October 5, 2010

what’s different about the opposition?

When I asked Tian Chua last Saturday in a SIHRG workshop with Anwar and etc. in London on the issue of religious freedom and what PKR was doing about it, his answer was basically, “Pakatan Rakyat has a balanced coalition between the three religions (DAP, Keadilan, PAS) which allows us to discuss among ourselves these issues. At least we can debate about this and to publish our consensus/discussions to the public to ensure this conflict is not escalated.”

This was what Barisan had at the beginning, ain’t it? This coalition..and as we all know and have seen, the areas of negotiation was increasingly reduced over time by the other increasingly marginalised parties-MCA and MIC until there is not much true debates left among the parties in BN. Let’s hope that the opposition coalition does not lose sight of what is truly important in their “consensus” discussions among themselves, which is to maintain the delicate balance of power between the different religious groups for purposes of harmonious living and multiculturalism in Malaysia, rather than to use it for politicking and garnering votes only.

On another note, I know that the answer he gave me had to be short (because it was at the end of the workshop) and in fact it’s quite politician-gimmick-like, but it gave me the impression that the opposition has yet to delve deep into the icky muddy area of religious issues yet. Besides advocating for liberal tolerant views  on the Allah issue, (PAS supporting the use of Allah by Christians) and other issues I’m not aware of-will the opposition be able to go beyond that, and address the more core-shaking issues of giving freedom for religious conversions for Malays, advocating the ban of ISA for religious converts,  and other issues?

In my senior thesis, I wrote that religious monopoly by the government occurred because BN wanted to keep a hold of their Malay-Muslim electorate population, but can Pakatan avoid that route to keep their power in the country and have true debate among themselves?

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October 4, 2010

to be pursued

Every so often, a grain of truth hits me and i feel compelled to share them with the world. Today, I wanted to share this extract from “Captivating”  by the Eldredge couple.

When we are young, we want to be precious to someone – especially daddy. As we grow older, the longing matures into a longing to be pursued, desired, wanted as a woman. “Why am I so embarrassed by the depth of my desire for this?” asked a young friend just the other day. We were talking about her life as a single woman, and how she loves her work but would much rather be married. “I don’t want to hang my life on it – but still, I yearn.” Of course. You’re a woman.

Now, being romanced isn’t all that a woman wants and we are certainly not saying that a woman ought to derive the meaning of her existence on whether she is being or has been romanced by a man or not?but don’t you see that you want this? To be desired, to be pursued by one who loves you, to be someone’s priority? Most of our addictions as women flare up when we feel that we are not loved or sought after. At some core place, maybe deep within, perhaps hidden or buried in her heart, every woman wants to be seen, wanted, and pursued. We want to be romanced.

I would have a different response to this extract, depending on which season of my life I am in. Speaking from this current season, I think that it’s not enough to be romanced (if we were lucky enough to be romanced, that is) but that we have to recognise what can give us the long-term satisfying fulfilment that we need in our hearts and to focus on that.

Ahh, for now I have to say London and all that she has to offer is doing a good job of making me feel purposeful, busy and excited at this moment! 😀

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September 24, 2010

muaks

been getting a lot of profundity from my nearest and dearest:

“I often forget that our relationship with God is a two way street. I often think that myacceptance of God will suffice – to make me a Christian. I forget that He must accept me too. And to do that, I must live in accordance to His will.”

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September 21, 2010

An article on the baby dumping issue (funny how it’s gone out of vogue from newspapers)

(I wrote this for SAWO, a women’s rights group in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah during my volunteership with them this summer)

Our nation’s current legal response to baby dumping is inadequate to provide long-term, holistic solutions needed to address this problem. The recent decision to charge these new mothers with murder or attempted murder would lead to greater stigmatisation and would be more likely to incite fear, rather than encouragement to reveal their pregnancies. Although nothing can excuse the abandonment or murder of a child, our society need to focus more on effective preventative and rehabilitative measures rather than on punitive measures.

For a start, we need to know why baby dumping cases are on the rise in our society. Research into the social and psychological reasons that drove these girls to abandon their newborn babies is essential. These new mothers could be young or underage and may be suffering from postpartum depression. Additionally, they may be faced with seemingly insurmountable economic and social pressures such as a total lack of emotional and social support from their family and friends.

At this stage, we can begin to formulate an informed multi-sectoral strategy to address the problem. Beginning with the youth, outreach programmes in schools and communities should be launched to increase young people’s awareness of reacting responsibly to their sexuality, and this should include discussions on creating healthy relationships with the opposite sex based on respect. For the pregnant women, these young, often underage women are in need of non-judgemental support, such as those given through appropriate counselling along with pre- and post-natal care. For those who get evicted from their family homes, the creation and advertising of places of safety or shelters is vital. Similarly, for the unwanted infants, OrphanCARE’s and government’s initiatives in creating baby hatches for their deposit and care is much welcomed and a big step forward for our country in increasing our social responsibility. This could be supplemented by increasing public awareness of the need of adoption and foster care arrangements for these babies. Lastly, we should consider the provision of rehabilitative services, rather than the punitive measure of murder charges against the mother after the baby-dumping incident.

In fact, other countries have considered the death penalty and chosen other alternatives to respond to baby-dumping cases. Consider the “safe haven” laws in United States, where all 50 states have enacted some version of it by 2008. These laws encourage parents, usually mothers, to bring their unwanted babies to a safe place where the baby will receive proper care and protection until an adoptive home can be found. Furthermore, these laws allow the parents to remain anonymous and to be protected from prosecution for abandonment or neglect as long as the infant has not been abused or mistreated and is left in one of the designated safe havens. The UK on the other hand, has created a separate charge of infanticide, rather than to mix it with a murder charge, recognising the mother is more a threat to herself than to society. Under the Infanticide Act, the UK courts have to take into account the unusual psychological and biological factors which affect the new mother, and if convicted, the sentence would be akin to that of manslaughter.

As a country aiming to be a developed society by 2020, we should not settle for a quick-fix panacea only. Let us not stray from the vision of the national and international goals that we have set for ourselves: to eliminate discrimination against women, to protect the rights of children, and to be a mature community-oriented democracy that can be a model for other countries.

July 24, 2010

A memorable trip to Cambodia

There were two places I always wanted to visit in Cambodia: Angkor Wat and the Killing Fields. Actually seeing the country fleshed out in its sweaty, dirt-road paved realities during my recent holiday however has revised my expectations and given me greater insight into its modern-day existence, scarred by the long years of war yet optimistically looking still to its ancient Angkorian heritage, as an example of its ability to build itself up again as a nation.

At Siem Reap,the hub where all tourists alight for the famous wats, we marveled not only at the technology and creativity of the architects and labour exerted during its construction during this classical age (Angkor Wat’s construction began in 1100 AD), but also wondered in amazement, how the Buddhist/Hindu monks (depending on which king was in reign) navigated the steep and dangerously narrow steps carved into these stone mountains. I had gripped tightly with both hands, to the railings provided for us modern-day weaklings as we laboriously climbed to and descended from, the top of these monuments, slabs of stone piled onto stone to resemble mountains for the inhabitation of gods. In contrast, the royal palaces were made out of wood which had long disintegrated since its construction, like its human inhabitants. Nevertheless, historical evidence of royal daily activities still exist in the fortified city of Angkor Thom (Great Angkor/City) such as the terrace of the elephants where the royal couple would view the procession of public ceremonies, and the now lichen-and probably mosquito-infested royal bathing areas, which were not unlike mega-sized swimming pools (I’m not just mosquito-paranoid, but malaria-wary in this country which has the highest incidence of malaria in the world). When asked to guess which belonged to whom, we, the women in the family, guessed correctly that the bigger pool belonged to the queen as our tour guide informed us that she held more power than the king at that time. I can’t help but wonder about the social role and power of women in Cambodia’s contemporary society after a family friend informed us recently that one of the social indicators used to measure the effectiveness of micro-finance initiatives was the calculation of the percentage of women who made up the bank’s borrowers in Cambodia. He worked for VisionFund, a profitable social enterprise of World Vision in Cambodia that lent money from $25 USD upwards to mostly rural villagers to relieve them from poverty, AIDS, drought, etc. The logic behind this social indicator though, had to do more with establishing NGOs’ priorities to improve the lives of children above anything else, which was demonstrably more achievable if wealth passed through the hands of women instead of men’s (interesting huh?).

Nevertheless, it was still a worthy thought to ponder during our observations, such as when we speeded away from several village sampans containing women with their children from the floating village of Chong Kneas who arrived to beg for money. Undoubtedly the development of tourism in Siam Reap has altered not only the ecosystem (the land around the boat docks appeared newly razed and cleared of trees, possibly for building more jetties/shops, and thus it was little wonder the water of Tonle Sap was brownish as a consequence from falling mud and endless tourist boats chugging up and down the channels), but the mass onslaught of tourists has also (lamentably?) changed the economic means of its citizens. Once primarily a fishing village that moves throughout Southeast Asia’s biggest lake depending on the season, Chong Kneas now receive countless tour groups wanting a break from the hundreds of temples that dot Siam Reap-leading to some of the villagers creating attractions in their floating shops such as crocodile and fish farms. A side-effect for tourists on the other hand, is the advent of beggars of all varieties (our boat bumped into a sampan containing a blind beggar and his seeing boat “driver” who lie in wait for tour boats). In Ta Prohm (of Tomb Raider fame), my sister and I were amused by a young girl who cannot be more than 3 or 4, who ran alongside my sister to show off hand-sewn bracelets, as the cajoling normally used to persuade tourists to buy was instead, an unintelligible mumble more like a hum meant to resemble the singsong version of English that most of these Cambodian beggars have. I told my sister to test the fluency of her “tourist” language, and sure enough, when asked “How much?” she answered back ‘1 dollah’ and then resumed her humming monologue to my sister who was beginning to feel guilty by the minute for resisting. All the other child beggars we’ve encountered so far had surprised us with their command of English, sufficient to converse with tourists, “You borrow money from your wife-ah” retorted another young girl around 5 years of age at Bayon to my dad’s reply of “No money” to her cajoling.

We departed Siem Reap after two days, which left me with the impression of an economy solely dependent on tourists and our scenery slowly changed on the highway to Phnom Penh from images of rural poverty to fast-growing snapshots of urbanity. There were shoplots haphazardly strewn alongside the highway in between stretches of paddy fields, pigs riding at the back of motorbikes, huge haystacks strapped behind motorbike drivers, the dirt road changing to smoother tar ones : all of these images of Cambodia depicting a raw but promising economy with its eager labour market and developing infrastructure. (The same family friend did caution though that an adventurous entrepreneur should not jump headfirst at the opportunity of cheap labour but consider the cost of electricity, which was high-about three times the cost in Malaysia).

In Phnom Penh, the elegant and grand sights: its modern-day wats, Royal Palace, pagodas, and government buildings appeared to contrast sharply with the ordinary citizens’ daily existence of the capital: chaotic roads, innumerable food vendors on their motorbikes, overburdened with baguettes, spring rolls, and other unidentified objects…When we visited the Russian market (or Psar Tuol Tom Pong to the locals) on our last day, navigating its narrow alleyways chockful of stalls that offered a haphazard collection of all sorts of items(we bought a head lamp, Cambodian scarves, print skirts, and gemstones, topped by the best Khmer coffee we’ve had in our trip) it seemed to me to be the epitome of this city in its modern-day incarnation. The genocidal years of Khmer Rouge and famine cannot be easily forgotten however, as demonstrated by our tour guide who readily talked of the impact of the war on his country, and the red-rimmed eyes and hushed silence of fellow tourists when we visited the Tuol Sleng Museum. Formerly Tuol Svay Prey High School turned-largest centre of detention and torture under Pol Pot, we were confronted by the brutal and senseless killing under the genocidal regime when we saw pictures after pictures of tortured victims, and the brick cells quickly constructed in the school classroom to hold prisoners. It was only after visiting it, then did I feel like I could truly understand Cambodia and the struggles they have faced up to today. A whole generation of Cambodians had been massacred or exiled, particularly the intelligentsia, and as a consequence, the average age of Cambodians today is 22.

Our final activity in Phnom Penh before we departed was a visit to New Life, a vibrant church in the city, peopled by mostly young adults and pastored by someone who might as well be Cambodian by every other name except his skin colour (white). We sang translated versions of the songs sang in my church in London (Hillsong, HTB and the like!), and everyone around me looked joyful and brimming of hope. It was an excellent ending to my four-day visit as I gained an impression of a new future for this country, made possible not only by international aid and meaningful foreigners, but also by these young adults looking ahead to manifold possibilities.

Temples visited: Angkor Thom (including Bayon and Baphuon), Angkor Wat, Pre Rup (‘Turning the Body’), Banteay Srei (‘Citadel of the Women’), Ta Prohm (of Tomb Raider fame)

July 13, 2010

Post-NYC and Boston….reflections on why the world ain’t a smaller place..

July 3, 2010 NYC
I’m sad, I’ve been sad since I arrived here, I have to admit. The emotion almost surprised me, because I came here on a holiday, and the days unfolded before me with a new friend to see for each meal. But when I waved goodbye to you, S, on the bus, I felt something caught in my chest, and wondered when I would see you next. And after hugging you goodbye, J at the door, I know I will miss the way you share with me, without reservation, to give me a glimpse of how God has touched you in the past year. Here I am, although I feel like I can never ask enough to cover every significant moment since I last saw you and you, I am privileged to witness the work of how He shapes his jars of clay in different ways. To every one of you, I thanked you for making the effort to see me, because you took a four-hour bus, or two-hour train or rented a car to see me in memory of the time and influence we once had on each other. At the end of this trip, I will try to resist asking ‘Why isn’t the world a smaller place?’ and instead remember the miles you’ve travelled and hospitality displayed to show me you care, and the unique experiences you’ve gone through that could have only been the result of your location and relationships in your city. I will carry your stories with me in my heart wherever I go, and have I said thank you for knowing and loving me in this country? Because it reminds me of all the lessons I shall not unforget, and the person I’ve become that I shall not unvalue, thank you thank you.

January 24, 2010

A sober thought-post Haiti

From the Atlantic:

In Haiti’s unstable post-quake atmosphere, at least one industry is poised to flourish. For those who buy and sell children for sex and cheap labor, Haiti is ripe with opportunity.

When the earthquake struck the impoverished island country last Tuesday afternoon, human traffickers suddenly gained access to a new population of displaced children. With parents dead, government offices demolished, and international aid organizations struggling to meet life-or-death demands, these kidnappers are in a unique position to snatch children with very little interference.

In today’s world, the twin causes of human slavery—poverty and vulnerability—increase exponentially after natural disasters. When the tsunami hit Indonesia in 2004, trafficking gangs moved quickly, seizing children and selling them as prostitutes in nearby Malaysia and Jakarta. In 2008, after floods devastated the Indian state of Bihar, groups of children were lured out of relief camps and sold to brothels across the nation.

January 23, 2010

Munshi Abdullah…a 19th c Muslim who believed in religious freedom

I was reading with amazement, the Allah judgement handed out in High Court in December last year….and I read about Munshi Abdullah who is the father of modern Malay literature…He had helped to translate the Gospels into Malay in 1852..more specifically, this is his career background from a website:

He started his career with his father, copying documents and writing petitions. He later taught Malay to Indian soldiers and British and American missionaries. Abdullah was also interpreter and scribe to Sir Stamford Raffles, for whom he had high regard. His proficiency in languages and reputation as a teacher earned him the nickname Munshi, meaning tutor. Abdullah assisted the Christian missionaries in translating and printing the gospels in Malay. He also translated Hindu folktales. However, he is best known for his autobiographical work, Hikayat Abdullah (Abdullah’s Story). It was written between 1840 and 1843 and published in 1849. It is an important source of the early history of Singapore soon after it was founded by Raffles. His other book, Kisah Pelayaran Abdullah (The Tale of Abdullah’s Voyage), describes his experiences on a trip from Singapore to Kelantan in 1838.

Wow-I find that SO hard to believe in light of our current situation…yet amazed, and hopeful…

January 9, 2010

In the Malaysia I grew up in..things were different

In response to four churches being bombed after Malaysian High Court ruled that non-Muslims could use the word Allah to refer to their own God.

When I conducted research on freedom on religion at the Pew Forum in September 2009, I was surprised to find myself coding my own country, Malaysia higher in terms of restrictions than I had expected. We were given the same questionnaire to fill out for the 120-odd countries’ reports on religious freedom that we read over a period of 3 months. And I remember arguing with my 2 fellow coders to give a lower code for one of the questions-because I remembered things being different in the Malaysia I grew up in…

At the beginning of the research, our boss, the lead researcher, Brian Grim told us that we were coding restrictions of religious freedom because freedom was impossible to measure. It was true. How do you measure the happiness of…a Malaysian schoolkid during national holidays due to the ridiculous number of school days we get to skip during our multi-religious holidays ? In the Malaysia I grew up in, we went to each other’s house for kenduri (buffet) during Hari Raya Aidilfitri (Eid), watched neighbours light up the candles in their houses during Deepavali (Diwali), invited people of all faiths to church for our Christmas plays… When I later left the country to study in the United States, yes, I grew impassioned by the incursions of religious-related restrictions in Malaysia I heard about from time to time (ban on inter-faith dialogues, imam’s ban on yoga because of the meditative aspect, etc.) but at the same time I acknowledged there were problems in the “West” too (US’ ban on morning prayers in schools, France’s curb on cult activity, US Bill forbidding NGOs to hire people based on their faith).

However, the crucial distinction that I overlooked was that Malaysia was high on government restriction, but it did not filter down to the social level. We coded the countries along these two major categories: government and social restrictions.

The results were finally published in Dec 2009, titled “Global Restrictions on Religion” and showed that Malaysia was among the top ten countries that had “very high” government restrictions index, alongside Saudi Arabia, Iran, Uzbekistan, China, Egypt, Myanmar, Maldives, Eritrea, Brunei. (FYI: Singapore, our next-door neighbour is on the next list one step down, of “high” government restrictions index.)

Some of the reasons why during 2007-2008 period of coding:

– the quashing of freedom of religion in the Lina Joy case in 2007

(registration of religion is compulsory in 90% or 178 countries but in 59% or 117 countries, this requirement results in problems or discrimination of faiths)

– restrictions on proselytizing (along with 75 other countries or 38%)

-reckless destruction of Hindu temples by state governments

On the other hand, Malaysia ranked a “low” on the social hostilities index, which measured acts of violence and intimidation by private individuals, organizations or social groups. Unlike other countries with sectarian strife, terrorism, and social intimidation from groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, skinheads and extremist vigilantes in other Muslim-majority countries, Malaysia’s religious conflicts within society seemed small…such as, making sure your Malay friends don’t eat Bak Kut Teh (Chinese pork stew) or saying the right greeting to your friend’s parents when you collect money packets during the rare moments that Hari Raya and Chinese New Year coincide.

I am saddened to recognise in the aftermath of these church bombings that hostility and divisions between religious groups have hardened to the extent of using violent means. The effect of government hostility and restrictions have been filtering down to the social level and cultivating a you v us mentality in our society-have we become aware of this insidious effect in the way that we talk about or act towards our Malay/Indian/Chinese/orang asli/native brothers and sisters?

With the government/UMNO’s decision to appeal the High Court decision (which allowed the use of Allah by the Catholic Herald, the Malay-language Catholic newspaper), the slow destruction of mutual respect and tolerance will continue, making the Malaysia I grew up in unrecognizable. (Did you know the term, Allah have been regularly used among non-English speaking Malaysian Christians in Sabah and Sarawak as well as Christians in the Middle East for a long time now?)

We cannot idly allow the politicisation of religion to continue, but this is not a plea for tit for tat in light of the recent violence, but rather, let us be more aware of the ways we ourselves contribute to the divisions in society. From that point, we should work towards actively reaching out and understanding each other and all our differences in this cultural, religious, ethnic rojak of Malaysian society.

Links:

1)    Security tightened as politicians condemn church attacks: http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/index.php/malaysia/48918-security-tightened-as-politicians-condemn-church-attacks

2)    Malaysian Politics and how they employ Islam to their advantage: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704842604574641654054959272.html

3)    Prophet Muhammad’s promise to protect Christians and their faith even if they were married to Muslims:  http://rantingsbymm.blogspot.com/2010/01/confident-people-do-not-get-confused.html

4)    Pew Forum Report, Global Restrictions on Religion, http://pewforum.org/docs/?DocID=491

December 17, 2009

malaysia ranking quite high on government restrictions on religion

Malaysia is ranked 9th according to the Government Restrictions Index in the latest Pew Forum report called Global Restrictions on Religion. (yours truly was excited to see this finally published after one semester of researching for it last year). It is after Eritrea and before Brunei. Even though I wrote a thesis on this, and I read the archives on Malaysia in the US State Department International Religious Freedom report, where we conducted our primary research, I am nevertheless still quite surprised, and sad about it. Anyway, go check out the summary page, if not, the actual pdf file itself available on that link.