Sunday, October 31, 2004
So, bin Laden supposedly admits to 9/11:
I guess people are starting to ask too many questions about the events of that day - what better way to throw folks off the scent than a 'confession from the accused'.
Okay, here's a few questions I'd like 'criminal mastermind' bin Laden to answer:
Did he inform the CIA of his plans since pre-9/11 insider trading on UA and AA options lead to the highest ranks of the CIA?
Did he ask FEMA to be in New York on 9/11?
Did he tell Larry Silverstein to prepare WTC 7 for demolition on 9/11?
Did he inform the Israelis of his plans?
Did he stand down the USAF?
Did he phone New York's authorities to inform them that the WTC was going to collapse?
Did he plant explosives in the twin towers to ensure perfect collapses?
Did he make provisions to ensure the investigation into the collapse of the twin towers was an underfunded farce
Did he instruct President Bush to try and limit the scope of the 9/11 probe?
Why didn't he know the identities of his 'hand-picked' hijackers?
Answers on a postcard please.
From: What Really Happened?
Kedai Payang — if you know Trengganu — is almost in the town centre, and Ladang some fifteen minutes away, maybe faster, seeing as how the Tok Peraih flew. Tok Peraihs were sinewy men often found under a conical terendak hat, and they rode sturdy bikes with a rack in the back on which was placed a rectangular cane basket filled with the latest fruits of the sea. We'd all skated or slipped in the fishmarkets of Kuala Trengganu, but cousin Dah was the only family member I knew who'd had the fish market come crashing on her.
The peraihs were middlemen who waited all day in the coffee shops then sprang to life in late afternoon when the payang boats came back to shore. They were tough cookies and hard bargainers, and wore baggy khaki shorts with draped over batik sarongs, rolled up to the knee, with the seams pulled up and tucked into the wiastband. On cooler days they'd discard the terendak and wrap their heads in a band of long material quite in the way of the Kelantanese semutar. By five o'clock, at peraih speed, the fish would be in the Ladang market opposite my old Malay school — the kembong, and selar kuning, and ikan keras ekor, ikan jebong and the occasional ttuke, probably cousin to the skate or pari — the sea smell wafting to the roundabout later made famous by the Trengganu turtle.
As it happened, cousin Dah was crossing the road when the Tok Peraih came at breakneck speed on his way to an important customer. She fell to the road in shock, but was otherwise unhurt, and her pride smelt of fish that day. The Tok Peraih merely shook his head in disbelief and continued on his urgent journey, while his one free hand pressed even more agitatedly on the rubber bulb of his handle-bar horn that went phat-phat! all the way.
Late afternoon was peraih time in the streets of coastal Kuala Trengganu, when these fish couriers pedalled fast and furious to their customer-retailers in Ladang, Pasir Panjang or Chabang Tiga, that bustling market at the intersection of roads that took us to deeper parts of Trengganu.
This occasion of cousin Dah and the middleman was one that I savoured with much hilarity — only after discovering that she was physically unscathed, of course — because the peraihs were busy and sturdy men who were only visible at speed, and there wasn't one that I knew. You only saw them dismounted among the market stallholders, and that was after their business was done, as they walked about with their sarong skirts lifted like stage curtains half-drawn when the show was nearly over. And then they'd disperse and disappear till the butt end of the following business day, with their bicycle horns going phat-phat! phat-phat! warning people like Dah of their pace of travel.
I remember Ladang not only because Dah came to grief with a basket of fish near there on that fateful day. At peraih speed, it was a good few minutes still from Ladang that she met the flying wheel: a place near the bend known to us as Tanjong Mengabang, in a landscape of coastal shacks and smart houses, and coconut trees all the way to the sea. Tanjong Mengabang had a peculiar hum about it, and a funny breeze that blew in a certain chill.
When Mother told me stories of Trengganu past, she often spoke of Pak Mat Mengamok, who one day went berserk after some matrimonial crisis and went on a killing spree. Pak Mat was buried there she said, among the coconut trees of Tanjung Mengabang, and funnily enough, it was near the house of another Pak Mat, a telecoms linesman in his daytime job, who was often at our house during weekends for some bits of carpentry. My father was a telephone operator at the Kuala Trengganu exchange in those days, and Pak Mat was the man who put those copper lines on poles that went for as long as you could see; so they shared a certain camaraderie.
It was near Pak Mat's house that cousin Dah had her piscatorial day, but it wasn't something that he remembered clearly. Just over three years ago, when I saw my father for the last time, we were chatting in the front of the house in Kuala Lumpur when a car drove into the driveway and out from the passenger side came a rheumy eyed man so full of smile. This was Pak Mat of years ago, who used to perch on poles among the copper wires, but now he was walking very slowly.
They had a lot to talk about as they'd not seen each other for many years. Then Pak Mat asked about a certain person, my father's friend, who used to be his boss at the Telephone Exchange in Kuala Trengganu. He'd come to Kuala Lumpur with a purpose, he said, because many years ago, the boss gave him 15 ringgit too much in his pay packet, and now he wanted to hand it back before he returned to his Maker.
Like our cousin Dah I had Tanjong Mengabang and the Tok Peraihs come hurtling back to me that day; but most of all, I was close to tears by Pak Mat's honesty.
Growing Up in Trengganu #43275
Saturday, October 30, 2004
Seventy-eight people did not end the journey. to the military headquarters alive: they suffocated in the human pile, and their bodies were returned to their families as an iftar surprise.
You may not have heard of this place; but then again, you may have been to the country to enjoy its tourist resorts and alluring fleshpots. This was Tak Bai, Southern Thailand, last Monday, and the human cargo, tied and stacked, were Muslim demonstrators.
This wasn't the first time this had happened in paradise. On 28 April this year, more than a hundred Muslims died in clashes with the police. They, the Muslims, were armed with knives and machetes as the police mowed them down with bullets.
There're problems in Southern Thailand that have been simmering for a long time, it's basically about Patani but four other provinces — Yala, Narathiwat, Satun and Songkhla — are also involved. More than 5 million Thai Muslims live in those parts. These are Malay-Muslims living in a predominantly Buddhist nation, and they complain of discrimination, cultural subjugation and annihilation. Many Malay place names in Thailand have been changed by the authorities into Thai place names to snuff the idea out from southern Muslims with nationalist aspirations.
Already the name calling has started.
After the attacks in April, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said they were local bandits; army chief General Chaiyasidh Shinawatra said many of them were under the influence of drugs; General Pallop Pinmanee, the man who ordered many of them shot in the local Mosque said they were Muslim separatists trained abroad. The Nation newspaper pronounced a new danger for Thailand from a 'fanatical ideology' now appearing on a grand scale.
It is not unusual for people in a land dominated by people they see as a 'colonising' power to fight for self-determination. It's a right enshrined in the Universal Declaration, and no amount of name-calling will take that away from them. But once name-calling sets in, and in the present climate of the world, it's difficult to see how they can be heard.
Meantime, according to General Pinmanee, "the military phase has just started."
The Tak Bai tragedy last Monday took many lives. According to a Southern Thai source, at least 120 demonstrators died, with 730 still missing. Those who were asphyxiated in the army trucks weren't the only ones who met terrible deaths. Thirty-five demonstrators were dumped into a river with their hands tied on the same day.
Swimming With No Hands
Friday, October 29, 2004
The ferry was a raft built of blocks of wood that took the weight of four or six vehicles, assorted pedestrians and people cycling into the green yonder. It was pulled by a tug across the Trengganu river in one of its most meancing phases, to the bank across, from where our journey would continue. Ferries crossed many rivers in Trengganu then, in Dungun there was a ferry point, and in Kemaman there was one at a place called Geliga. An express bus once slipped its brakes on the deep incline to the ferry over there and dove into the river. I remember that early evening in Kuala Trengganu when our poor cousin from Seberang Takir came back quite dead and sodden with many other unfortunate souls, all laid out in the back of a lorry.
The road to Besut was heat and dust over a long stretch that wound and dipped through dense jungle. In the monsoon months, seen through the condensation in the window, the view became smudgy watercolour, smearings of green against the brooding sky, and the continual swish-swish-swish of the windscreen wipers. Kampung Raja in Besut wasn't sixty miles from Kuala Trengganu, but it seemed a very long way.
We were taken there during school holidays to meet cousins and uncles, aunties and more cousins twice removed, and Toks galore. Toks were older people — grandfather and grandmother, and grand uncles, and anyone else dressed in sarong pelikat, and the Malay baju and the walking stick of senior years. Kampung Raja was dark in the night and long in the the days, but always, always there was a gaggle of people.
My grandfather had a sprawling house in Kampung Raja — village of the ruler — opposite a Malay school. It was as big a house as a child could imagine, with capacity to accommodate a few coachloads of people if the occasion called. But sometimes occasion didn't, and it'd be quieter then, with ladies rustling up things in the back of the house, and my grandfather sitting at his table by the window, poring over some dog-eared kitabs. He kept spotted doves and puffed on cigarettes made from sun-dried leaves filled with strands of tobacco, then rolled into the thin shape of a knitting needle. Kampung Raja was quiet — unsettlingly so — even in the day. There'd be the occasional rumble of a motor car over some distance, or some murmur of conversation from passers by; then the birds, bored by this life of captivity, would lament it so: kur-kur! kur-kur! came their woeful tale. The Malays call them the tekukur.
In the daytime when my cousins were distracted by their own things, I'd walk the ground and stuff myself on jambu or water apple, or star fruit that hung from scrawny trees. Or sometimes I'd walk barefooted across the soft sand in front of the house to the spreading cashew trees — known here as pokok ketereh — by the roadside. The cashews were useless to a growing child, its funny fruit inedible, and its shoots plucked by adults and served at the dining table as an ulam to be eaten with hot sambal or dipped in budu, the dark fish sauce of Trengganu.
At night, when the lampu pam came out, we sat under its bright light to dinner on white sheets spread out across the floor, then the pressure lanterns would hiss the night away, its light fading steadily as time went by. The lampu pam lit many homes and many roadside stalls, with their fabric mantles glowing brightly and miraculously under pressure and kerosene power.
Late into the night when the pressure was dropping and the light turning yellow, we'd gather around Ayah Ngah, my father's brother, and urge him to tell us a story. No, he'd say, he had to go, then he'd relent and tell us a wonderful tale spun out there on the fly, the epic journey of Pak Wé. Pak Wé was an unlikely sarong wearing — batik, of course — baju clad and ketayap topped Trengganu hero, a man who beat the odds and repelled enemies by the power of breaking wind, especially the kentut singgang, Ayah Ngah would say, the force of wind power and Trengganu cookery that turned back many mortals.
When even Pak Wé became tired and the lamp mantle grew even dimmer, Ayah Ngah would rise and pump the lamp again with renewed pressure. Brightness came back to the room, and we knew it was time for sleep and Pak Wé to go.
Growing Up In Trengganu #50976
Wednesday, October 27, 2004
Wow, you lucky you. Terengganu during Puasa! That's something I really, really miss, right to the lads who sell the air batu on the jute sacks opposite the kedai Bhiku.
Your description of an everyday scene in a KT extended family is so vivid. I'm this moment trying to recollect my extended family experience in Besut, but my otak's jammed at the moment. We used to go to Besut every school holiday to meet up with the cousins and aunties and uncles and the Toks. There would've been at least 20 people in the house at any one time, and for a child, to see so many people all gadding about in one house was a real marvel, especially as Besut was such a sleepy hollow.
Please eat an akok for me. Is it an akok telor or akok berlauk? Akok telor is the golden boat shaped thingy; sometimes it's made in a large floral shape, in a special Trengganu brass mould probably made near my house in Tanjong. If it's akok berlauk, there's shreds of chicken in it, put in by dainty hands, as only they know.
The names you mentioned in Bukit Besar - places such as Pasir Maghreb - are all alien to me. Is Pasir Maghreb named after Morocco, or after the prayer time when all good men are home with the family? We kids had a term for this time of day, deriving probably from football. The last hit, the last riposte, the last deed, the last prank of the day was called the Buah Maghrib (Buah Ggareb, as we said it), the last big hit of the day before heading for home.
You're right about the sound of the cannon, that's the sound of Trengganu during Ramadhan, and the Genta too. I don't know if the genta is still rung over the hill at iftar and end of sahur. The sounds of the genta in my early days of puasa were struck by a man named Wé, who still lives in Kuala Terengganu. The striker part of the genta was never in place or some madmen would've gone up the hill and rung in the iftar early, or the sahur late. So Wé, whenever he was in charge, had this striking part in his pocket as he clambered up the hill. Once up there, mostly in the dark I should say, he'd fit it back to the bell, and strike it hard when the time was right. He had a little torch about his person I must say, so everything'd be done in good light.
Maybe the genta is silent now because Wé forgot to give the striker thing back to the Powers that Bell in Terengganu. Maybe Wé is still walking the streets of Terengganu in his retirement with the Genta striker in his pocket still, impressing many ladies.
Regards to you and Mrs K-K, and Selamat berbuka!
Air batu = [lit. water block] ice
Akok = Trengganu cake, usu. boat shaped, and golden yellow in colour.
Buah Maghrib/Buah Ggarib = The last kick before Maghrib (Ar.) prayer time.
Genta = Also pron. Geta, a big brass bell on Bukit Puteri, a hill overlooking Kuala Terengganu harbour.
Iftar = [Ar.] Breaking of fast at Maghrib prayer time, sunset.
Kedai = Shop
Otak = brain
Puasa = fast, as in Ramadhan. Fasting month [n.]
Selamat Berbuka = Good wishes for iftar
Tok = Term of respect for old people; specifically, grandfather or grandmother.
After posting the above, I received a note from a man who knows more about Terengganu (nay, Trengganu) than I do. He runs a very interesting site called, in Trengganuspeak, Di Bawah Rang Ikang Kering, which is in my handrolled list of blogs in the right hand column. This is what he says:
"I think it is not Pasir Magrib but rather Pasar Garib [i.e. The marrket at Maghrib prayer time] along the Pasir Panjang Road. They sell a lot of things like fresh meat. I think they start late, hence the name."
The mistake was a slip of my typing finger, not K-K's. I am grateful to you, Sir, for having pointed that out.
Breakfasting in Terengganu
Sunday, October 24, 2004
"Now we come at last to the heart of darkness. Now we know, from their own words, that the Bush Regime is a cult — a cult whose god is Power, whose adherents believe that they alone control reality, that indeed they create the world anew with each act of their iron will. And the goal of this will — undergirded by the cult's supreme virtues of war, fury and blind faith — is likewise openly declared: 'Empire.'
You think this is an exaggeration?"
Gott Mit Uns
Saturday, October 23, 2004
"Do you think the world's a troubled place?" he asked, the opening line of Jehovah people.
Unlike most people in the neighbourhood, I never turn away the end-time people. He was a smart man in a neat suit; trim, a strayer from the norm, a lone man with a red Bible. "Do you believe the world is coming to an end?" he tried again, seeing me bleary eyed.
"We Muslims aren't really end-time peddlars, " I said. "When we die it's the end, that's it.The world ends anytime on us that way."
He quoted the Qur'an, chapter 5 or somewhere there, but as I don't care much for people who quote and interpret the Qur'an in English, I let that pass, it was too early in the morning anyway. But as for our Holy Book, it's probably got more end-times than the Bible, I said.
"Why do you think there's trouble," he asked again.
I said I don't know, maybe it's because people are attacking people.
"Why do innocent people die?" he came back.
"You mean why God sends suffering to this world?" I asked.
"Yes," he said. "Why is this heavenly earth so bad?"
"That's to show us it's a better place in the hereafter," I said.
Then he turned on his raw proposition:"Do you believe in sin?" he asked, staring me in the eye.
I would've retorted with something cute, but sensing his serious purpose, I said, "No."
"Do you think my son will take my sins?" I asked.
"No," he replied. "But Jesus died for us."
Then he spoke of the Qur'an, and his red Bible. "My grandmother was a Muslim, but she found turths in the Bible."
"Ah, what a shame, " I replied. "I hope she will come back." It only to made him smile.
"Why are the Muslims having such a bad time as you said?" he came back. I said maybe it's because we're the only people who can stand up to the shenanigans of those folk out there. "If they eradicate us it'll be easier for them to have their way."
"We can fight them just as well," he said, adjusting his trimline tie.
"But there aren't enough of you, there aren't Jehovah's Witness belts sitting on oil in this world," I said.
"What's it about you they don't like?" he asked.
"Well, which group of people are strong enough to resist their devilry and make a hash of what they're after?" I said.
"We too are suffering," he said.
"Yes, I know," I consoled him. "You're banned in Singapore."
And then, turning the drift slightly, I said: "You must come to our Mosque. We have many West Indian brothers."
"I'm not from the West Indies, I'm from Ghana," he said, turning the table.
"Ah, your grandmother. There're Muslims in Ghana..."
"She found love in the Bible," he said, a reminder.
"And I love you for your faith, " I said, "better with than without."
And so he turned away, and gave me a little smile. Maybe for his grandmother.
Witness in the Door
Thursday, October 21, 2004
We see shadows on the wall, of wolves and men and beasts, trundling around, calling orders. Sometimes they're known as the Neocons, sometimes they're turbaned with beards, with a wild look in their eyes. But what manner of beast are they? And is Islam really the demon they're looking to exorcise or is it demonisation for a purpose?
Last night the BBC showed the first of its three part documentary on the Power of Nightmares about the growth of this East-West hysteria. It is steeped in religious extremism on both sides, the ultra-conservative religious fundamentalists in America and the Islamists in the East, led, allegedly, by Syed Qutb, a controversial thinker who was tortured and finally hanged by the regime of Gamel Abdel Nasser.
What is interesting in this series is its thesis of the creation of fear as a ruling ideology to rein in the masses. It raises many questions, but perhaps it doesn't raise enough that ought to be examined more. Who, for instance, is Bin Laden? Who Musab Al-Zarkawi? Who's really now behind the terrorist kidnappers in Iraq who're terrorising and beheading people mercilessly, brutally, in the name of what?
We do not know the answers, but the end result for now is that Islam is tarnished and demonised. It is as if there're people out there ever ready to make a public image of themselves brandishing knives, posing beneath balaclavas in cocky stances, while the poor, wretched prisoner kneels before them, gagged and bound, pleading for mercy. And the obligatory cry that chills the blood when the deed is done, Allahu Akbar!. And this is a deed done with a large banner bearing the Shuhada in the backdrop. The average Muslim in the street cringe when they see that, but these people are allegedly fanatically devoted to Islam. What powerful image for the bashers of Islam, what powerful symbols stuck in the heads of ordinary people out there.
There are the Pearls and Wolfowitzes and all those other denizens of this clash of civlisations secnario who are telling us know that they've told us so. What Bruce Bartlett, former doemstic policy adviser to Ronald Reagan and Treasury official to Bush senior said of Bush and his battle against al-Qaeda the other day was so stark it's worth repeating here: ''George W. Bush is so clear-eyed about Al Qaeda and the Islamic fundamentalist enemy. He believes you have to kill them all. They can't be persuaded, that they're extremists, driven by a dark vision. He understands them, because he's just like them."
There are powerful people out there now, and largely they're inspired by Leo Strauss, spiritual leader of this new band of neocon evil bashers. Strauss studied in Germany under Husserl and Heidegger and then went on to the States to continue his teaching career. He had strong views about the need to fight against evil as he saw it, but mostly he believed that the elite should use deception, religious fervour and perpetual war to control the ignorant masses.
§Leo Strauss' Philosophy of Deception §Leo Strauss and the Straussians §The long reach of Leo Strauss
Heart of Darkness
Wednesday, October 20, 2004
The sleazy cafe by the Panggung Mak Ming (as we called him in Trengganuspeak) had a frontage on the main road on the edge of our Chinatown. It differed from your common and garden coffee shop by dint of the pelayan ladies who ran hither and thither from table to table with coffee as black as sin and sin maybe, for afters. The word pelayan itself is relatively harmless if you look it up in a Malay dictionary, but in Trengganuspeak then, words were never what they seemed to be, and the pelayan was not just your lady server, just as a bujang woman wasn't your dainty spinster. If an orang bujang were to cross your path you'd quickly avert your eyes if you were mosque going people.
Ramadhan was of course a month of abstinence, but not behind those cafe covers. There were straight-backed chairs in the cafe sleaze, facing one another; with backs so tall that two chairs tête-á-tête, lined against the wall, formed a neat cubicle with the eating table in between and the entrance and exit in the broad gangway in the cafe centre. They were lined on opposite walls, as I remember, with the centre area of the cafe filled with round, marble topped tables, taken up by punters who felt no reason to be lying low. I imagine the cafe owner, on the eve of Ramadhan, scurrying to the dusty storeroom for the drapes to hang across the entrance to his Ramadhan tête-á-tête cubicles.
This sleaze cafe came back to me when I was watching an early instalment of Star Wars, when Hans Solo and friends ventured into the cafe at the edge of the universe, filled with shady types and blubbery people. Sleaze cafe by the Panggong Mat Min was a place like that: I don't think I saw anyone in there that I recognised or knew, they were people that sprang out of a Trengganu that I didn't know, with proclivities to make you gawp away the time of day. In Ramadhan they ate behind the drapes, in other months they sowed wild oats in this lively corner.
The Panggong Mat Min wasn't a favourite, but sometimes we'd hang there to look at the cinema posters. They showed Cathay Kris only over there, because Shaw Brothers productions were the privilege of the Capitol next door. One day, while ogling at the shapeliness of Rose Yatimah, maybe, we heard a loud shriek from the woman at cafe sleaze, then saw a man wearing a smirk for a face, hurrying away from her. "Cekor ***** dapat pitis samah!" she said, mocking a short chase that ended in a smile. It was quite a daring thing to say in the open air of Kuala Trengganu, but the pelayan were that kind of people.
Cekor was then — as now — an act of daring, the grabbing of something succulent, like meat, and pitis samah was worth fifty cents in those Trengganu days. I shall spare you the asterisks, dear reader, but I went home that day with my little head thinking of the wonders of nature.
Growing Up in Trengganu #39506
Tuesday, October 19, 2004
So there are rumblings among some Republicans about the suitability of Bush for President now. Brent Scowcroft has said it, now it's the turn of Bruce Bartlett. Bartlett was domestic policy adviser to Ronald Reagan and Treasury official to Bush the elder. His expression of concern centred around Bush junior's instincts and Messianic "God-told-me-so" vision.
The battle against al-Qaeda isn't just a battle against terrorism; it's a mission in black and white, good against evil. According to Ron Suskind of the New York Times, Bartlett said this of Bush:''This is why George W. Bush is so clear-eyed about Al Qaeda and the Islamic fundamentalist enemy. He believes you have to kill them all. They can't be persuaded, that they're extremists, driven by a dark vision. He understands them, because he's just like them."
The plans for war to take Iraq were laid down a year before 9-11 happened, as part of the President's global plans soon after he took office. So all those talk about WMDs and Saddam's links to al-Qaeda were just fabrications — or poor intelligence — as now acknowledged, to start the attack. Even Blair has admitted so now, but has still refused to apologise because in the end, the toppling of Saddam Hussain was worth it, just as Madeline Albright once said that having all those children dead in Iraq was worth it.
Democrat senator Joseph Biden of Delaware once asked Bush about his war on Iraq, about all those forces he was unleashing — sunnis, shiites, disbanding Saddam's army, securing the oilfields — how could you be so sure if you didn't know the facts?
"My instincts, " Bush replied. "My instincts."
Funny, isn't it, when they talk about Iraq, they seldom talk about the suffering of the people
Monday, October 18, 2004
"Ah," said Condi, ever the optimist, "at least that's good news!"
"That's bad news," differed Scowcroft. And what's bad about that is that Sharon will just say I'm done with this, get the Wall going, and I'm going home.
Scowcroft, former National Security adviser to Bush senior, also said, though not over dinner with Condi, but in the Financial Times on October 13, that President George Dubya Bush is under the spell of Ariel Sharon.
"Sharon just has him wrapped around his little finger, I think the president is mesmerised. When there is a suicide attack [followed by a reprisal] Sharon calls the president and says, 'I'm on the front line of terrorism', and the president says, 'Yes, you are. . . ' He [Mr Sharon] has been nothing but trouble," Scowcroft said.
Now, who could've known that?
Dinner With Condi
Somalia could be one strong, happy country, he said, but it is now sadly divided by the forces that have the money and firepower.
Not long ago Somalia was the bloodied nose of America. Now it's just a forgotten mangled backyard, with wrecks of battle, happy warlords and happier people who put them there in the first place to obstruct progress towards any meaningful way.
In Londra the Somalis are gathering as large urban tribes, seemingly prosperous, with plenty of purchasing power to buy vacant shophouses in derelict corners of the East, West and northwest. They are a conspicuous community of bus drivers, shopkeepers, and, surprisingly, cybercafe owners. They are a tuned in, plugged on, stoned out people. This last thing's worrying my friend more than just a bit, because, of all the forbidden drugs on the list, the Somali qat isn't on the list at all.
There're qat leaves aplenty in the Somali market; each week, in my area, boxes of qat leaves arrive at the Somali qat centres, my friend observed.
Why so? I asked. Well, my Somali friend said with a smile, this is to hold them in check, in their fantasy qat-chewing world. My friend, ever the cynic.
But then, he said, looking back home at Somalia; don't take these forces of turmoil too lightly. In Sudan the Janjaweeds — literally Djinns on horseback — aren't just Arabs as they say, they're people from Chad and nearby areas as well, there're Arabs riding against the government in North Darfur and Arabs riding for the government in the South; and there're black Sudanese people armed by someone to wreak revenge against all the others. In Darfur both Arabs and non-Arabs are against the central government because of neglect, and the Arabs have been in the Sultanate of Darfur for some 600 years, descendants of a tribe from Iraq that took the emigration route during the Fatimids. So my friend said.
From Somalia to Sudan, then to America.
Warlord armies are on the rise, my friend said, that's something that's gone unnoticed. In September Paul Wolfowitz was speaking up for Bush in Congress for a US$500 million seed money to arm and train local militias in troubled areas of the world that are said to be potential enemies or "harbouring terrorists". So stand back now for rabid fundamentalists, bareback riders, warlord adventurers, drug cartel operators or just your local petty thug, all armed to the teeth, all taking up a cause.
Now, where have we seen all that before?
Order By Chaos
Thursday, October 14, 2004
They came wrapped in sawdust and the gunny — guni — sacks made of jute, brought to us, maybe six to eight blocks to a carrier, by a special mode of transport. These were the basikal kaki tiga, pedalled by men, whose three-wheeled transporter worked on the same principle as the rickshaw with the pedaller behind the passenger seat. But on its front the basikal kaki tiga had an open box placed on a low chassis, with the leading side left open, and a metal bar placed on the box edge in front of the pedaller for him to rest his arms as he pedalled, and to turn the vehicle left and right as he journeyed along.
The basikal kaki tiga men were a macho breed with an independent mien, yet to a man they followed an unofficial dress code. They had a batik sarong wrapped around their waist, with the hem raised above the knees; and underneath this flowery delight they wore a pair of khaki shorts. They would be shirtless mostly, or maybe they'd wear a T-shirt top, and then, by dint of some arcane rule, they had a sarong cape draped over their backs, with the two upper corners tied in a knot under their chin. These were batik sarongs of loud patterns, of leaves and flowers and Trengganu made, and there was nothing sissy about that except in the minds of the orang luar of the other coast. When we moved to Kuala Lumpur, much later, my father sometimes slipped out of the house, to the clothesline maybe, wearing the Trengganu batik, and somewhere in our family album there's probably a photograph of him still, doing just that.
But meantime, in front of the Bhiku shop there was already some loud rasping of the saw's teeth, and a sharp thwack! as the ice was sawn and broken into smaller blocks. This is, to me, the sound of Ramadhan in Kuala Trengganu, of an afternoon in the fasting month when crowds began to mill in front of the Bhiku shop for cakes, for rice and sugar to stock up with, and for the mini block or a half of that soothing ice, taken away in a page from some old newspaper, to take home and fracture again into glittery bits that bobbed and floated in a jugful of sweet, milky sirap.
This trade in ice blocks was the business of bigger boys, and the pedal transporter men with their bilhooks for hands. My father told me that those ice blocks came from a factory in Pulau Kambing — Goat's Island — which wasn't an island at all but a semi-industrial linear township on the bank of the Trengganu. A funny place for goats to be, for water to freeze to ice. The little entrepreneurs made their 'fortune' in Ramadhan from those smaller blocks that they bought and resold for a little profit. All you needed was a guni sack and a place in front of the Bhiku shop to lay it out. And then, at the first sound of the rasping and the thwacking of the ice, you rush to grab a block or three to resell on your mat for a small profit.
It was a profitable venture which begot more noise. Profits from the ice trade were used to buy a thing called carbide which, when placed in water in a bamboo cannon and lit, produced a boom that made the old melatah. Melatah is a Malay-Eskimo hysteria triggered by sudden shocks or noise. I know little about the Inuits, but among the Malays, the afflicted seem to be mostly women of a certain age. So boom! went the bamboo cannon, back came a diarrhoea of words from some senior women, taken from their store of unspoken expletives.
Puasa in our household, as in other households, was serious business. My mother would produce a special mould of brass that she'd been keeping in store since Ramadhan last, fill its boat shaped holes with a liquid concoction of flour and sugar and eggs and stuff, and cover them all up with the flat brass lid that's hinged to the top. On the top surface of this lid she'd burn coconut husks dried in the sun for months ahead, and underneath the apparatus she'd light a fire from wood; and the miracle it produced was called akok. Akoks were succulent morsels of golden dreams, moist in the hand and deliciously sweet, with the cloying taste of some distant past, lilting and dancing daintily on tickled taste buds.
There were other delights too in Ramadhan, of course. There was the nekbat, a little something drenched in syrup, and there was my favourite, the hasidah which was stirred and stirred in a cauldron of brass until the ingredients became a sticky, greasy goo of exquisite stuff. The hasidah paste is then placed on a tray or a plate, flattened to a smooth surface, then, using a special pair of tongs with saw-edge teeth, patterns are pinched out on it in ridges and dips. In the dips would be poured crisp flakes of shallots, freshly fried.
Recently we heard the sad news that our cousin Mat Tepek had died. Mat — God rest his soul — was even smaller than us when he had his encounter with the hasidah, which he started to tepek — stick — to the wall of our house. So Tepek he became, and Tepek he died.
Growing Up In Trengganu #39472
Wednesday, October 13, 2004
"The US government move to shut down nearly two dozen antiwar, anti-globalization web sites on October 7 is an unprecedented exercise of police power against political dissent on the Internet.
"The shutdown was carried out by Rackspace, a US-based web-hosting company with offices in San Antonio, Texas, and greater London, in response to an order from the FBI requiring it to turn over two of its British servers that were hosting dozens of Indymedia sites. There are conflicting accounts of the legal process, with Indymedia attributing the order to a US federal district court, while the Electronic Freedom Foundation, which is supplying legal representation to the group, describes it as a 'commissioner's order' directly from the FBI itself."
The Thing of Shapes to Come
So Said wasn't praised by say, people like Bernard Lewis maybe, or by some of theose Neocon experts on Islam nowadays. But that's saying nothing, many important discoveries in many fields have been made by people who've approached the subject with a fresh pair of eyes, unshackled by a learned perspective. Look at Wegener and die Verschiebung der Kontinente, that he expounded. His theory about the continental drift was pooh-poohed by men who knew better about the earth in his day. Weggener was a metereologist, so he knew nothing about rocks. And remember the response to Winstedt when he proposed the study of Malay grammar? "Well, we're Malays," they all said in chorus, "we speak the language, so there's no need for us to learn the grammar and all that." There are many more who've made profound discoveries in fields not their own, simply because those who're knee deep in it have forgotten how to look or the need to look afresh.
Said's Orientialism was seminal in a field that's gone staid and full of name-calling and stereotyping. And academics are notoriously jealous of their patch, and as fond of bitching as anyone in the street.
So I wasn't surprised when a letter appeared in the Guardian's Review magazine (following an article by Tom Paulin on the anniversary of Said's death), which said this:
Paulin says that Said's most influential work was Orientalism. Perhaps so, but it is noticeable that the high praise that he and others heap on it is not echoed by those who have made it their life's work to study the Middle East. Said had no problem with this since such people were 'Orientalists' and therefore part of the imperialist project.
So a work debunking the work of orientalists isn't well-received by the very orientalists who've been debunked. Enough said.
I've mentioned Bernard Lewis, the Neocon's favourite explainer of the Middle East at the moment. Lewis wrote this on thawra, the modern Arabic word for revolution —
The root th-w-r in classical Arabic meant to rise up (e.g. of a camel), to be stirred or excited, and hence, especially in Maghribi usage, to rebel. It is often used in the context of establishing a petty, independent sovereignty...The noun thawra at first means excitement, as in the phrase, cited in the Sihah, a standard medieval Arabic dictionary, intazir hatta taskun hadhihi 'lthawra, wait till this excitement dies down — a very apt recommendation.
Said's riposte was sharp:
The entire passage is full of condescension and bad faith. Why introduce the idea of a camel rising as an etymological root for modern Arab revolution except as a clever way of discrediting the modern? Lewis's reason is patently to bring down revolution from its contemporary valuation to nothing more noble (or beautiful) than a camel about to raise itself from the ground. Revolution is excitement, sedition, setting up a petty sovereignty — nothing more; the best counsel (which presumably only a Western scholar and gentleman can give) is "wait till the excitement dies down." One wouldn't know from this slighting account of thawra that innumerable people have an active commitment to it, in ways too complex for even Lewis's sarcastic scholarship to comprehend.
Spot the Name-Calling:
§Lost In Translation §A Critique of Bernard Lewis
The Arab and the Camel
Monday, October 11, 2004
Well, the latest from that laïcité state is that a Muslimah, 15-year old Cennet Doganay of the Louis Pasteur Lycee high school in Strasbourg has shaved her head in protest because she wasn't allowed to attend school wearing her hijab. "I respect French law, but French law does not respect my religion. I will respect both French law and Muslim law by taking off what I have on my head and not showing my hair." A weird way of doing it, but she's made her point, and let's applaud her for that.
Underneath the hijab is a deeper issue of course, deep psychology even, of the French dilemma of the moment. How to make Muslims totally secularised in this secular state? It's deep concern because close to 6 million Muslims are now in France and there's a danger of being, er, swamped. And then there's Turkey knocking at the gate.
It's a funny thing to be coming from a state that has cathedrals at every turn. But let's wait for the time when they come up with a law to make mosque buildings blend in with all the rest in a nice non-offensive architectural landscape of secularism. The we'll step aside to see how that other red herring tokenism will work: just as they've also thrown in the prohibition of the kippah and the crucifix too to make it look oh so even. Let's see how our Lady of the Hunchback (Notre Dame de Paris) will look in its new secularised makeover to make it all look so genuine and inoffensive to the sensitivities of secularist France.
Now there's even talk of making the basic French incantation take an extra burden, Fraternité, Liberté, Egalité, Laïcité so the state's prejudices will be safe, and the Republic preserved from the intrusion of this piece of cloth that's no more than a yard. Many who thought that secularism in it's supposedly liberal mien includes the freedom to believe, and to do so unmolested, will be disappointed. From the way things are going, it now looks like this: you will believe in the way that we will want you to believe, after you've all learnt to look and believe like us.
There's greater concern as I've said, so it's best that we take stock of it before all our women have to move around, heads shaved, and with a yellow crescent sewn on to their pyjamas too for that. You think this alarmist? Why, in the latest issue of that Muslim trendy chic magazine Emel they're already talking about something like that in an editorial that spoke of looking for an escape route should things get too hot. Nothing like that will happen in the civilised state of France en Europe? Well, who would've thought that the land that gave us Mozart and Beethoven and An die Musik and all those other glories of culture would've put Jews in the oven?
But then there's also one aspect of this dogma that will always remain a paradox of French and western secularism. How then can you justify the establishment of the State of Israel in Palestine — which France supports — if it's based on Biblical claims? How then can you condone the state of Israel which denies rights to people who're not Jewish — which is a religious definition — as does France?
If you're still agitated about the hijab ban, write to this man
§Liberte, Fraternite & Egalite and the plague of racist Europe §The other scarf §Definition of the French Law
Le Hidjab de Strasbourg
Sunday, October 10, 2004
When our Imam Dr Daud Abdullah went to Iraq on a mission with another member of the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), to speak for compassion for Bigley, I had problems convincing some members of our flock that it was the necessary thing to do. I have always admired Dr Daud, a native Grenadian who delivers his Friday sermons with compassion and intelligence, a campaigner for the Palestinian right of return, and one of the organsiers of the recent anti-war demos that turned out close to a million people at its peak.
I understood why he felt it necessary to go to Iraq; yet I could also understand the pleas of those who called him to desist. Bigley was just one man, a European, they argued. And I could see what they meant. Latest civilian deaths in Iraq have reached up to 15,000, and that's not counting those who died in the shootings and bombings that began when Iraq was first invaded, and children who perished from the cancerous effects of depleted uranium or decimated by the sanctions. What was one man Bigley compared to all these? Who cares for Bigley? It would be sad if his death is not mourned, but who cares for all the Iraqi children and all the rest of them?
On balance I thought that going out for Bigley was still an effort worth doing, and I applauded Dr Daud for that. I feel for all the people who died in Iraq and I feel that it was time too for Muslims to let out a voice to say that we're now tired of all this barbarism done in our name. Only when we do this can we condemn the barbarism on the other side.
But alas for Ken Bigley, he died a brutal death; and alas for all those poor, wretched people of Iraq, they shall continue dying.
Alex Salmon of the Scottish National Party said of of Bigley's death that Blair must take the general blame. We do not know who captured Bigley — and I have problems connecting it to the erstwhile thug named al-Zarqawi — and yet Salmon's words have the ring of truth. That men whose heads ought to have rolled — figuratively of course — from this mad, bad business in Iraq are still left unscathed to continue repeating their infamous lies.
Weapons of mass destruction, Saddam connected to Bin Ladin, a country with international terrorism at its core, what's now left up their sleeves? Saddam had gassed Halabjans, lopped ears, pulled out tongues, was responsible for the death of a whole generation of Iranians, not to mention the Iraqi shiites he'd forced to fight their brothers on their side. Yet none of these truths moved them until they, by some conjuring trick, discovered some preposterous fabrications that have all now been exposed for what they are: shameless, blatant lies.
Ken Bigley is now dead, yet the mourning of his death cannot be meaningful until it's been put in the proper perspective of brutalities in Falluja, the barbarity of Abu Ghreib, the widespread bombings of urban populations, the deaths of innocents, and the plundering of Iraq.
So who do we now blame for that?
John Pilger writing in the New Statesman says this of deaths in Iraq:
"The cost in lives was staggering. Between 1991 and 1998, reported Unicef, 500,000 Iraqi children under the age of five died. 'If you include adults,' said Halliday [Denis Halliday, assistant secretary general of the UN until his resignation in 1998], 'the figure is now almost certainly well over a million.' In 1996, in an interview on the American current affairs programme 60 Minutes, Madeline Albright, then US ambassador to the UN, was asked: 'We have heard that half a million children have died...is the price worth it?' Albright replied, 'We think the price is worth it.' The television network CBS has since refused to allow the videotape of that interview to be shown again, and the reporter will not discuss it."
Civilian death figures from Iraq Body Count.
Another Death In Iraq
Monday, October 04, 2004
— George W Bush, Feb 2000
The Way We Are