always play the race and religion card. When some UMNO leaders came out to suggest that both parties should have unity talks in the interest of "Malay Special Rights and Interests" within the framework of PAS and UMNO being muslim based parties, you would expect PAS leaders to come out immediately and condemn any such notions as abhorrent and racist. Regrettably, this was not quickly forthcoming. If PAS chooses to side with UMNO for opportunistic and Malay chauvinistic reasons, the party will be doomed and will always be in the outer. As one blogger called Chegu Nazir ( puts it eloquently when he wrote “PAS is an Islamic party, not a Malay party. The end, end of story. PAS has no business trying to identify itself as a Malay party. The religion is above race. Heck there are more Muslims in China, therefore Chinese, than there are Muslims in this country so Islam is not the sole property of the Malays”.

He went on to add “Islam is universal and not the domain of the Malays and PAS must realise that. Malay unity, if it leads to oppression of others is not Islam. Malay is not important in Islam. Malay is nothing in Islam. In Islam, the teachings of the religion is important. In Islam, equality is important. In Islam fairness is important. In Islam valueing one's partners who seek justice is more important than sleeping with one's foe who happens to be a fellow Malay and Muslim but do not know the meaning of honesty and humanity”.

We all make personal judgments everyday – significant or otherwise – in our daily lives. Our judgements if it has to be made should be based on respect and regard for others, a recognition that we are all different (religious or otherwise) and a genuine attempt to understand and engage with others. The core values of tolerance, compassion, understanding and diversity should be what we should aim and work towards. History is riddled with many examples of conflict and grief when it comes to race and religion. We can do better with the less of it. We can do the right thing and we can do much better without race and religion in the mix.

Monday, May 18, 2009

"Religulous" : Doubt Is Humble

I came across this comedy/documentary by chance when my brother told me how hilarious it is. Starring Bill Maher, a political comedian and directed by Larry Charles, Religulous is a satire about organised religion. Bill travels around the world exploring a range of views on religion, seeking explanations and rationale for the myriad of religious beliefs including Christians, Jews, Muslims and Scientologists.

Two particular interviews are worth noting in the film. One was with controversial Muslim Rapper Propa-Gandhi.. who struggled to answer the question posed by Bill Maher who asked why the double standards on dissent amongst those Muslims who supported the death threat on Salman Rushdie, the author who wrote Satanic Verses. Propa Ghandi ooh and arrhh…and kept waffling on until Bill put it to him really well when he said to Propa ..“All you gotta to say is that it is wrong for someone to suffer a death threat for writing a book”.

The other interesting interview was with Father George Coyne, Phd. who until recently was the Director of the Vatican Observatory. Father Coyne deserves credit for being painfully honest when he said..... “The Christian Scriptures were written between about 2000 years before Christ to about 200 years after Christ...Modern Science came to be with Galileo..up through Newton…up through....Einstein.. what we know as modern science ..ok.. is in that period. How in the world can there be any science in scripture? There cannot be ...just the two historical periods are separated by so much. The scriptures are not teaching science. It’s very hard for me to accept not just a little interpretation of scripture but a fundamentalist approach to religious beliefs. Is kinda of a plague presents itself as science and it is not”

In summing up, Bill had this to say and I quote him verbatim:

“The plain fact is religion must die for Mankind to live. The hour is getting very late to be able to indulge in having key decisions made by religious people, by irrationalists and by those who will steer the ship of state not by a compass and by the end-trails of a chicken. Faith means making a virtue out of not thinking, is nothing to brag about and those who preach faith are intellectual slave holders”

“Religion is dangerous because it allows human beings who don’t have all the answers to think that they do. Most people would think it’s wonderful when someone says “Lord I’m willing , I will do what you want me to do”

“That void is filled in by people with their own corruption, limitations and agendas – anyone who tells you that they know – they just know what happen when you die - I promise you …you don’t – and how come I am so sure? Because I don’t know and you don’t possess mental powers that I do “

“The only appropriate attitude for men to have about the big questions is not the arrogance certitude that is the hallmark of religion but doubt. Doubt is humble and that is what men needs to be considering human history is just a litany of getting shit dead wrong”

Well said ..Bill !!!!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Palestinian Conflict

As Palestinian casualties continue to rise with the Israeli military ground assault into Gaza, we yet again hear the usual clarion call for “Muslim Solidarity” against Israel. The Minister in the Prime Minister Department Datuk Seri Dr Zahid Hamidi today called for a “Muslim Peacekeeping force” to be sent to Gaza…under the auspices of the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC).

The Palestinian Israeli conflict since time immemorial has never been about religion. If the “Muslim Peacekeeping force” were to be sent into Gaza, who would they be protecting the Palestinians from? Israeli Christians? That religion is once again conveniently manipulated in conflict by Umno (and Barisan National) politicians is well documented.

The actions of the Israelis is not about their military response to Hamas militants firing home-made rockets into Southern Israel as claimed. It is the manipulation of the existing conflict by the current Israeli governing party hoping to starve off defeat in the coming elections. Israel is the aggressor and with the backing of the most powerful nation in the world, the United States; continues to deprive the Palestinians of their human rights and legitimate homeland.

It is worth noting that Hamas was overwhelmingly elected by the people in Gaza and continues to enjoy that support. The Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas remains largely ineffective and continues to be plagued with corruption.

Hamas themselves are not innocent either. They were clearly aware that their home-made rockets were going to be no match against the might of the Israelis, let alone propagate the notion that they were able to take on the enemy. The firing of rockets is part of their overall political struggle to continue "engage the enemy" to ensure the issue remains on the world stage. Hamas will always attribute any resultant Palestinian civilian casualties on the Israelis.

Also, why do any appeals for action has to be associated with Islam? The call to action should be about correcting an injustice and has nothing to do with religion. Also what has the OIC done so far beyond getting together and coming up with platitudes? What did it do, when women and children were massacred in the Darfur conflict in Sudan? The Malaysian response should be from ALL Malaysians regardless of religion, creed or colour? Does it mean that if the victims are not Muslims, they are less deserving of our support? As an example, Malaysia should have protested strongly to China at the actions of Chinese Military police inhumane treatment of Tibetan Buddhist monks in Tibet last year.

Right is right AND wrong is wrong. Justice is the issue here and NOT religion. We should continue to push for a UN response to the aggression shown by Israel and call on the OIC to facilitate any international efforts to resolve the Palestinian Conflict.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

" X-Myth "

I have always enjoy reading blogs which provide an alternative medium for people to comment on a range of issues affecting their lives or the country they live in. Traditional media is invariably owned by vested interests groups or as in the case in Malaysia, interests tied to the ruling National Front. As such blogs can play a role in shaping public opinion and provide the forum for citizens to engage with each other on issues affecting them.

Commenting on issues of the day is one thing but the discipline involved in putting up regular entries is another. For the last two years of so, I have contemplated starting a blog but kept deferring it because of other pressing demands on my time and also the fact that I would not be able to sustain my interest in it. Time has changed and my resolve is a bit stronger. Accordingly, I am starting this blog to express my thoughts on everyday issues affecting Malaysians but from someone who subscribes to Humanist values.
Blogging also brings with it the added challenge of keeping the blog relevant and appealing to its readers. To this end, it will not be my intention to do likewise. I will put in regular entries or commentaries from time to time as long as it does not greatly affect my daily routine. Also, if you happen to come across this blog and wish to comment on any of my postings, be my guest.
Soon it will be Christmas. Will I be celebrating Christmas? Of course, I will join in the festive occasion but Christmas does not have the religious significance for me as it would have for others. For me, is just another significant event, an opportunity to indulge in uncontrolled feasting and the public holidays which accompanies all significant religious occasions. Am I being hypocritical for doing so? Nahhh because I don’t live in isolation. Most of us would have been brought up in some religion of sort. I myself have been brought up as a Taoist Buddhist with an added focus on ancestor worship. Human beings enjoy relating to one another and festive occasions provides the opportunity for them to engage with each other.

Wouldn’t it be great if we also celebrate occasions like Darwin’s Day and events which reinforces and nurtures the human spirit and values such as sharing and tolerance. Maybe we can have a "Godless Day" or an "Evolution Day". We can all be "good without god" you know?