January 2008

And behold, We said to the angels: “Bow down to Adam” and they bowed down. Not so Iblis (Satan): he refused and was haughty; he was of those who reject Faith. (Al-Baqarah: 34)

Behold! We said to the angels: “Bow down unto Adam” : they bowed down except Iblis: he said, “Shall I bow down to one whom You did create from clay?”

He (Iblis) said: “See You? This is the one whom You have honoured above me! If You will but respite me to the Day of Judgement, I will surely bring this descendants under my sway–all but a few!”

(God) said: “Go your way; if any of them follow you, verily Hell will be the recompense of you (all)–an ample recompense.” (Al-Israa’: 61-63)

I still remember during my days in the kindergarten, one of the stories that have been told by my ustazah (female teacher) was the story of Adam and Eve being tempted by Iblis. The story that had been described briefly in The Holy Qur’an was also mentioned in the Old Testament, in the Book of Genesis.

According to the Qur’an, after the creation of Adam, God commanded all angels to bow down unto Adam as a sign of respect to him; a newly created human who will be sent to earth as the caliph (leader). The angels obeyed God’s command and bowed down before Adam but there was one who refused; Iblis.

Questioned by God on his act, Iblis boastly argued and criticized God’s command. He said to God that it is unusual for him to bow before Adam as he is much nobler than him (Adam) in the aspect of creation. He was created with element of Fire while Adam was formed by God using Clay. Iblis’ refusal angered God. The Almighty then rejected Iblis and commanded him to leave Paradise. He (Iblis) was labeled as kafir (one who rejects Faith) and was cursed by God for his arrogance.

When I was a kid, I used to look at this story as the beginning of feud between Mankind and Satan (Iblis). Iblis, who is so arrogant with his nature of creation was cursed by God and ousted from Paradise. And until now, Iblis’ jealousies on Adam’s offsprings remain with his pledge to lead mankind astray till the Day of Judgment.

Recently, in a discussion with a friend, I started to understand the actual context of this story. Iblis was actually the first racist since he is so obsessed with his ‘Fire’ identity. He assumed that others were incomparable to him and that leads him into not to bow before Adam who was formed by God using clay. Thus, from my observation, it is not wrong for me to conclude that Iblis was actually the Father of Racism throughout history.

In relating this story from the Qur’an in the context of what has been happening in Malaysia, it is clear that Iblis was admired and idolized by a lot of those who were so obsessed with their race and tribe. These racists claimed that they were bestowed special privileges and became dominant in dictating others who were not from their race. Are we becoming one of them? And do we want to follow footsteps of Iblis who have been cursed and rejected by God due to his (Iblis) racist sentiment?

Did Islam teach us to be a racist, arrogant and obsessed with our race? If Iblis was cursed and ousted from Paradise because of his racist manner, thus, is it proper for us who follows Iblis’ footsteps to speak about Islam and its dignity?

If you want to be a racist and a fanatic to your race, be prepared because Iblis was rejected from Paradise and will be thrown into Hell due to his arrogance and obsession on his race and nature.

After almost 10 years ago, the call for reformasi (reform) can still be heard from the streets and fields of Kuala Lumpur.

Indonesia, our nusantara neighbor, did succeed in this reform movement. Soeharto was removed by people power (makal sakti to borrow this phrase from the Malaysian Indian community) in May 1998. Unfortunately, reformasi in Malaysia did not even reach its climax. This happened after the detention of Anwar Ibrahim on the night of September 20 on the same year. That unfortunate night also saw Anwar, once a Deputy Prime Minister of our country beaten half-dead by then Inspector General of Police Abdul Rahim Noor who was later gaoled.

I was still raw at that time, a 13-year old boy. But the frustration, anger and passion of felllow reformasi protesters who conquered the streets of Kuala Lumpur every weekend can still be seen in video tapes and VCDs. At that moment, the rakyat started to give more attention to the Internet. Websites such as Mahazalim (Extreme Cruelity), MahaFiraun (The Great Pharaoh) and Marhaen (The People) became a new source of information for them. Mainstream media controlled by the Umno/BN regime were boycotted. Harakah, Tamadun, Detik, Wasilah and Eksklusif were among those newspapers and magazines that were the source of information in our house. I became much more enthusiastic in my reading. The dark side of the Mahathir regime had been exposed. Many saw Mahathir as a man possessed by the evil spirits of absolute hegemonic power and will.

Now (and since 2004), Anwar has his freedom. But his freedom– like the rest of us –by a police state which was initiated by the first of its kind strong man. In 2003, in fact the end of October that year, Mahathir stepped down after 22 years in power. As if in vengeance, he appointed Abdullah Badawi and thus began the slow, weak and sentimental leadership of this new appointed premier.

Four years ago, Abdullah was celebrated with joy by the rakyat who had hoped for betterment and enlightenment for the country. But until now, hopes remain hopes. If Mahathir pioneered a draconian tradition and reinforced it throughout his reign of power, Abdullah not only inherited that tradition but used it in more cynical ways.

Looking back to 2005 which was when I started to venture into serious thinking and developing my consciousness, I began to realise I had a lot to learn. I read voraciously about political, economic and social issues, reform movements and their agendas, and debated ideas which were expressed by some thinkers and writers whose concern for reform awed me. Last year (2007), my intellectual journey became more serious and urgent with my direct involvement with this group of thinkers, the Telawi (named after  a popular street in Bangsar) School as I would call them, in coffee-shop discussions, intellectual forums and philosophical discourses.

By befriending with these critical thinkers, I began to open up my mind to infinite possibilities for reforming our country to achieve justice for all. I also began to realise that change is real promise, but never easy. It required passion and commitment to an ennobling mission. I am grateful to these fine individuals of the Telawi School. It is headed by Khalid Jaafar of Institute for Policy Research (IKD).

Fathi Aris, a liberal thinker, said to me yesterday during our discussion,, “Reformasi is not about political changes. It is not only to topple down a regime. It is wider and more inclusive than that.” The call for reform must be filled with full consciousness by all branches of knowledge, that is, culture, arts, literature, philosophy, and the sciences and religion. Khalid Jaafar, as written by Ayu Utami in ‘Khalid’, complained about the lack of intellectual thinkers of reformasi in this country.

My concern seems to vanish little by little as I reflect on my intellectual journey which is an ongoing process towards self understanding and discovery. The optimism of my friends and fellow traveller is very inspiring. Changes will not happen as fast as we hope. But the process of raising consciousness and our attempt to win hearts and minds of the rakyat must continue. It is a movement, not a “flash in the pants” phenomenon. My iconic friend, Ernesto Che Guevera, said nothing is achieved without passion. Reformasi is a thing of passion.

This reform movement in Malaysia is not about a personality named Anwar Ibrahim, although there is no doubt that he is the catalyst and its charismatic leader. But it is also not because of the weaknesses of Abdullah Badawi in handling and managing this country.

Reformasi is a movement for the future, a movement to enlighten the rakyat to the realities of our existence in a competitive 21st century. There is a whole new world of possibilities and opportunities out there and we, as intellectuals, must open its doors for them. In that way, no government can stupify and mislead the rakyat.

This potrait of a little girl, hugging a wooden doll was recorded 50 years ago by Alberto Korda, the famous photographer who was also known for his greatest masterpiece; the classical potrait of Che Guevara.

The potrait of this little girl later transformed Korda’s view on life. Initially, he was an easy going, carefree guy who had no obejctive in life. Soon after that, while witnessing inequalities, poverty and oppression around him, Korda has decided to dedicate his life and work to struggle in the Cuban Revolution.

I am personally touched when I first time saw this potrait. Imagine, because of poverty, it was just good enough for her to have a piece of wood, carved into a shape of a doll for her toys. I wonder whether the condition in Cuba fifty years ago still exists in a country like Malaysia, a country that celebrates it’s fiftieth anniversary of independent last year.

Frankly, the desire to establish this blog is nothing more than to force myself to write and share my thoughts in English. Besides that, one of my foreign friends from the Philippines whom I met in Sabah recently have been telling me that I should write in English as she didn’t understand Malay (my other blog which was fully written in Malay can be reach by clicking here).

As far as I can remember, the last time I’m using English as a medium of writing was four years ago; which is to complete my assignments for English subject. Since then, I only use English to write engineering reports and answering my examinations.

My interest in English literature started while I am in form 4 (those were the days where you have to study Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18), thanks to Miss Rabiatul Adawiyah, my former English teacher. Without her encouragement, I never knew that learning English can be so fun and easy. Although I have experienced staying in the United States for almost two years, my ability in applying English orally and in writings is not so well.

And so, in order for me to improve these weaknesses, I have started to force myself to read English newspapers after I have finished reading a Malay edition of it. And this practice remains until now and the results are amazing. During my days in primary school, I used to be a voracious reader of Malay story books (investigation series etc.) but after completing my secondary school, I started to read English novels. One of those books that I remembered the most is Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays With Morrie. Starting from that book, I started to enjoy myself reading and analyzing English novels.

Today, English is no more an alien to me although before this I am a bit inferior to use it as my medium of communication. Thanks to my hobby–reading!

Din Merican presented me two books on the South American revolutionary icon, Che Guevara recently. One of them that I have finished reading is Cuba: By Korda, an overview of Korda’s extraordinary camerawork, from his first work as a fashion photographer to “The Quixote of the Lamp Post”, a Cuban peasant sitting on a lamp post above a sea of people during a mass rally. It includes other somewhat quirky and less well-known photographs, such as Castro warily eyeing a tiger at the Bronx zoo and Guevara playing golf.

Another book on Guevara that Mr. Merican gave me is the Self Potrait: Che Guevara, edited by Victor Casaus. It is a remarkable photographic and literary memoir, drawing on the rich seam of diaries, letters, poems, journalism and short stories Che Guevara left behind him in Cuba. Unique among the many books about Guevara, this book has been compiled in close collaboration with Guevara’s family, using exclusive material from his family’s private archives. Revealed for the first time is Che Guevara’s personal world, unveiling his extraordinary candor, irony, dry humour and passion.

Mr. Merican, a veteran radical who recently have been trusted with the responsibility to lead and coordinate operations at Parti Keadilan Rakyat (People’s Justice Party) headquarters in Kuala Lumpur is a voracious reader. He remains youthful and rebellious although he is pushing to 69 this year. And today, he is a very updated blogger. How impressive!

I have been an enthusiastic observer of the American Presidential Election recently. Last year, when he declared his intention in contesting for the Presidential Nomination, Barack Obama has been predicted as one of the candidates that will win the sit for the White House, representing Democrats.

Living in the United States for almost two years had given me, at that time, an eight year old boy the chance to learn the basic definition of democracy. Reading an autobiographical comic on Thomas Jefferson, I then started to dig on the history of previous US Presidents voraciously. Each time after the National Society (a subject about history, culture, geography and the basic democratic system of US) class ended, I will spend my time, asking the teacher various questions involving the history of US Presidents.

She was so excited and explained to me in details all questions that I have raised. One day, after class she called me to meet her and presented me with a long ruler which displayed the faces of all 41 presidents of the United States on it, beginning from General George Washington till the previous president at that time, William Jefferson Clinton.

From that moment, I have started to dream of becoming one of those faces that were displayed on the ruler that my teacher gave me. Upon returning home from school, I told my father about the plan to become the future president of the United States. Father explained that it is impossible for me to fulfill my dream since US wouldn’t let a non-white to lead them as president. I argued that what is wrong with the color of our skin? I am no black like all my African-American friends in school, I’m brown!  My father laughed and explained that our place is in Malaysia, not here in the US.

This year might proof that my father is wrong. I am optimist on this possibility. Citizens of the United States have understood that color and race is no more an issue in electing their leaders. And hopefully this year too will bring changes on the leadership of this country. The rakyat (people) have started to react with disgust on the abuse of democracy. Freedom of expression was denied, medias were controlled, government machinery were misused and justice was molested by corrupted leaders and politicians. We are hoping for a better Malaysia and a more peaceful world. May this year shows us that there are no more chances for leaders that are corrupt and cruel from being elected to sit on the throne of power.