- A habit of the heart
- ‘Cruel and unusual’ – Leaked prison letter from hunger striker Mohamed Soltan
- Freedom of speech: When a human right is sometimes a luxury
Posted: 22 Nov 2014 12:51 AM PST
There was a time when I would not be caught dead supporting Anwar Ibrahim. This was the time of development and the virtues of authoritarianism in getting things done.
Mahathir was my hero. He still is – for the brave stand he took during the 2008 Asian financial crisis against all odds and criticisms from western financial moguls especially against George Soros whom he accused of sabotage. He introduced controls to protect the Malaysian ringgit. That was also the time when he went against Anwar Ibrahim when it seemed that his deputy prime minister was wavering in his support for Mahathir's policies.
Close Filipino friends were in Kuala Lumpur for the trial of Anwar Ibrahim for sodomy. We stood at different parts of the courtroom. I went to see Mahathir in his office outside the city convinced that it was the development path that was more significant than Anwar's fight for freedom and democracy.
The same Filipino friends of Anwar Ibrahim in court have sent his speech in Georgetown University to this column as he awaits the decision from Malaysia's High Court expected any day.
* * *
Ibrahim's speech in Georgetown addresses Filipino reformists of today, too. I like especially the part when he said that he would return to Malaysia soon. He could opt not to. But he said the cause of democracy is a habit of the heart.
He could not leave the youth he had inspired to continue the job. It would be unfair to them. In a way, we who have worked hard for constitutional reform in the Philippines for many years can learn from his speech. Like him we continue to fight against those who would destroy our institutions because we believe that we can mature in a democracy and continue the fight for reform and save our institutions under a rule of law. We must have faith and preserve our values. All this I take to mean as a response equally relevant to us in Bayanko.
It would be so easy to give up, but who is to do it if so many are mesmerized by what they think is progress and development?
* * *
In the same speech, he compares the Reformasi as the journey to Ithaka. This is a poem written by Constantine Cavafy. I would like to share this poem with this column's readers as a source of inspiration to keep them strong and determined for the struggle now and in the days ahead.
"When you set out for Ithaka ask that your way be long, full of adventure, full of instruction. The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops, angry Poseidon – do not fear them: such as these you will never find? as long as your thought is lofty, as long as a rare emotion touch your spirit and your body.
The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops, angry Poseidon – you will not meet them unless you carry them in your soul, unless your soul raise them up before you.
Ask that your way be long. At many a Summer dawn to enter with what gratitude, what joy – ports seen for the first time; to stop at Phoenician trading centres, and to buy good merchandise, mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony, and sensuous perfumes of every kind, sensuous perfumes as lavishly as you can; to visit many Egyptian cities, to gather stores of knowledge from the learned.
Have Ithaka always in your mind.
Your arrival there is what you are destined for. But don't in the least hurry the journey. Better it last for years, so that when you reach the island you are old, rich with all you have gained on the way, not expecting Ithaka to give you wealth. Ithaka gave you a splendid journey. Without her you would not have set out. She hasn't anything else to give you. And if you find her poor, Ithaka hasn't deceived you. So wise you have become, of such experience, that already you'll have understood what these Ithakas mean." It is not just for the few but for the rare and "crazy."
* * *
News reports have been coming out that "we are now in a post crisis period." I was with a group last night who were not aware of the reports. If we are now in this post crisis situation what is the government doing about it?
"The Nasdaq reports that "looking back to between 1945 and 2008, we see that the frequency of financial crises and recessions is quite high: on average, there is one crisis every 58 months (using data from the US National Bureau of Economic Research). In other words, statistically speaking we should expect the beginning of the next crisis in April 2015, which would end by March 2016. So are we in a post- or a pre-crisis period?"
There is another perspective to the crisis. This comes from Jose Alejandrino, member and adviser of Bayanko. He gathers facts that are available in many news reports.
'The Japanese economy sank further in the 3rd quarter after a severe contraction in the previous quarter, pushing it into recession. The Russian economy is on the edge of recession due to economic sanctions imposed by the West as punishment for interfering in Ukraine. The Eurozone is also on the brink of recession due to high debt, low growth, and high unemployment. The German economy, the powerhouse of Europe, only grew by 0.1 percent in the 3rd quarter.?IMF's managing director Christine Lagarde and Bank of England governor Mark Carney warned of a spectre of stagnation sweeping Europe.?The economies of the emerging markets are all slowing down.? All this will impact severely on the US economic recovery.
A world recession cannot but affect the Philippines. In my previous postings, I warned of external and internal factors that will hit the Philippines in 2015. A world economic recession is the external factor. It will reduce considerably the country's exports and manufacturing, increasing further the already high unemployment and poverty rates. These are the internal factors. The social repercussions will add to the revolutionary situation already present in the country with a do-nothing government and wide discontent. It could sweep away the established order."
Is this the divine intervention that will happen to finally awaken Filipinos to the dire economic and political situation in the Philippines?
Posted: 22 Nov 2014 12:48 AM PST
US citizen Mohamed Soltan has been in an Egyptian jail for over a year, and on hunger strike for nearly all of that time. He has smuggled a letter out of prison to mark his 27th birthday today (November 16th). There is also another hearing in his trial today, and the judge in charge of the case is the same one who sentenced the Aljazeera journalists to lengthy jail terms, as well presiding over the trial of known activists Ahmed Douma and Alaa Abdelfatah. The text of Soltan’s letter is as follows:
For the first time in the pre-season, I came late to JV basketball practice. I had made the team at 336 pounds, during my junior year in high school, even though all of my classmates were playing varsity I was just happy to make the team. That day, Coach Slappy looked at me as I entered the gym, and without giving me the chance to explain my tardiness he put his index finger up and circled it in the air, directing me to run laps. I was OK with the punishment for the tardiness, but what I wasn’t OK with was his insistence on the “finger-circling” when I asked and continued asking as I ran, “How many laps coach?”
That day I felt that I had received the worst punishment. I could have ran 100 laps had the coach let me know how many laps I needed to run, but the psychological punishment was, for me, nothing short of torture. That day I ran 29 laps around the basketball court, but every lap felt like it would be the last one. By the time Coach Slappy remembered to tell me to stop I was mentally and physically drained.
I remember this story as my 27th birthday, my second in prison, approaches and as I finish 290 days on hunger strike. One hundred and fifty pounds lighter and exactly 10 years later, I am sitting in an underground Egyptian dungeon reflecting on that basketball season and its relevance to my current circumstances. I have lost the sense of hunger; I lose consciousness often; I wake up to bruises and a bloody mouth almost daily; and physical pain has become the norm, with my body numb as it eats away at itself. None of that is as painful as the psychological torture that the ambiguity of my detention (which is under an indefinite temporary holding law) is imposing. This is a dark and gloomy nightmare; I have no clue about how it descended on me so suddenly; I don’t know how long it will last; nor do I know how and when it will end. Although it is a much more extreme feeling than that of Coach Slappy’s punishment, it is nonetheless similar; mental and physical depletion. I do not know how long until this “punishment” ends, so every day passes like it is the last, slow and excruciating.
And just when the rare tears filled up my eyes as I went down memory lane to that basketball season, it all began to come together. That year I stopped smoking sheesha, lost 60 pounds, worked extra hard every practice, and moved from benching the JV team to 6th-man, to a starter. By the end of the year I was on the varsity basketball team with my classmates.
I realised then that, on that one day when Coach Slappy decided to punish me, he was testing my mental strength, my potential, and whether I had enough heart for the game. He kept this up for the rest of season, and I was certainly transformed into a better basketball player. My mental strength would be cultivated through these tests because I trusted him and that he was making me a better player.
I could not help the tears flowing down my bony cheeks as I thought of my weakness and inability to fully trust in God’s wisdom as much I did Coach Slappy’s. There is no comparison of course; this current test is much more extreme and definitely more painful, but just like the former made me stronger so too is this going to make me stronger. Just like I was prepped to be a better basketball player, I am being moulded by God to be a wiser human being, an effective leader, and a stronger advocate of freedom and peace. My coach’s words, “Hate every moment of training but love and cherish every second of victory,” are ever-so relevant today.
A ray of optimism has lit my heart. That’s the thing about birthdays, anniversaries, New Years, etc.; they inspire reflections over the past, thoughts and emotions around purpose, priorities, plans, future and hope.
I wipe my tears and, just as I begin to prepare for night prayer to thank God for all His blessings, I smile as I remember what I told myself 10 years ago during the 29th lap: “This has an end.”
Lieman maximum security prison
Posted: 22 Nov 2014 12:47 AM PST
Young diaspora Muslims are flocking to Syria and signing up with ISIS to fight in a cosmic war while others plot domestic violence against secularism in their adopted homelands. Nothing as horrific as 9-11 or 7-7 has yet to take place but some believe it’s just a matter of time.
What do western, anti-religion secularists recommend to discourage domestic jihadism? Grit-your-teeth tolerance? Or systematic protest through freedom of speech, manifested in the media as ridicule and humiliation?
Convening recently in October at the spectacular Tower Hotel in London, a two-day conference about The Religious-Right, Secularism and Civil Rights brought critical activists together to discuss the global rise of the religious-Right and how secularism is the only viable solution to this creeping influence.
The UK’s hardcore, anti-religion secularists were in a majority at this conference and it was obvious that most of them believe religious tolerance in their society has gone too far. Political correctness has distorted society’s perception of Islam, they say, giving diaspora Muslims too much breathing space among educated, socially progressive citizens who otherwise cannot stomach theocracy, misogyny or homophobia.
“Is the BBC part of the solution or part of the problem?” someone yelled from the audience on the first day of the conference.
This reference to media deserves attention. Although there were six outstanding panels over the two-day period, none of them focused on freedom of speech and its role in what some interpret as a dangerous rhetoric of gratuitous ridicule. All references to incidents of public anti-Muslim sentiment were celebrated and endorsed by the conference participants, including the recent comments of American comedian, Bill Maher who said on his popular HBO talk show, Real Time that Islam is “the only religion that acts like the mafia.”
Only one of the conference’s speakers warned about the consequences of provoking diaspora Muslims. And he was dimly booed.
Pervez Hoodbhoy is one of South Asia’s leading nuclear physicists and social activists, perhaps one of Pakistan’s most esteemed intellectuals. He gave an informative presentation entitled: “Has the Islamic State Ever Been a Historical Reality?” Hoodbhoy is a man worth listening to yet his closing comments were not well received.
(To paraphrase:) “Free speech can be a luxury and sometimes it is not worth the consequences.”
After eight years, the existential question still haunts many Danes: were the Mohammed cartoons worth the lives of the 200 plus that died in the subsequent riots of 2006?
Many ideological secularists might very well say yes; that free speech trumps any and all practical considerations for a peaceful relationship with Muslims (or any other religious community).
Nevertheless, research has demonstrated that intentional ridicule of Muslims is undeniably counter-productive to peaceful co-existence. Take as an example, the anti-Muslim subway ads in 2012 that called Palestinians “savages,” i.e., uncivilized, barbaric and ferocious; less than human.
It’s humiliating to call someone savage. And humiliation matters.
Humiliation is visceral and existential. The Latin root of ‘humiliation’ is ‘humus,’ which translates as ‘dirt.” “When you are humiliated, “says psychiatrist and philosopher, Neel Burton, “you can almost feel your heart shrinking.” Psychologists say that a person who has been humiliated often becomes preoccupied or obsessed by his humiliation and may react with rage, fantasies of revenge, sadism, delinquency, or terrorism.
Shame and humiliation are factors virtually always cited by the social psychologists and political scientists that study religiously driven terrorism. Why? Because feelings of humiliation are one of the most frequently cited “root causes” of the conversion to radical Islam. One Palestinian trainer of suicide bombers has said: “Much of the work is already done by the suffering these people have been subject to. . . Only 10 percent comes from me. The suffering and living in exile away from their land has given the person 90 percent of what he needs to become a martyr.”
We’re better informed today than we were in 2005-2006 and many of us who live in Denmark have a more nuanced understanding of the cartoon crisis. We’ve taken a step backwards and looked at the cultural context in which it happened.
And here it is:
Denmark is one of the most civilized societies on planet earth with highly ethical citizens, yet this rigorous Scandinavian culture has also bred a roughness of character in Danes whereby their DNA is coded with irony. In Denmark, you must not take yourself too seriously. Everybody is a candidate for mockery or the butt of a joke. Danes even make fun of their Royal family.
Consequently, the concepts of shame and dishonor are almost unheard of.
Zurich University has more to say about this. In a famous study about shame and the fear of ridicule - gelotophobia - they compared Danish culture to 72 other countries. At the top of the chart in first place is the Middle East with Asia in second place. Denmark is at the very bottom in 72nd place.
Did Jyllands-Posten’s editors expect that people would die in response to the cartoons? Of course not. Just as fish can’t perceive the water they swim in, the journalists who commissioned the cartoons – because they are Danish – didn’t understand the significance or consequences of shame and humiliation. Their agenda was simple. They wanted Muslim immigrants to “get over” being so sensitive. They wanted them to act just like Danes.
But in the absence of a cultural precedent for irony, mockery and self-ridicule, it was like slapping a baby.
It took courage for Pervez Hoodbhoy to stand before the London secularism conference and warn us about gratuitous offense; how we should avoid humiliating diaspora Muslims, if we can. But it wasn’t a message many people wanted to hear. “What’s our alternative?” someone yelled to him from the audience.
Yes, indeed. This is the question. Is there an alternative to peaceful co-existence? Anti-religion secularists might dream of the day when human experience does not include religion, but it’s not likely to happen any time soon, most certainly not in our lifetime.
What do we do in the meantime?
One option is to try and convert one billion Muslims to atheism. Another is to support the growing movement of progressive Muslims, the ones that mainstream media hardly ever mention.
Progressive Muslims integrate human rights into their catechism, including full agency for women and their LGBT colleagues. They support the separation of church and state and are grateful for procedural secularism that protects them from their enemies: internally, the ones who call them apostates; and externally, the ones who say they are “not Muslim enough” to be taken seriously. You can read about these independent thinkers in Critical Muslim, a quarterly magazine of ideas and issues that features revolutionary thinking about Islam and what it means to be a Muslim in an interconnected world.
And as for hate-speech-as-free speech, I vote for a large dose of common sense.
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