Village idiots

Yesterday, the great paragon of virtue Mohamed Ali Rustam, the Chief Minister of Malacca, “suggested” that the Federal Government revoke the citizenship of Bersih chairman Ambiga Sreenevasan because, in his view, she clearly intends to cause “chaos in the country” with the forthcoming Bersih rally on the 9th inst. and that it is therefore “better to lose one person than lose a lot of lives.” (Here is the Malay version of the story—it differs somewhat from the subscription-only English report, but never mind.)

Never mind the questionable logic and notwithstanding Ali Rustam’s admission that the source of violence lies within his own band of primitive imbeciles (“I worry that Pesaka [his troop of warmongers] will not be able to control the emotions of its members. In the meeting just now, I can see that our members are also on fire already. If anything happens to anyone, we should not be blamed. Ambiga has to bear all responsibility”), the problem with Ali Rustam and those like him is that for some bizarre reason they believe that every Malaysian citizen who is not an ethnic Malay or not otherwise a “native”—to wit, they are Chinese, Indian, European, or whatever—derive their citizenship by virtue of jus soli.

To be sure, the instrument of Federation, i.e. the Constitution, provides for precisely that derivation at the time the country was established (1963, not 1957); but if any of these idiots had bothered to read the damned thing and our laws of citizenship they would discover that:

a) subsequent to Malaysia Day, citizenship is granted automatically by the application of lex sanguinis—that is to say, blood. A child of a Malaysian is a Malaysian if born in the country. If born outside the country, the right of blood is patrilineal, and so on. Jus soli is applied automatically only in cases where a child born in Malaysia would otherwise be stateless (this, incidentally, happens quite frequently and the right is frequently ignored); and

b) you may revoke citizenship granted only by naturalisation, and even then under very specific conditions.

And if they were to read a little more they would discover that you may not render a person stateless, nor can you revoke citizenship gained by jus sanguinis unless that person becomes a citizen of another country (since we enforce the single-citizenship rule). If you were crafty, you might try to revoke the citizenship of someone’s pre-Merdeka ancestor in order to effect what you imagine to be the de facto denaturalisation of that person, but to do this you must dig up the ancestor and put the corpse on trial for treason.

I have posted previously that I will not take part in Bersih 2.0. This does not mean that I am in support of the Government, Perkasa, the Police, the Home Minister, and so on. But I do wish to point out, again, that like begets like. If the reasons for Bersih 2.0 were clear—for example, to present a petition to the King requesting that something be done to clean up the electoral rolls and to make the election process transparent and accountable; or even to prevent gerrymandering—then that would have my full marching support as it did in 2007.

But when the “demands” of the “People” become cries for a return to the glorious days of Malaysia’s wealth of natural resources and talent, or that the Barisan Government is evil and should be brought down, then no, I will not support it. This, if I am unclear, doesn’t mean that I support an evil and corrupt regime (I do of course, but it’d have to be my own regime, not someone else’s)—it means merely that I support free and fair elections, and a process whereby, should the Barisan Nasional win, there would be no question of electoral victory. This would apply equally to the Pakatan Rakyat, or Parti Islam, or the Communist Party of Malaysia which is apparently still alive and kicking.

Moreover the kind of blind adherence to the anti-Government position that the Bersih march has inspired is fundamentally dangerous. Why? Because it is the same blind adherence that put the Barisan in power in the first place and kept it there for over half a century.

“If you are not with Bersih, you are against free and fair elections.”

Does that kind of thinking not worry you?

Why I cannot support Bersih 2.0

I was at the first Bersih march in 2007, and I was at the lawyer’s march before it and Hindraf after, where I was shot at with tear gas and hosed down together with a great mass of 60-year-old “threats to national security” who were simply fed up with they way they had been treated.

Hindraf was an odd thing. The protestors were by and large Indian, dark-skinned, polytheists (that is, Hindu for ye who have not a clue what I am talking about), and certainly not middle class. Did anyone give a crap about them? Well, not really, but that needn’t detain us now I suppose. It certainly didn’t detain us then.

I appreciate the demands of Bersih 2.0. They are my demands. Most of them. I think indelible ink to be silly if the process itself can be guaranteed to be fair. I also think that “Stop Corruption” and “End Dirty Politics” (items 7 and 8 respectively) are journeys, possibly painful journeys, that we must undertake. The whole bloody thing will cost us dearly and we must be prepared to pay the price.

I am. I’m sure you are too.

But it doesn’t consist in merely handing over a memo and claiming moral victory, or going to gaol and claiming martyrdom. Handing a memorandum to the Palace alone achieves nothing other than the satisfaction of having shown your strength. This is the same satisfaction UMNO and Perkasa seek. Claiming that if you are not with Bersih, then you are against free and fair elections is the same as saying if you don’t subscribe to Ketuanan Melayu, you can fuck off. Saying “March in July or emigrate” is the same as saying “Juden heraus!”

Not everyone thinks the way you do, and that, unfortunately, is a fundamental principle of democratic engagement.

What exactly does Bersih stand for? Its original eight demands? Or the demands of the Pakatan Rakyat? Is it a political protest led by Anwar Ibrahim, who possesses the power to call off the march if that pink-lipped idiot in Putrajaya accedes to Bersih’s demands? What the hell kind of “engagement” is that? Or is it a protest to which Sdr Lim Kit Siang can invite all to join? Whose protest is it? I thought it was the peoples’. Not the politicians’.

And as for that ridiculous arse-wipe Khary Jamaluddin [no last name], for God’s sake have the courage to be in the country when the shit hits the fan.

Pandora’s Box

Pandora, by D.G. Rossetti. The inscription on the happy meal box is "Ultima Manet Spes" = Hope remains last.

According to the story, Pandora opened her box (i.e. a pithos, or large jar—the thing that Diogenes lived in) and all the evils of the world flew out, to wit, every “burdensome toil and sickness that brings death to men”. I don’t know who translated this (I found it on Wikipedia), but the idea is clear: Pandora oughtn’t have opened the box. By the time she got round to closing the lid, only one thing was left inside: hope.

Have you ever stopped to ask what was hope doing in there in the first place?

“Zeus wollte nämlich, dass der Mensch, auch noch so sehr durch die anderen Uebel gequält, doch das Leben nicht wegwerfe, sondern fortfahre, sich immer von Neuem quälen zu lassen. Dazu giebt er dem Menschen die Hoffnung: sie ist in Wahrheit das übelste der Uebel, weil sie die Qual der Menschen verlängert.”

That is, Zeus wanted that people should not throw away their lives despite being tortured so much by all the other evils, but to keep being tormented forever, over and over again, to which end he gave them Hope: she is really the most evil of evils, for she prolongs the agony of humanity. (Fried. Nietzsche, Menschliches, Allzumenschliches, 71—loose translation by my dictionary, but you can also get it from any edition of Human, All Too Human.)

Many scholars have found this idea unacceptable and have sought refuge in interpreting the original word elpis (the whole thing is from a story by Hesiod), which is usually translated as “hope”. Instead, they look to “expectation”, and posit “expectation of bad” (as opposed to “good” or “Flying Spaghetti Monster”) as the answer most relevant to the discussion.

The thing then degenerates into what Hesiod intended to say. I have no idea if he was a grim bugger like the rest of us, but it is clear to me that, on the principle of Occam’s Razor, Nietzsche’s argument makes better sense. Besides, anyone can demonstrate the fallacy of the “expectation of bad” argument by expecting the worst. Zeus did not shield me from dates that I knew would go straight to hell. Nor any ancient Greek, for that matter. Therefore, “expectation of bad” cannot still be in the jar, can it?

But Nietzsche can’t be right either, can he? however romantic the idea might sound. If Hope is still in the jar, how can she go about her nasty business? And yet, she does; and the expectation of good daily torments more people than I count, including myself. We hope for a better government, and are presented with a centuries-long stream of idiots (one or two exceptions merely prove the rule). We hope for the unity of quantum physics and general relativity. We hope for the love of those whom we love. We hope for happiness, peace and security. We hope to understand what the hell David Lynch meant with all those embryos.

Hesiod got it wrong. Hope escaped. All that remains in the jar is nothing or Gimbleyboop.

How I came to be a fascist party-pooper

If you live in Malaysia you’d have to be an utter worm not to notice that, at some fundamental level, the Government has gone off the rails. No one since Dr Mahathir has had the sheer balls to provide anything remotely resembling leadership—by which I mean doing what you think is good for the people even if the people are too daft to understand it.

Do you remember Morgan Freeman’s (i.e. Nelson Mandela’s) line in Invictus when he’s about to go head-on with his comrades at the sports club? Mahathir isn’t Mandela, but the principle is the same.

Now Dr M did a lot of things that I have a problem with, one of which being the complete emasculation of toadies I mean politicians to the point that we have the very same problem that I referred to earlier. That is the price to pay for leading a third-world country filled with peasants. Singapore has the same problem although by and large they lack the courage or plain recklessness to admit it.

There was also the business with the University and University Colleges Act and the judiciary, which, under his watch, turned into a pack of criminally negligent complaisant fools who make a virtue of betraying their oaths to the Constitution. They might hold me in contempt of court, but I hold the Courts in contempt of the People. And it is very easy to appeal to “the People” isn’t it? Everyone does it, and everyone inevitably falls for it. This is what happens when we have things like the University and University Colleges Act, but the People, such as they are, are too damned silly to protest.

Dr M governed by a mixture of abject fear and blind devotion that makes for a good study of classical Machiavellian political practice in an era of developmental economics. I just made up that last bit because it sounds somewhat intellectual. Politicians do this also, and people fall for it for the same reason. “I stand for civil society!” or transparency and accountability in administrative processes or whatever when really it’s merely ABU (Anything But UMNO).

People rally behind banners because they desperately want something to believe in, and they want to believe in leaders who are fundamentally “good” according to some definition that is as hazy as “the People” itself.

What these fools don’t realise is that this kind of unthinking activism in the cause of a “democracy” they don’t understand, or a ” civil society”, whatever the hell that is supposed to be, works according to exactly the same dynamic by which an individual or group achieves totalitarian control. By rallying to a cause, they devote themselves equally blindly to Anwar Ibrahim, the DAP or PAS or Perkasa in the same way that they once rushed to prostrate themselves before Dr Mahathir’s feet. And by and large our politicians are cunning enough to know this, or at least they understand how to use the dynamic to their temporary advantage. And the advantage is always temporary because the other side (or rivals on your own side) will eventually find some new toy to play with.

But none of them has the strength and conviction to provide national leadership. To do so in this country you’d have to be Hitler, or Mahathir. Even Mandela would not succeed. Our politicians  play to the mob’s tune, and so someone like Zaid Ibrahim will go from Messianic hero to abject party-hopping villain (which he might really be) in the blink of an eye, while his lot decry their once-Beloved Leader Anwar as a snake in the grass (which he might really be) just as quickly. That’s all fine by me—it’s political business as usual—but what I fail to understand is the People’s capacity to be perpetually bamboozled by the same thing over and over and over again.

Silly buggers.

So much for the New Malaysia. Meanwhile the Old Malaysia is falling apart.

The People seem actually to want a fascist dictatorship because they want nothing more than to trust in a leader who will do their thinking for them. Sometimes I think this is unavoidable. The internet allows the common citizen to voice his or her concerns in public fora, but far too many common citizens are thugs. The internet in Malaysian political life has done little more than to make shoddy thinking ubiquitous.

This might all change with time and education, but if the history of political education teaches anything, it’s that it usually changes only with blood.

The Children

It was the wind-age, the wolf-age. The end of the days of Gods and men. Fenris the Wolf, unleashed, engulfed the sun and another, his child, seized the moon. It was the time of Fimbulvetr, the terrible winter; and, without hope, the face of Hel reflected in every pool, beckoning with the dish called Hunger and the knife called Famine.

Out of the depths came the dragon Jǫrmungandr, the Miðgarðsormr, Serpent of the Middle Earth, who was cast into the sea and there grew monstrous; encircling, grasping his own tail, containing all within himself. His was the fate of humanity: releasing his grip, that which was called the world would fall, disperse, and so, end. And at the rising of his siblings, he spewed forth the venom of ages, rending the sky and the earth.

I stood before the world’s sad ruin.

“Why do you tarry?” asked the Wolf, who would defy the tyranny of the heaven. “Can you not see how the Gods, even now, assemble a brilliant host that will end us, just as we shall end them?”

“Why do you tarry?” asked Hel, who, hobbled by the Gods, would comfort the suffering of life with the sweet oblivion of death. “Can you not see Naglfar there upon the waves of my brother’s creation? It is the ship that is built from dead men’s nails. So desperately do Gods and men fear it and the one it bears!”

“Why do you tarry?” asked the dragon in the shuddering of the earth. “Can you not see that none shall remember us? That even now the shadow of what we were passes away with the tide?”

I made no answer and the children of Angrboða turned at last to face their bitter enemies upon the Plain of Vígríð. There I saw the sundering of the world and the last breath of hope.

For even as the children of Angrboða fell to their enemies, their enemies fell in turn to them. And the children of the fallen Gods would flee to the field of Iðavöllr, there to await the renewal of Power and the repopulation of the world from its two remaining survivors. The waters would recede. The fields would return to green. The Tree of Life would flower, even fruit. The last hope of Ragnarökr.

But they were all of them mistaken; for out of the deserts of the East rose a new Power. One who would countenance neither rival nor friend, who would cover the earth in a final darkness and desire only submission to His Authority, and against whom only one would ever dare bring a light in all the long ages of the world.

But that is a story for another time.

Now I looked upon the slain children of Angrboða, the dead upon the fields, and the mirror that was broken.

I vow to thee my country

I have been insulted, spat on, threatened with arrest for sedition and for breaching the Official Secrets Act and the ISA, tear-gassed, chased down the road by the police in armoured trucks armed with water cannons, reprimanded, censored, and blackballed for what I have said, done, and believed. This is a great lark and the cops know it and I know it, so all’s fair in love and war. We know the terms of engagement and we do what we can when we can to satisfy our respective masters, yes?

Lately, however, I have been guaranteed hell-fire for my blasphemous behaviour by people who have not met me. To be sure, I am an intolerant, self-serving bounder (there’s a word you haven’t heard in a while) and I deserve most of what I get. I am an elitist bigot who believes that wilfully stupid people ought to be exterminated or put to work for the greater good of the community until they learn that their petty and ignorant points of view are utterly disgraceful. I believe that people who deliberately degrade the environment are criminals. I believe that those who are able to lead have a duty to do so; but also that they have no damned idea what “duty” means. So and and so forth.

I am unIslamic, unChristian, and am definitely not kosher even though I do not eat various kinds of meat. I am, in short, a Nazi. Or a Malaysian liberal, which is much the same thing, except I am a traitor and I am not a vegetarian.

I have passed the point where I can physically give a crap about what Harussani Zakariah says, or Ib Ali, or Chua Soi Lek, Waythamoorthy, Lim Kit Siang, Najib Razak, Tony Pua, the White-Haired Raja, Anwar Ibrahim, Liow Tiong Lai, Jeff Pairin, Muhyiddin Yassin, Ridhuan Tee, Khalid Ibrahim, Lim Guan Eng, Bung Mokhtar Radin, or any other bloody politician, religious authority, or Malaysiakini correspondent except Mariam Mokhtar and two or three other journalists.

Did you ever wonder that all these assholes thrive on public support?

The Malaysian Experiment is a dark and dangerous one. It is an homunculus bred from dangerous alchemy that feeds on human blood and dreams. It can kill us all at any point, or save us. It whispers nasty things in our ears: our worst fears and most cherished hopes, which are often the same thing. But it is ineffable and sadly we have given up trying to understand it. It is almost as if it doesn’t matter to us any more because we are resigned to the idea that whatever will happen will happen inevitably, whether we like it or not.

We expect the worst. When someone cocks up, like a headmistress who mouths off rather clever racist witticisms, we say that “we expected it all along”. We live hand-to-mouth, day to day. But even this is not a revelation. The child in the Kuala Lumpur krash pad or Petrina Chee’s school knows it to be true, and has since before 1957, or 1963 for that matter, but so does the fat cat on the ninth floor of the Bukit Bintang corporate office or any other lardy Hilton-dining pig whose “national service” involves “payment” from an allegedly grateful nation. The fact that I don’t have to spell out any names should tell you enough. Any bloody fool in downtown Kuala Lumpur knows it.

Some people who are not Malay make an issue of the fact that they habitually wear the baju kurung and speak Malay as a matter of course. Good for them, I think. I admire the strength of their convictions, their dedication and their patriotism. But I deplore the fact that they have to make an issue of it in the first place because this leads us nowhere but back into the unending spiral of suspicion, disappointment and hatred that we all seek to avoid regardless of what any race-champion, alim, or journalist tells us. Right?

I hope so. “I got nothing but affection for those who sail with me,” Bob Dylan said in a song that Sheryl Crow sang.

You could be my enemy. But I should very much prefer it if you would be my friend.

Death wish

I want to go to Krakatoa,” said the sibling the other day. “You just want another excuse to go to Java Banana.”

Sibling doing her thing at the edge of Bromo, what remains of the still-active volcano (the top has blown off completely) within the larger Tengger caldera.

This is not entirely true. I have a mind to go to Krakatoa also, and, besides, there isn’t much point setting foot in the same place twice without firm purpose no matter how impressive the landscape or hotel facilities.

That said, we reached the Tengger caldera and the Sea of Sand (more like the Desolation of Smaug) after about a week running helter-skelter through the Java interior by rail, road, becak, foot, taxi, horse, getting on the wrong overnight train to Surabaya and somehow managing to stay on it, etc. And unlike the flat sprawl of urban Jakarta or the sunburnt northern coast near Cirebon, the south of the island is wet, green, and can be freezing cold especially when you haven’t yet learnt how to operate the hot-water machine.

The Indian Ocean, from Pantai Karang Bolong.

One evening we found ourselves on  an empty and very alien beach looking out to the Indian Ocean. These are places of a power more ancient than the coming of the major religions to the island, than imperialism and democracy, than physics and the laws of nature as we now understand them.

That is not dead which can eternal lie.
And with strange aeons even death may die.

It is entirely up to you whether you want to see it as the domain of the Old Ones or as a remnant that somehow escaped the rationalisation of the Lebenswelt, or whatever suits your fancy. I should certainly employ my time more constructively by working for one of the Agencies or the ICRC, but that is not the point and it strikes me as foolish, self-serving and delusional to dress up my foolish self-serving delusions as anything other than what they are: all I know is that I am periodically seized by a fey attitude and will be compelled to go and stand at the edge for no damned reason.

Some years ago I flew down to Singapore for the afternoon to talk to Ian Rankin, the Scottish crime writer, who was on a tour to promote his latest book. We sat by the pool of the Goodwood Hotel and talked about evil (we also talked about Iain Banks’ then-current research into distilleries, but that is a story for another time). Rankin believed that there was no capital-E Evil so much as each of us possessed the potential for the small-e type—indeed we each often had the desire for it and it is only through our failure to act that we have so far preserved the Order.

And then last night I tried to persuade a good Catholic of the existence, omnipotence and all-encompassing amorality of the Demiurge whose claim to Singularity was disputed by his own mother: “Thou art mistaken, Samael”. This is an old story that few people remember and I have no idea why I brought it up and argued it so vehemently the way the liberals in my country rely on arguments for racial superiority when trying to promote equitable access. “The Magisterium has been peddling lies,” I remember saying, though I can’t quite remember precisely why or how this fit with my views.

“It is like the old days in Florence all over again,” I told the sibling. “That fellow Savonarola. There will always be crazy people in every generation.” They might be good or evil, but invariably they will set things on fire and be killed.

None of this makes much sense to me any more, but that doesn’t seem to make a difference to anything.