Sunday, February 19, 2006

Impressions 2006

A call was sent out for impressions on 2006. 2005 didn't seem to be all that great a year for religious freedom in Malaysia. Then again Malaysia has always been a place where the mouth and the heart don't always say the same thing. Pretty much the authorities do what they want, the people swear at the authorities in secret and the truth can be found somewhere in between.

The greatest impression I have is of the continued Arabisation of Malaysia and the national dialogue. It's been indeed educational to move out from Malaysia to the birthplace of Islam on a long term assignment. If this is what Malaysia hopes to become then God have pity on all our collective asses. The people here are the same as the people back home. It's indeed universal that everyone wants the same things out life.

We want to have a good time with our friends. I'm sure even the most stodgy mullah and the most adhorent jihadi homicide bomber will have a laugh or two with their buddies down at the tea shop. Back home, that's done over a cup of sweetend tea with milk, here it's over coffee ground fine, but the emotions are the same. Unlike our ways, interruptions exist. Every semblance of normalacy must cease when it comes time to pray. Suddenly conversations must be suspended. Suddenly meetings must be put on hold while everyone gathers to pay homage in the direction of a black box. Surely the work put on hold was something that God created so why is it less holy. Or is it any less holy in the eyes of God? Does it only matter in the hearts of men that prayer must be "religiously" observed on the minute. Will be become an Arabic people afraid of what God means to us going solo without our neighbours standing together with us and bowing in unison?

We want to forget our troubles for a while. To place our burdens down on the highway of life while we take a breather. Maybe it's a glass of wine, maybe it's a good meal, maybe it's some fine music to lift us up out of this mortal coil. The Arabs around me seem to want the same thing yet it must all be kept secret. Secret from whom? Secret from a God who is omnipotent or secret from the control freak who claims his authority comes from God? Drinking goes on but only in secret, eatting goes on but under restrictions of what can and cannot be served as a meal. Music? Try to find a guitar shop in Riyadh. I have yet to find new strings for my guitar. In Malaysia we eat well, we drink heartily and music plays from every direction. Are we going to lose this?

We want to carry on our species. Yes God created man and woman but it's up to us to bring forth the next generation. As part of the glue to hold us all together emotions were also added to the mix. Attraction towards members of the opposite sex which was the little lump of soil where the seed of marraige could be planted and the family (still the most effective social unit ever conceived) would bloom from. A lack of options as to courtship and marraige leads to no emotional anchor for the family. Instead a sense of tribalism where belonging to a group becomes more important. Once the smaller unit is subsumed into the greater and the person surrenders his personal identity he is then one of many. Yet which many is this? Will this biological group be his tribe or will his tribe be led by Osama claiming that he is the Khalifa of Allah? We already see men such as Azahari and Nordiin Top who are willing to forgo kin and join up with Indonesians to wreak havoc in the name of God.

My impressions of 2006 are that Malaysia is charging down this road. We are driving down the wrong way on the road of history hurtling towards Arabism. Think about the anger at the Mohammed cartoons which happened in Malaysia. Is this anger a real thing or are we blindly aping Arabs? Note that it is not against Islam to depict the prophet. Shia Muslims are perfectly allowed to do so. The problem is that most Shia Muslims are Persian (Iranian) and in order to be good little Arabs the nation must be seen to embrace Sunni Islam.

Look at how our laws regarding women and marraige are being structured. Are the laws doing more to build a strong family unit or will they result in weaker families where the man can walk out and his loyalties will eventually be to himself or to a strong personality?

Think about our national aversion to displays of human images. Consider the faux Sphinx in Sunway. No human heads please, someone may bow down and worship. Yet in Malaysia every coffeeshop is festooned with a picture of the king and queen, at least in small towns, and no one I know of has bowed down to worship. On the other hand, Arabs sport pictures of the king on their vehicles. Notice Palestinians or Iraqis having emotional displays with big pictures of people? Yes, it's very Arab to imbue an image with greater than life properties. These are Arabic fears and not Malaysian fears. Yet Malaysia shies away from these fears like good Arabs. Better in fact than the actual Arabs.

My impression of 2006, alas, is that nothing is going to change. When I look at this desolate wasteland, it is with great trepidition that someday my nation could turn into this. One quarter of land in Saudi is named the empty quarter. There is nothing there at all. No one can live there. It would make a great place to dump nuclear and toxic waste. If not for the oil wealth, perhaps that is all this piece of land would be. A wasteland. It already is intellectually and culturally. Only money prevents it from being physically.

Women who are shut out from the system disabling one half of the nation, men who have the same passions as we do but need to do it sneakily like some lad afraid of being caught stealing jam from the larder. Young people who have totally no ambition and many of them jobless. Yet even at that point, looking down on everyone else, the immigrant worker, the lifelong Arab who is not Saudi despite living there his whole life, the person who is not from his tribe.

The richest place in the gulf is Bahrain. Realistic and earthy Bahrain. Embracing the navy of the great satan. Bahrain where even a freakshow like Michael Jackson can find a home. Yet there is a bridge from Dammam in Saudi to Bahrain. Did they build the bridge becuase they had too much money or was it that they realised that this would be a vacuum cleaner to suck out filthy lucre from the coffers of their neighbours who were playing dress up but had to return to the real world once in a while.

Should Malaysia truly go the way of the Arabs then we are sunk. We can ill afford to see our money flowing out to more realistic places. We can ill afford to disenfranchise half our population just to satisfy our vanity in aping another culture. We can certainly not afford to see many who sit around idle because religion gets in the way of vibrant business and scientific endeavour.

It's still early in 2006 and the people of Malaysia still have it in them to determine how this year is going to turn out. Things will be tough. Interest rates are already climbing and the price of gold is at all time highs. Property prices look set to correct massively. An old Chinese curse states that "may you live in interesting times". 2006 looks set to be an interesting time for us all.

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