Wednesday, March 31, 2004
The sea was wet as wet could be,
The sands were dry as dry.
You could not see a cloud because
No cloud was in the sky:
No birds were flying overhead---
There were no birds to fly.
— The Walrus & The Carpenter,Lewis Carroll
I have been honoured by Dr John Azelvandre who has delivered a back-handed compliment by stripping me of my Luddite credentials. I've been accused of many things but never this one, and it breaks my heart and makes me want to break my mainframe computer.
It all started with an entry in jest which I submitted to Globe of Blogs many, many muharrams now, of which Dr Azelvandre was kind enough to remind me. Here's what he wrote in his fine blog yesterday:
Smashing the machine, one blog at a time.
Last week I happened upon the Globe of Blogs, which enables the blogonaut to list his or her blog and place it in geographical and topical categories. As I was browsing through the possible topic categories, I happened upon the category (under Lifestyle Choices and Subcultures) of "Luddism." Luddism, as I understand it, is the "ism" derived from the position of people called Luddites, who are anti-technology and against technological change.
Fine and fair, so far.
From what he's wrote I gather that John's (may I call you John?) view of Luddites and Luddism is pretty traditional, as he himself has helpfully provided in his accompanying Word of the Day dictionary. A Luddite, says John (or rather, his Dictionary), is derived "from Ned Ludd, an English workman who destroyed machinery...who destroyed labor-saving machinery (for taking their jobs)." And here's the crux: He is "one who is opposed to technological change."
From an aside he gives I also gather that John expects a Luddite blogger to be throwing his computer out of the window. Now, now why haven't I thought of that!
So John scours through some of my Blogs and he has this to say of — modestly — me:
Then we have Jalan-Jalan, the site of an "ex-pat Malaysian" in London (I think he/she is in London). Pretty interesting site, but appears clueless about Luddism. I didn't read all that far back though. (So LEAVE A COMMENT, for God's sake, and tell me I'm wrong!)
Well, thanks John for visiting, and I may not be a Luddite after all just as Ned Ludd may not have been there. You know how mythologisingly clever the English are.
But would a Luddite break a weaving machine, throw his computer out of the window, or could that just be a frame of mind? Luddites were treated very harshly you know, that Byron had to stand up and speak out for them, but 'machine destroyers', opposed to 'technological change', is that all they're worth for all their trouble?
Well, if that's what you're looking for then you needn't be surprised if they're not there. There are no birds flying overhead because there are no birds to fly. Luddism is more than just that. It's not just a destructive attitude towards all that's new (why I wear some nice clothes, albeit none of those over-priced, sweat-shop branded attire, and I'm happy for now), and I use the computer quite a bit, and ride on public transport and zoom hither and thither in the underground rail-car.
The true meaning of Luddism is not just destruction for self-preservation, nor people who are steadfastly against change. Luddism stands for something more refined than that - Luddites are against change for the sake of change if it takes our souls away. If it ain't broke, why fix it John? if I may use an awkward imagery to justify Ned the Ludd.
There are still many Luddites now, and we're the better for that. Luddites view technology with suspicion not because they can't cope with that, but because they understand that technology is never neutral. My recurring memories of that place where I was born (see Beta-Blogs passim) are attempts to bring all that to the fore. In my country especially, a bit of Luddism is what we need to counteract what's happening now. Mindless bashing of our state of existence with technology, crap, and everything that the marketplace has to hold.
But I have to go now, it's getting late in the day and I have yet to smash one piece of gadgetry.
See you anon John, and once again, thank you.
PS Am I boy or gal? Please see title of my blog today.
Ned the Lad
Tuesday, March 30, 2004
March 30th 2004
Land Day has been remembered on this date by Palestinians in their occupied lands and in diaspora since 1976. They want to remember and they want you to remember that:
Their land is being occupied.
They are losing their lives, livelihood, their ancient olive trees,
their right to live as Palestinians,
as daily more land is taken for the building of illegal settlements
and to make them feel like aliens in their own country.
They are being surrounded by the so-called 'security wall' which is dehumanising.
And this while the world looks on.
Land Day in Palestine
Reflections on Land Day
Land Day Remembrance
The coded signal sent in by invading Israeli soldiers in 1967 was: "The Temple Mount is in our hands."
When asked by a wealthy Israeli developer about a land deal that Sharon - as Foreign Minister in 1999 - was helping to secure for him in Cyprus, Sharon's secretly taped reply was: "The island is in our hands."
He probably said that about Sabra and Shatila too when Palestinian refugees were massacred in the thousands when Israel was in Lebanon between 16 - 18 September 1982. Sharon was then General of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) and was in full charge of the invasion.
Then, in 2001, during an acrimonious cabinet exchange between Sharon as Prime Minister and his then Foreign Minister Shimon Peres about complying with US requests [sic] for a cease fire with Palestinians, Peres was becoming increasingly illogical and kept repeating: "This will turn the US against us."
Sharon, according to Israeli radio Kol Yisrael, came back many times with this sobering reply: "Don't worry about American pressure, we the Jewish people control America."
In other words, the Bush in our hands will never give us the bird.
§ International Campaign for Justice for the victims of Sabra & Shatila § Why Sharon is a war criminal § US vetoes condemnation of Israel § Iraq war launched to protect Israel
Led By The Hand
Monday, March 29, 2004
These are hard to follow rules not least because the grass of indiscretion is always greener. Their usefulness comes to me from that one reminder that they instil: Break them if you must, but break them only a little, because overindulgence is the overkill.
1. Verbs has to agree with their subjects.
2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with. That is something up with which you should not put.
3. And don't start a sentence with a conjunction.
4. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.
5. Avoid cliches like the plague. They're old hat.
6. And also, always avoid annoying alliteration.
7. Be more or less specific.
8. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are (usually) unnecessary.
9. Also too, never, ever use repetitive redundancies.
10. No sentence fragments.
11. Contractions aren't necessary and shouldn't be used.
12. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos vis-à-vis your readers.
13. Do not be redundant; do not use more words than necessary; it's highly superfluous.
14. One should never generalize.
15. Comparisons are as bad as cliches.
16. Don't use no double negatives.
17. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
18. One-word sentences? Eliminate.
19. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
20. The passive voice is to be ignored, the active one having been proven more efficient.
21. Eliminate commas, that are, not necessary. Parenthetical words however should be enclosed in commas.
22. Never use a gigantic word when a diminutive one would suffice.
23. Kill all exclamation points!!!
24. Use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them.
25. Understatement is always the absolute best way to put forth earth-shaking ideas.
26. Use the apostrophe in it's proper place and omit it when its not needed.
27. No quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "I hate quotations. Tell me what you know."
28. If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times: Resist hyperbole; not one writer in a million can use it correctly.
29. Puns are for children, not groan readers.
30. Getch yourself a good dictionary and uze it.
31. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
32. Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
33. Utilise intercourse of daily occurrence.
34. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
35. Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.
Thanks R.M., I enjoyed the delicious irony.
Perhaps, in his quiet moment, he'll thank the ousted Islamist PAS government for having put something in the Terengganu water.
Two Sundays ago when the election results were declared, the local chapter of the National Front (Barisan Nasional) swept back to power in Terengganu after having lost the last election in a wave of anti-Mahathir frenzy; but you can't say that those five years in the wilderness for them have been unfrutiful. Okay, let's admit it, there was little in the form of amusement under the staid Pas rule; night-clubs were closed, dancing girls all drifted out to brighter lights across the border, television was bad (not a Pas failing, but still, they could've revived the makyong and brought back the rodat as opiate for the people), and for all the oil that came ashore, precious little revenue ever came back to grease the local economy, the Federal government had seen to it that that was so.
So what's left to do?
The results came queueing up for all to see two Sundays ago: the state of Terengganu leap-frogged the national trend and increased voter numbers breath-takingly, stupendously so. The last time I wrote about this I may have bloated the figures slightly; saying that while the increase in other states were in just single figures, the teeming, voting masses in Terengganu had increased by more than 48 percent. I am a man of Trengganu (my preferred spelling for the state I'm in) dear readers (both of you), and I have every right to feel excited - like Abou Ben Adhem - that my tribe's increased. But now, in a calmer state, I've found my slide-rule and regained my head for figures and have concluded that Terengganu has increased the number of its voters in the state electoral rolls by 44.6 percent, a lower figure, but still a whopper considering the national trend and the state of our manhood nowadays. And still reason to believe there's something in the PASsed Terengganu water.
"All the lonely people,
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people,
Where do they all belong?"
— The Beatles, Eleanor Rigby
This is in contrast of course to what's been happening in other places. Take Gombak, for example, a little PAS bastion in the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. There on election day Sunday, according to one report, hundreds of eager voters were milling about in the Sekolah Kebangsaan Seri Gombak, one of the polling centres, because their names were missing from the register.
Gombak was of course the Islamist PAS stronghold, but it's now safely returned to the Barisan Nasional.
How did the voters register for the constituency of Gombak turn into a manual for the Atkins diet? No one knew then, no one knows now.
Five Years of Fecundity
Sunday, March 28, 2004
There's life on Mars.
Mars Project Setback
Friday, March 26, 2004
There's the question of Terengganu for a start.
Terengganu was lost to the opposition Islamist Partai Islam (PAS) in the last anti-Mahathir upsurge, a compliment which Mahathir returned by cutting off royalties for Terengganu oil, arguing that it'd been given to the State only as a goodwill gesture. So, now that the state was lost, all the monies that had been greasing the fat cats, the wasteful projects, and filling the coffers of the sycophantic cronies had to stop. Out of this hubristic spite, this Mahathiristic gesture came more poverty, more deprivation for this state, already the poorest in the national register.
When Mahathir announced that he was pulling out of politics at a party assembly there was much head banging and tearing of hair from within the party, the rest of the nation were mostly overjoyed by the impending exit of this man who'd already exceeded his sell-by date. The head bangers and the hair tearers were people who'd benefitted much from his largesse at the country's expense, those who'd been enriched by the Mahathir hubris.
Enter Abdullah Badawi, a man so squeaky clean that even the angels weep in shame. He strode out in an air of uncertainty but quickly latched on to the national tune: the nation had had enough of corruption, so he made the theme of an honest, squeaky-clean government his unofficial manifesto. He nabbed a couple of token waywarders, and put them on an impropriety charge. Then his lieutenant, eager to spread the word, said that there were eighteen more in the list, awaiting to be charged.
So Abdullah - popularly known as Pak Lah (Uncle Lah) but who should be properly called Pak Dollah (as Lah is actually a diminution for Allah) if he still needs an avuncular sobriquet to cling to - rode the storm and was returned home with a thumping mandate in the Malaysian General Elections last Sunday. Mandate — at last — from the people. Goodbye to the Mahathir years of dissatisfaction, cronyism, and uncertainty.
But then there's this business of Terengganu.
The Islamist PAS was defeated in Terengganu, returning it once again to the fold of the Barisan Nasional (National Front) government which has been ruling the country in one form or another since Independence in 1957. The people of Terengganu has once again been brought to their senses, and they've placed confidence in the new, thrusting Pak Dollah ideology of politics for the people.
If only things were so simple.
There are indications of irregularities in Terengganu. Firstly, the voting pattern in Terengganu has gone against the national trend; nationwide there's been an average increase of voters by only 7 - 8 percent, but in Terengganu there's been a massive leap of more than 48 percent. No source of satisfaction for the overthrown PAS state government which actually gained 8 percent in overall votes this time.
How did the state of Terengganu, within just five years, have gained so many new voters?
These are disquieting figures, something that Pak Dollah has to address if he still wants to retain his image of the down-to-earth honesty of a regular guy. Many applauded him for his initial enthusiasm to rid the party of government of everything that's been troubling them from the Mahathir years; the country was behind him when he showed his tough-guy stance over corruption. But now this.
In the past, there'd been voices in the Malaysian wilderness about so-called phantom voters, people of unknown provenance who appeared in electoral rolls, whose votes were used to stuff up ballot boxes. Now it appears to be hitting Terengganu in a big way.
Coming Up: More voters missing from the register.
Phantoms of the Opera
Thursday, March 25, 2004
The dark forest of this story is the day care centre in the Samona suburb of Turin where Fatima Mouayche, a teacher of Moroccan origin, has been sacked because, to quote one anonymous parent, "she might scare the children".
"Religion has nothing to do with this, " she added. Right.
"No one can say how the children would have reacted to a veiled woman," came another comment, thick and fast, this time from Cristina Ferrari, an official at the Day Care Centre.
These poor, little, Catholic, Italian dears, they've probably not seen a nun fully clothed. Here's a couple singing a song:
Dominique nique, nique...
And here, children, is a Muslim Lady in a Hijab, from the cover of a new magazine. [Click on picture for details:
Spot the difference
You'd have thought that in this much heralded free society you'd be free to choose what faith to espouse, and what to wear with it — yarmulke, turban or hijab — as long as you don't scare the horses. But despair not my dears, there're still decent people left in this world, sucks boo then to those bigoted perverts.
On hearing that the poor woman had lost her job, Italy's Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu asked for her to be reinstated.
"I want the officials at the day care center to account for their mistake and to rectify it," said Pisanu, a member of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party.
Adding: "The Islamic veil, worn with dignity and without ostentation is an innocuous symbol of a cultural and religious identity which deserves all our respect."
And in Switzerland The Democratic Christian Party (PDC) has decided to nominate Pakistan-born Nazia Siddique, 20, to stand in the upcoming municipal elections on April 4, something hailed as a "unique political and cultural move".
Nazia, who emigrated to Switzerland with her family in 1984, says she firmly believes in the principles of the central-right party, which gives prominence to the family fabric and the Swiss citizens.
"They are the same principles urged by my religion, which calls for catering to the other," she says.
PDC leader Alex Pedrazzini says that the nomination is a "message of tolerance to enrich the cultural diversity in society".
There are 380,000 Muslims in Switzerland, a country of 7.3 million people, of which 96 percent are Christians.
§ Christian women fighting unveilievers 1; 2 § Does it apply to us? § Women's headcoverings: A Messianic viewpoint § What should a woman wear? § Should a Christian woman cover her head in Church? § The veil in Christianity
Monday, March 22, 2004
Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmad Isma'il Yasin.
By fatal fire from Israeli gunship as he emerged
from dawn prayers in a mosque in Gaza City.
Statement from the Muslim Council of Britain: "We condemn in the strongest terms Israel's criminal assassination of Shaykh Ahmad Isma'il Yasin, the renowned Islamic scholar and founder of the leading Palestinian Resistance Movement - Hamas.
"This heinous act of state terrorism against this disabled man as he was leaving the mosque after the morning Fajr prayers is pushing the entire region ever closer to the abyss of mayhem and must be stopped," said Iqbal Sacranie, Secretary-General of the MCB.
"We hold the international community and the US directly responsible for allowing the Israeli Occupation Forces to continue with its policy of wanton killing and terrorising of Palestinian civilians. No amount of military force and assassinations will bring about a Final Solution to the 'Palestinian problem'," added Iqbal Sacranie
§ Hezbollah Fires at IDF outposts § Six statements on the assassination § The unmentionable source of terrorism
Paraplegic Hamas Leader Assassinated
And they've been doing this since September 11.
And we've seen the results: students have been deported for no apparent reason, barred from some courses of study, and recently I heard from an acquaintance that a university mate (an Arab) had been allowed to follow his course of study but was barred from seminars, workshops and such like. The filed of study is narrowing for undesirables, and this will soon include much if not all of the Muslim world who'll find doors closed to them in areas such as nuclear physics, chemical engineering, biotechnology, microbiology and such delights. But they'll presumably still be able to buy arms — with the extra ingredient of bugs — from the marketplaces of the West.
Traditionally universities, and British universities more than most, have been nests of spies ex and current. Many academics have been active in intelligence work and simply continue their service in academia as recruiters or intelligence gatherers in an area so obvious that it's often overlooked. Think of those foreign students who come through British ivory towers for some deep research centred on their their home countries. "Ah," says the doddering academic supervisor, "you've latched on to something really interesting here. Well done! I think you need to go home and do more field work with this detail and that to make it watertight."
And off go the earnest researchers to their areas of study for more plums for their academic dessert. Perhaps they call it dissertation in this hallowed place.
Some countries like Japan have got wise to this, which is why you find very few Japanese students researching on areas of interest in their own country. They go where they go to to research the host.
Now that the Cold War's over, what further use for spies? Well, spying's now an open market, and it's not just terrorism that's becoming an interest, and rightly so for that. Countries are now into this laissez faire spying caper with each other and everyone else. China into the US, Europe into America and vice versa for both. And Israel getting into the folds of everyone's cloth from Ouagadougou to Zagazoug, from Singapore to the edge of the earth. And since you asked, Singapore's an active listening post for our friends the Mossad, with India coming up close.
In the 1950s, during the height of the Cold War, a language school was set up in Britain called the Joint Services School for Linguists, and they recruited the best and the brightest. Afterwards many of them moved on into academia, some into show business, and others still went into various lines of work. Their training was useful, and their interest then was in languages. They were imbued with a purpose and many remained in their field of work for a very long time, causing many to be deeply suspicious of academics going quietly about their work.
Think of the Middle East Centre for Arabic Studies (MECAS) in Beirut, think of many such places.
"Why are your glasses so thick and deep Mr Professor sir," you may ask of your favourite don.
Well, the better to spy on you my beloved. And to see into your brain really deep.
Think how many retired politicians, people once in high office in your country, have been called suddenly to this institution of higher learning or that for some prestigious fellowships. Think how many of your best and brightest have been awarded sabbaticals at the drop of the mortar board. Think how much they're contributing to this area of learning or that.
§ Job vacancies in MI5
News From the World of Spooks
Friday, March 19, 2004
And a greater chance of producing another Donald Rumsfeld. The strongest argument against polygamous marriages.
§ Polygamy in the Bible § Is it alright to masturbate?
Wisdom of Solomon
Thursday, March 18, 2004
Try looking elsewhere instead: The average US toilet seat carries only about 49 germs per square inch. A cleaner place by comparison, if you're looking for somewhere to park your super Big Mac.
This information based on research by Dr Charles Gerba from the University of Arizona.
You're Not Alone
Wednesday, March 17, 2004
I grew up in Kuala Trengganu to the sound of Singaporean beauties waddling duck-like in the afternoon sun, sultry women of light ebony that caused heads to turn. They came in lyrical adulations, straight out of a blaring horn-shaped speaker that was placed in the upper storey window of the Bhiku Coffee Shop that was the meeting place in our community of fishermen and market vendors, petty clerks from government offices and even the occasional hajis with their skullcaps wrapped in tailed turbans. Children were there too from the neighbouring houses, but my parents were of the strict type who'd never countenance this business of being at a loose end around the marble-topped table of the Bhiku establishment. My visits there were short and business-like, mostly in early morning, to do the family errand of buying the roti canai (Malaysian pancakes) that were lifted piping hot from the plate and rolled up in pages of yesterday's news, most likely the Jawi version of the Utusan.
Some afternoons I'd walk past the Bhiku coffe-shop from some other errands and would hear those songs again, sung by R. Azmi in his enormously popular, teasing tone. Hitam manis, hitam manis, pandang tak jemu, pandang tak jemu..., that sweet dark lady, always a joy to behold. And then the disc would turn again on the radio requests programme: it would be R. Azmi again, singing Macam itik, pulang petang, dia jalan melenggang...itu dia Nona Singapura. Duck-like she waddles in the afternoon, this lady of Singapore that is mine. I knew them all by heart because the requested songs were played out loud, and our house was in the direct blast of the Bhiku magnum-sized megaphone.
Today, scouring at eBay I found an image that took me back to those sounds - a pre-printed song-request postcard that a listener sent in to the Penang Branch of Radio Malaysia, requesting a song called Senyum Dalam Tangisan, (A Tearful Smile) by Mahani Rahmat. As I'm familiar with neither singer nor song, no tune came lilting into my head as I read details of the request with great fascination and looked at those stamps of the — please note spellling — Trengganu that I knew and loved. A post-card that came from Kuala Besut, a tiny town not ten miles from where my father was born, now put out in auction by a company at the other end of the earth, in Columbus, Ohio.
Looking at the title of the requested song I expect it was a little doolally doo-lah of a heart forlorn, and a smile for all that, even when the object of your love's gone. How sweet and sad the sound.
This was - and still is to a large extent - the plight of the Malays in song: pining always for some lost love, or for some unreachable one admired only from a distance. But until very recently, love wasn't the only thing that afflicted them. They were underpaid for a start, and they did what they did for, well, a song; and R. Azmi was no exception. In song he sounded like an easy, playful lad, but life was hard for him as an itinerant person. Soon after our family moved from Trengganu I was told that he'd died at a young age, not in some comfortable home among a family he loved, but in the home of some kind soul who'd given him room for the night. He was a man who lived in a suitcase which contained all he had, which included a fresh shirt still wrapped in cellophane. How could a man whose voice came so liltingly sweet from the loud-speaker in the Bhiku place, one who gave so much joy to my little town, have met such a tragic end? My heart was ripped when I heard that.
How the sounds came rolling back when I read that song-request postcard that's resurfaced in - of all places - the eBay web-page. The coffee-shop, the little town where I grew up, the lilting voice of R. Azmi, and the many faces that still live in my mind. Kuala Trengganu was a hybrid place of many faces, of many sounds - Tamil music from the radios of the Southern Indian spice vendors, Hindi music from open windws; the raucous banter of the fish-mongers, and the bustle of the Tanjung morning market that brought down the orang darat (people from upstream) with their firewood, their handicraft, and their vegetables, and baskets of fruits from the Trengganu forests.
There was a sound for each part of day that went regularly like clockwork - and the most reliable of this time-keeping was the azan, the call to prayer, that drifted in the wind at certain times of day. At dawn, when the streets were empty but for some stray dogs and when the air was fresh and quiet, my father would be the first to rise in preparation for his early morning walk to the Zain al-Abidin Mosque. He'd go about his business to the early sound of the tarhim, and then, just at the start of the azan he'd start his walk to reach the mosque just in time to join the early-morning congregation.
The azan of the Bilal Sa'id was especially sonorous and melancholic in turn, and I remember occassionally walking with my father to the Mosque as the wind carried it fade and loud in the crisp air of the morning. My mother once told me that a friend of hers would be reduced to tears by the weight of introspection every time she heard the sweet, mournful call of Lebai Sa'id urging the faithful to prayer at the break of dawn. O God is Great! Better to be in prayer than sleep!
[Note:Bilal is the name given to the muezzin in a mosque in honour of Islam's most famous black convert, Sayyidina Bilal Ibn Rabah, a freed slave who became the Prophet's caller to prayer and his constant companion.]
Notes On A Card:
I cannot read the date-stamp on the envelope, but from the spelling, my guess is it's probably the sixties, though knowledge of the song would take us closer to the actual date. Someone, probably the producer of the "Teruna Dara" (i.e. Youth) request programme, had scribbled "Chinta Sejati" (True Love) on the card. The requested song, Senyum Dalam Tangisan was probably not available, hence the substitute. What I also find interesting is that you had to give your Radio Licence (Lesen Radio) number to request a song! [Right, R.Azmi]
Please contact me if you know anything more about R. Azmi. Leave a message via Poste Restante in the side-bar, right.
§ Hazrat Bilal § The slave named Bilal
Growing Up In Trengganu #4721
Sunday, March 14, 2004
Thursday, 11th March. A day of anguish and sorrow for Spain.
Eight million people took to the streets in protest against the outrage when 10 bombs were detonated in the city's morning commuter trains, killing 200 and injuring many others. This is a crime as great as the Ashura bombings in Karbala which resulted in many dead.
But who did it? For what reason?
In Madrid the Basque separatist movement ETA denied responsibility. Al-Qaeda, another suspect, has been implicated by a video tape recording, a fax admitting liability sent to an Arabic newspaper, and a Qur'anic tape found in a vehicle near the scene. The Spanish government has so far reacted with restraint, even when these two are the obvious suspects. If the ETA did it they deserve to be crushed; if al-Qaeda, they deserve to be hounded to the ends of the earth.
Who did it? For what reason? Hard questions calling for hard evidence.
We mourn with the people of Spain.
§More than 8 million activists take to the streets in Spain § Muslims condemn Madrid blasts
Bombs In Spain
S.E. il Signor Dubya Bushido, Ambasciatore di Pax Mundo, in occasione della presentazione delle Lettere Credenziali.
Replying to Livingstone, Raffarin wrote:
"Nowadays, in our country, the proliferation of certain religious symbols in schools has reached the point where we consider it our duty to define the boundaries and not overstep them. Because such religious symbols acquire political significance, and the Islamic veil in particular harms our concept of the emancipation of women, we cannot accept them in the classroom. It is evidently not a matter of stigmatisation, but of having clear republican rules."
To which Livingstone replied:
"[Y]our letter makes clear that the objective of this legislation is not really neutrality between religions, but to discriminate against one particular religion - Islam. You single out the Islamic hijab for particular criticism on the grounds that it is contrary to your conception of the emancipation of women. This is obviously inconsistent with equality of religions.
"I understand that the European court of human rights has made clear that the right to freedom of religion excludes any state discretion to determine which religious beliefs are more or less legitimate.
"Some would argue that the attitude of the Roman Catholic church hierarchy on divorce and contraception is even more contrary to their conception of the emancipation of women. "
And Raffarin seems to have no answer to that. Read the full text of the letters in the Guardian.
§ Attaboy, Ken!
Knot In The Hijab
Saturday, March 13, 2004
It was a pleasure to see him, so lost in thought amid the rumble of the train engine; and when I tapped his shoulder gently, he awoke with a start.
"I've been thinking," he said, "of a good friend who has just died."
The good friend was a woman in her sixties who'd lived alone in a small flat filled with books and papers. And more books and more papers. She died among her lifetime's hoard, and my friend was asked by her next of kin in Australia to sort them out and sell them at the best price.
Was she an academic?
No, she was a woman of unfulfilled dreams; a bit of this and a bit of that, but she settled for a very modest existence as a minor cog in our everyday life.
What he said next made me sit up. "She left 14,000 books, and I had to clear the flat of that."
"A bequest perhaps, to a little library somewhere?"
"No, no," he said amid the roar. "They're interesting books, but not of that type."
A man from a second-hand bookshop in Charing Cross Road had sifted through the collection, and they'd left him 3,000 titles as unmovable stock.
"There must be some first editions in there surely, " I said.
"Well, yes, but book-buying is a dying art. They told me the only buyers of second hand books nowadays are men over sixty."
Suddenly I felt like a young fogey for that.
"But I thought it's the rising rent that's driving second-hand booksellers out of Charing Cross..."
"No, no," he said. "Second-hand book buyers are getting older, and the young don't seem to be interested."
"Maybe they're buying them on the internet," I said.
"Well, maybe. All I got for my late friend's collection is thirteen hundred."
One thousand and three hundred pounds for 14,000 books. What titles, pages, memories, words, moved by the barrow-load for such scant reward.
What irony to hear that on the eve of yet another London fair of books - the biggest ever - every year the biggest ever, to grace the scene. Bookfairs are for celebrities, mega-dollar writers, dealers, and deal-clinchers. It 's more about business than about books.
If, like me, you're getting tired of book-fairs with their hypes and their earth-shattering news-breaks, welcome to the club. I'd happily leave book-fairs to celebrities and the deal-clinchers and the biblio-promenaders; I'd rather be rummaging the dusty shelves of second-hand bookshops, or the contents of car-boots.
And how I wish I'd had the chance to skim through the contents of the shelves and stacks of that woman who died in her world of books in her little flat.
Books In A Flat
Friday, March 12, 2004
I wrote a book some years ago, a coffee table sort of thing with words and pictures. And this is how my days worked out: long breakfast, long hours on the train, and the mind going full steam all the way: tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock. I write best when I'm not writing, and then, when I'm in the hot seat, computer at the ready, everything stands still. O woe is me.
Now another commission's arrived and I'm thankful as my mind's not been tick-tocking awhile, though I've been doing quite a bit of travel.
The thosai is a bit of memory from the last book. It sat before me every morning before work started, and it helped to give the brain a jog. Here in Blighty they used to have posters urging you to Go To Work On An Egg. It gave rise to no end of ribaldry, but you get the idea. My late mother belonged to the same school of thought, always travelled with a supply of hard boiled eggs, they give you strength, she said. I go to work on thosai, which some Indian vegetarian restaurants here in Londra list as Dosa in the menu - giving rise to no end of punnery among us Malaysians who're reminded of that other tempting morsel, dosa, sin. Proclamations of "Ah, my dosa!" when the dish arrives; or, "Aku tak berdosa," ("I'm sinless." Well, "I'm not guilty," really) when it hasn't. Dosas in Drummond Street are better than the ones in Soho I must say, though the ones in Soho are of a different nature.
So back to work soon, on another book, and no end of dosas along the way.
Thursday, March 11, 2004
In the last five days twenty-seven people were killed, at least eight were wounded, and more than twenty-seven people were detained in Palestine. Just the normal, bloody, I've-had-enough-of-it days under Israeli occupation. Has there been any justification for it all ? How could anyone turn a blind eye to that? These people have been maimed, murdered, shot at, evicted from their homes, walled in, and been called names that'd do the average racist proud. And all because the entire bunch of the Palestinian people are terrorists, and that's that.
I shall say no more and observe silence in what's left of today in honour of those who've died, in honour of these resilient, long-suffering people, and in disgust at all those who can actually say something but who've chosen to remain silent.
If you wish to read more about the continuing suffering of the Palestinian people - Christians and Muslims - go HERE and think of ways that you can help.
And you may want to do that too "DR. MRS. MARIAM ABACHA, WIFE TO THE LATE NIGERIAN HEAD OF STATE, GENERAL SANI ABACHA WHO DIED ON THE 8TH OF JUNE 1998 WHILE STILL ON DUTY" who wrote me, today, a pleading note. She seems to be suffering from the death and from a surplus which she's over-eager to off-load. Give it to the Palestinians I say, and stop bothering me with your computer with the key-pad that's jammed on big letters.
§Muslims, Jews Together § A Grotesque Choice § Diary of Palestinians under occupation
Another Day, Another Note
Wednesday, March 10, 2004
As I said many moons ago, I blog on the trot mostly and then come back afterwards to do the tidying up, if at all. I'm the original travelling man who left a pension in a huff because it lacked the promised French widows. But still, no excuse, and thanks Azlan for being so hawk-eyed, and for being such a stickler for grammatical conventions. Okay, okay, like the company that put the 'T' in Blighty, I'll put the hyphen back in my sell-by date as you ordered. For those who're puzzling about this, please go back to Bird On the Wire where I've also goofed - as Azlan's pointed out too - with the name of that charming Cloin Powell (which I've corrected).
I have precious few readers, but those who do are a disgruntled lot, and I'm thankful for that. And they're possibly even under-aged too. And I mean you Poo Bah, who wrote in to ask what's Bird on the Wire got to do with Haiti and Aristide and the ubiquitous Cloin Powell? Well, if you must know, it's the title of a poem by Leonard Cohen, whose songs are poetry in slow motion. Aristide made me think of it, and here it goes:
Like a bird on the wire,
like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free.
Like a worm on a hook,
like a knight from some old fashioned book
I have saved all my ribbons for thee.
If I, if I have been unkind,
I hope that you can just let it go by.
If I, if I have been untrue
I hope you know it was never to you.
Like a baby, stillborn,
like a beast with his horn
I have torn everyone who reached out for me.
But I swear by this song
and by all that I have done wrong
I will make it all up to thee.
I saw a beggar leaning on his wooden crutch,
he said to me, "You must not ask for so much."
And a pretty woman leaning in her darkened door,
she cried to me, "Hey, why not ask for more?"
Oh like a bird on the wire,
like a drunk in a midnight choir I have tried in my way to be free.
Then back to Azlan, who chided me for an omission. I mentioned in Past in the Present that when the Turks ruled Greece, the Parthenon was used as a prayer hall. Azlan had this to add (pun intended):
"which, you might add, it was the blasted Turks who used as an ammunition dump and blew up to prevent their enemies from getting hold of the ammo."
Thank you for taking the time to write. I stand, as always, corrected.
Bringing It All Back Home
So imagine my delight when I saw this advert for Penang, not in situ but in Annie Mole's delightful London Underground blog that I was tempted to steal it (which I've done) to remind myself how it can be done.
"Anyway, here's a tropical view from the other side and a public announcement tube type apology to go with it," Annie wrote. And here's the pix that goes with it:
Penang of the Nutmegs
These Jews, members of the Neturei Karta movement, are demonstrating in support of Palestinians in front of the International Court of Justice in the Hague. The Neturei Karta is a Jewish movement for Torah Judaism. They are against Zionism and the occupation of Palestinian land, and, by dint of that, they must be anti-semitic.
Who says so? The Merriam Webster dictionary says so.
The Merriam Webster is a dictionary that has gone awry. Its compilers have taken anti-semitism and stretched it beyond its ordinary reach. They've given it meaning not as it is, but as they think it ought to be; they've put propaganda into honest scholarship, politics before propriety. In other words, they've got their knickers in a twist.
This is how they've defined anti-semitism in their Third New International dictionary, just reprinted:
"Anti-semitism=1) hostility toward Jews as a religious or racial minority group, often accompanied by social, political or economic discrimination (2) opposition to Zionism (3) sympathy for the opponents of Israel." [My italics]
This is not a definition; this is a smear. It's an attack on all those humanitarian people who've raised their voices against injustice, and who've dared to criticise Zionism (a political ideology), and the state of Israel. It has demonised anyone who dares to speak on behalf of Palestinian suffering. By so doing the compilers of the dictionary have introduced another word into the American-English language, to Merriam-websterise, i.e to bamboozle under the pretext of honest scholarship.
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) have lodged their protest with Merriam-Webster, and they deserve our support. If you feel as strongly about this lexicographical gerrymandering, write in to the Merriam-Webster people and say so.
But Arabs are semitic people too.
See how the other Semites live: Israel : Un X rouge pour marquer les ouvriers Arabes [via Je Blog]
§ Arab Group: Change Dictionary Entry on Anti-semitism § Gulf News Columnist George Hishmesh
Monday, March 08, 2004
"A photograph of Abeer Zinaty shows the 20- year-old student from the mixed Arab and Jewish city of Ramle in central Israel wearing a T- shirt branded with the logo "Excellent Worker 2003 -- McDonald's Israel". Less than a year later she is unemployed, fired by the world's most famous fast food company. Her crime, according to the branch manager, is that she was caught speaking Arabic to another Arab employee.
"Zinaty's treatment at the hands of the Israeli management of McDonald's is a stark illustration of an ever-swelling tide of discrimination against Arab workers, director of Mossawa -- a political lobbying group for Israel's one million Palestinian citizens — Jafar Ferah told Al-Ahram Weekly."
§ Hindus, vegetarians sue McDonalds § POPs in Food § The McLibel trial story
If, in the case of Saddam, you're asking why the force for good took such a mighty long time to arrive and had, in the meantime, been supplying and trading with him, you're just talking through your Rumsfeldian hat. Go to the back of the class and write down this valuable lesson: that dictators will not remain a day past their sell by date.
And then there's another truth for you to behold: that even democratically elected leaders are not safe from these marauding forces of good, especially those who're accelerating the expiry of their sell-by date by refusing to take what the US have to sell — all their baubles and batty ideas about the world. This Aristide learnt pretty quickly as he was being airlifted out of Port-au-Prince to a destination that turned out to be the Central African Republic. Allende of course learnt that a long time ago when he had to do battle from his palace against armed thugs backed by distant upholders of democracy, and paid for it with his life. And then real 'democracy' came to Chile in the shape of General Pinochet.
Aristide was a turbulent priest who won the hot seat in Haiti by popular vote. This has been disputed of course, not least by those charming people whose President came to power only by a whisker in Florida, by a process known as chads. See how their idea of democracy works in the mind of that charming Colin Powell when he spoke of Haiti.
"The policy of the administration is not regime change, President Aristide is the elected President of Haiti." — Colin Powell, February 12
"We cannot buy into a proposition that says the elected president must be forced out of office by thugs and those who do not respect law and are bringing terrible violence to the Haitian people, " — Powell, February 17
"[Aristide] is the democratically elected president, but he has had difficulties in his presidency, and I think...whether or not he is able to effectively continue as president is something that he will have to examine." — Powell, February 26
"[Aristide is] an individual who may have been elected democratically but was not governing effectively or democratically." — Powell, 24 hrs later, after Aristide's departure.
I am grateful to Gary Younge of the Guardian for the quotes above which go to show that things haven't changed much. So pray for that man in Venezuela who, though democratically elected, is still not dancing to the steps as outlined in Uncle Sam's now widely-known dance book.
Meanwhile, in the Central African Republic, a nice little tableau was acted out when a group of Aristide sympathisers from the United States called to visit their friend the President. He's still President mind you, he handed his letter of resignation to the US ambassador at the airport, not to the incoming rebels. The visiting group, included Kim Ives of the Haiti Support Network, Johnnie Stevens and Sara Flounders of the International Action Center (representing former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark); Aristide's lawyer Brian Concannon; and Katherine Kean, a friend of President Aristide.
They were stopped at the gates of the villa where Aristide is 'guest' and were told that they couldn't meet him nor he, them. They couldn't write him a note either or give him their phone number. Then Ives phoned Aristide on the number that he'd used to make earlier contacts with friends. Mildred Aristide (who knew Ives personally) took the call.
"Hello Mildred, this is Kim Ives, we are here," said Ives.
Click. The phone went dead and has not been answered since.
"The world has been told that President Aristide is free to come and go, and that he has simply chosen not to leave. The fact that our delegation has been denied all forms of contact with President Aristide confirms, in fact, that he is being kept under lock and key, at this point not even able to communicate by phone," said Sara Flounders of the International Action Center.
So this is what Blair of the Brits meant when he said in his grand speech in his constituency of Sedgefield last week that it is time to change the rules of international law.
Shame about that because I've only just learned what a wonderful thing ius cogens is.
Bird On The Wire
Friday, March 05, 2004
Ridley was, until very recently, working for al-Jazeera as senior editor of their English language web site, so we can safely presume that she knows a thing or two about the TV station, and she's presumably seen the tapes, or have heard insiders talking about them. I've always been very ambivalent about al-Jazeera, though I accept that there are some very good, honest men and women working for it. And this revelation by Ridley raises intriguing questions.
So they've been receiving tapes from Bin Laden. So they've been in consultation with the White House. Where did those tapes from? What else did the White House say?
The name of Osama has been in the news again of course recently when the hunt for him in Afghanistan was stepped up just when another Presidential election is looming in America. Some are now even saying that yet another surprise is coming, just like the Saddam capture. Just before they got that tyrant of Iraq some important people in the US (Franks, US Rep Ray La Hood) were dropping hints to the media that soon, very soon, he'd be rounded up, and lo and behold, there he was, popping out of a hole, with the date trees around him bearing fruit in December.
Recently, Madeline Albright,with a deadpan expression, said much the same about Osama; but later she said that it was only a joke.
The Chinese have an interesting curse: May you live in interesting times. And so in interesting times we are.
I do not know a lot about Osama beyond what al-Jazeera tells us. But you may want to read all that's been written about him by people who claim to know:
Road From Tora Bora
Thursday, March 04, 2004
Spare a thought then for poor Muzafar Azimov, father of 2, whose body was returned to his mother in an appalling state. His teeth had been smashed, his fingernails torn out, and there was a tide mark around his upper torso. Experts at the University of Glasgow pathology department concluded that he he'd been put in a cauldron and boiled to death. But not so said his former gaolers in Uzbekistan's Jaslik gaol. "Some prisoners had spilled hot tea on him, " they said.
And what did Azimov do to deserve that awful death? He'd been caught praying and refused to comply when asked to stop.
Azimov wasn't the only prisoner to have suffered under Karimov. There are hundreds, thousands other citizens more who are now detained, tortured, and buried. Karimov has done all his Saddamesque deeds without the West batting an eye-lid, and you'll be able to see how cosy they can get from the photos you see on this page. And why is he allowed to do this? One reason is he's been shouting the right shibboleths. "War against terrorism" is one, and Karimov, a former Communist, has been declaring war on his citizens who'd been showing the slightest interest in their faith. Indeed, as that urbane Colin Powell said in a joint press conference with Karimov in the State Department, Uzbekistan does have a problem with religious fundamentalism. And that is that.
For Karimov of course, religious fundamentalism means doing anything he dislikes, like being caught praying, and that really makes him boiling mad.
Let's turn now to Craig Murray, British ambassador to Uzbekistan. Murray was recalled by the Foreign Office, accused of improper conduct, drunkenness and takeing freedom with women. But what lay behind those charges? Murray had criticised Karimov for brutality towards his citizens and for putting that poor Azimov in the cauldron, and then he pointed out one fundamental truth: that helping people like Karimov actually helps breed religious fundamentalism. But the government of Blair will have none of that, because to do otherwise would harm the image of his fellow Colgate-user friend Bush.
But Murray had support from his colleagues in the Foreign Office, so he was back in Uzbekistan with the charges against practically dropped. Back there he heard that Fatima Mukhadirova, Azimov's 63-year old mother had been sentenced to 6 months in prison for showing the world distressing photos of her dead son. Reinstalled in Uzbekistan, Murray continued to protest. “It is another example of a gross breach of human rights,” he said.
Well, now that you've seen those friendly handshakes of our battlers against evil and terrorism with our friend Karimov, perhaps you'd now like to see photos of Azimov; but before clicking the link at the end of this sentence I must warn you that you'll need a very strong stomach indeed to do that. [Click here and say a prayer for Muzafar Azimov.]
But where's all this leading to now that Azimov's been dead for two years? I have not heard cries of outrage from any of those crusading powers against the jailing of Fatima Mukhadirova for one thing; and Karimov is still up there close and personal with the enlightened leaders of our free world for another. And then there's Clare Short.
You've probably heard of Clare Short, that troublesome former minister for international development in Blair's cabinet. Short made some threatening noises while in government and threatened to resign before the attack on Iraq, but did not, and the fact that she later did resign (after the attack) may have added little to the equation. Last May, while still minister for international development, Short chaired the annual meeting of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EDRB) in Uzbekistan but refused to criticise Karimov for his uncivilised acts. But when Murray was in the soup, she gave him support.
Now Clare Short, no longer a minister, is herself is in the soup for having spoken about the role of British intelligence in bugging the UN. And she's been much vilified for that. But just a minute, has the Blair government ever denied bugging the UN in the build-up to Iraq? No. Is this bugging business an illegal operation then? Yes. Does this raise questions about the legality of preparations for the Iraq attack? Er, Yes. Is the Blair government at all concerned? We haven't seen any signs of that.
So what are they now raving and ranting about? They're mad that Short dared to speak out. They're tut-tutting because she spoke to the world about this business of the bugs. They're furious because she could not be trusted with secrets of illegal acts.
And that's where we've arrived via Karimov, Avazov, Mukhadirova, Murray, Blair and Short. So what's happened to all that talk about war on tyrants and the restoration of human decency, gurantees that citizens will be free, democratic norms, human rights, end of barbarism, the world being a better place, and more besidest? All bunkum I'm afraid. As far as they're concerned, they'll do what they want to do and they'll do what they think is right.
And poor Azimov — arrested, tortured, now dead Azimov — he stood in hot water for that.
§ The undiplomatic ambassador § Powell-Karimov joint press conference § Human Rights Watch on Clare in Tashkent § A Jewish view of Uzbekistan § Letter to Islam Karimov
Taking Tea With Karimov
Besides enjoying absolute privacy from prying ears, I'm also now enjoying increased vigour and brain power from the concentrated energies gathered by this pyramid shaped structure. Ladies and gentlemen, I recommend Pyramid Power for all your ills and for protection from your neighbourhood spooks with extended eyes and ears.
Read full security story.
Blog It Safe
Wednesday, March 03, 2004
"The only solution is to strike religious, military and other cadres of the Shia so they strike against the Sunnis. Souls will perish and blood will be split. This is exactly what we want."
These are confusing times, dangerous times indeed for Muslims, the majority of whom want to lead a quiet life, in peaceful prayer. Afghanis want that as much as Iraqis who've just emerged from the blood-letting and swift executions of Saddam Hussain, and so do Muslims everywhere. There were no Sunnis or Shiahs then in pre-invaded Iraq, Saddam just killed for his Baathist pleasure; the Kurds are Sunnis too, you know.
Yet the Muslims are now riven by tribes and sects. The Sunnis were darlings of Saddam, and the Shiahs the victims. The sunnis now fear the shiahs' growing power, they being the majority and all that, and, exploiting this fear, the enemies of Iraq are trying to draw them even further, and so the equation goes. Hence the bombs, not just the one in Karbala now, but also the one before, also in Karbala, that broke the sanctity of a mosque, and the knife-wielding man who stabbed the Ayatollah al-Khoei soon after his return from exile, and then there's another, then another in a maze of great sadness, in a tale of many theories. I've even heard a theory formulated here by a Shiah man who accused the Iranians of fomenting trouble in Karbala to stop it usurping the crown of Qom - that other holy city of the Shiahs, which is in Iran, of course.
Dangerous, divisive, damning time for Muslims indeed, but who stands to benefit most from it all?
If, as they now allege, it's that mad letter-writer who did it, then why, he must be searched for and, when found, he must be hanged by his googles. But is he the only credible suspect in the perpetration of this dastardly deed? Who else stands to gain from this murder, this mayhem this ensuing chaos?
Day of Great Sorrow
If you're still unsure about what's happened in Haiti, welcome aboard. But any turn of events that receives the welcome of both Bush and Chirac must immediately rouse suspicion. Why is Bush so against Arisitde that his ambassador personally went to the former President's car during the final throes of the turmoil and a) invited the man to hand in his resignation letter while asking him to move quickly as there was little time to lose, b) urged him to leave at gunpoint? (Please choose the version you find more plausible).
And why is Chirac so against Aristide? Has anyone been caught wearing the hijab in Port au Prince? Not from what I've seen of the footage of events in Haiti.
So I tried to look further, not because I'm especially interested in the politics of Haiti, but because events there do remind me of another place, Granada, that other unfortunate island in the West Indies that has also suffered from being too close to its powerful neighbour. This big neighbour invaded the tiny island in 1983, but before that, a friend, encouraged by the overthrow of the despot Eric Gairy, returned home to help rebuild the country. Things turned messy, the successor to Gairy was murdered - allegedly by his own colleague in struggle - then the Americans arrived to restore order. Many civillians were killed, the alleged killers of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop were imprisoned, order was restored the American way. I heard that among those imprisoned was my friend Robert C, a harmless man with a burgeoning interest in broadcast journalism and an obsessive admiration for the spirit of Edgar Cayce. I have not heard from or seen him since.
The US under Clinton invaded Haiti in 1994 following events of Byzantinian complexity. Haiti was then under the military dictatorship of General Raoul Cedras, who in turn grabbed power from a man called Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a liberation theologian who replaced the bloody, voodooistic Duvalier dynasty. It is unclear what Clinton was up to or what his purpose was of sending in the army then, (maybe he was giving in to pressure form the Black caucus on his home patch), but the US did what the US knew best: it made sure that the Haitian army - Cedras loyalists to a man and trained in the US by the CIA - held sway. Little wonder then that soon as Aristide won 90 per cent of the votes in a subsequent free election the first thing he did was to abolish the troublesome army.
For years before his present overthrow Aristide and his poor people suffered from economic sanctions imposed by Clinton. Aristide tried to uplift his people, encouraged education, refused to pander to the dictates of the IMF, and - this may have been the tipping point - he refused to privatise as he was urged to. What a bad example in this deregulated world!
And what a return of favour!
Haiti hasn't always been this humiliated, this down, this poor. It gave birth to that remarkable black General Toussaint L'Ouverture, the man who confounded and defeated Napoleon's great army in 1804. It became the first independent black republic in the world. And by defeating Napoleon (and France) it actually saved America from a French invasion even if it did the Bush family a great disservice: it deprived Bush the Younger of knowledge of the origin of entrepreneur. And for yet another person, Egyptian millionaire Mohamad Fayed, Haiti too was a great place. It was there that he made his first pile of serious money.
So who'll rule Haiti now? The people now holding power, thanks to US backing, have among them some of the bloodthirsty executioners who wielded the guns and swung the machetes under the old pre-Aristide regime. Haiti may now be rid of the feared tontons macoutes of the Papa Doc Duvalier days, but little difference it'll make to them or us as the tontons macoutes now rule the world. So poor, little bloody Haiti; poor, hungry, wretched children of its earth: who will look after them now?
Wordsworth wrote this sonnet in honour of Toussaint L'Ouverture in 1888. Let's all recite it now:
TOUSSAINT, the most unhappy man of men!
Whether the whistling Rustic tend his plough
Within thy hearing, or thy head be now
Pillowed in some deep dungeon's earless den;--
O miserable Chieftain! where and when
Wilt thou find patience? Yet die not; do thou
Wear rather in thy bonds a cheerful brow:
Though fallen thyself, never to rise again,
Live, and take comfort. Thou hast left behind
Powers that will work for thee; air, earth, and skies;
There's not a breathing of the common wind
That will forget thee; thou hast great allies;
Thy friends are exultations, agonies,
And love, and man's unconquerable mind.
§ Legacy of Toussaint L'Overture § Hello Haiti...
Monday, March 01, 2004
This is an argument as old as the marbles ever since they became known as the Elgins, taken from the Parthenon in Athens, now standing restlessly in the British Museum in Londra, with the Brits steadfastly refusing to comply with the Greek chorus for their return. Looking at those magnificent horses in the Brit house of hoards and then at the denuded remains of the Parthenon (which by the way, was once used as a Muslim prayer house during Turkish rule) I can quite sympathise with the Greeks, but looking at our lots in Museums and Libraries everywhere, I'm not so sure if I wholly sympathise with my friend's sentiments.
I have mentioned before in passing the Trengganu Letter - arguably the most beautiful illuminated Malay letter to have come out of the Malay peninsula - now kept in a Museum in Berlin. Here in Leiden are many printed and written texts that are as precious even if they're not as beautiful to look at. There are fascinating works by Leydekker and Valentyn, two missionary stalwarts vying for dominance in the East Indies. They learned Malay to propagate Christianity, with Valentyn arguing for the accessible language of the common people, and Leydekker going for the high flown tongue of the aristocrats. Leydekker won the argument, by the way, but the facts they'd gathered and the observations made on the region and its people have provided us with invaluable understanding and insight of that period of our language and history.
Their activities were no different from those colonials who came to the peninsula and studied the Malay language - firstly for the propagation of their religion, and secondly to satisfy their spirit of enquiry. In peninsular Malaya they were helped by Munshi Abdullah - a local Muslim and a language teacher - whose first task was to translate the Bible into Malay. But they were not all missionaries, there were adventurers too, like Raffles and Marsden, there were officers of both the East India Companies, and then latterly of course, colonial masters. Their activities may not have been altogether quite savoury, but their obsession with record keeping is precious, and these records are now found in libraries and archives scattered throughout the western world. Their pursuits in the past have kept much of our past alive today.
So after listening to my friend's moan outside the KITV building I had to tell him about something that happened in Trengganu of my childhood days. One day after school, as I was walking underneath our neighbour's belinjau tree, I saw him digging a hole in the narrow gap between the tree and his house. Smoke was billowing from the hole and in his hand was a wad of burning papers.
"What are you doing Pak (uncle) Wel?" I asked.
"Oh, I'm just burning this pile of old papers, " he said.
I looked through the still unburnt stash by the tree. They were some old written manuscripts in Jawi, some old family records, and a bits of something I recognised as the Kitab Tajul Muluk because I'd seen one at home in my dad's library. With Pak Wel's permission I took whatever I could of the still unburnt papers, and left him to stoke the fire of his family library.
Pak Wel may not have been a typical custodian of old records in our land, there must be families up and down the country who treasure old krises, old kitabs, and other treasures of the handwritten word. But in general I can safely say that we're poor record keepers, poor hoarders of things past. We know now that there are many old and beautiful handwritten Malay letters kept by museums abroad, but where are those letters written by them to us? Who's kept them? Who's rid themselves of them as old piles of paper? Who's burnt them all under the belinjau tree?
Some years ago I spent a day in the Public Record Office in Kew trying to trace any old map that'd shed some light on the maritime boundaries of old Johor. There I found an old Colonial Office record which said that the old Sultan of Johor had commissioned a company of British surveyors to chart his island possessions; but in trying to trace the map I found another record with a marginal inscription in pencil which said that the map had been returned to the palace of Johor. And there the trail went cold. This map could have shed some light on our present dispute with Singapore over the lighthouse island of Batu Putih, but no one in Malaysia now knows where it is. So where is it ? Who kept it where?
Even when it comes to that unfortunate ship of Raffles which sank off the coast of Java en route to Europe with our handwritten manuscripts and hikayats and assorted treasures from our shores, I tend to be more charitable than most. I do not blame Raffles for the loss of our past, and I do not go along with those conspiracy theorists who have accused him for the loss of our heritage at sea. If those treasures had reached Europe, think what parts of our past would have been here for us now; but I find it hard to accept the other what-if theory, that had it not been for Raffles, those treasures would still be with us, on dry land in Malaysia. I doubt that we'd have been that careful with our perishable past. It is by great good fortune that the Batu Bersurat of Trengganu was etched in stone!
It is a difficult thing to say, and it's a difficult thing to admit: that had it not been for the meticulous record keeping tendencies of our former colonial masters, precious little of our past would be available to us now. That those records are now dispersed in the far flung corners of the world is a small price to pay for our collective neglect.
Past in the Present