Friday, March 25, 2011

'Anwar sex video': A matter of depth and penetration (of meaning)

The Malaysian nation had been rocked yet once again with the politics of sex, this time involving the opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. As usual it evokes the usual range of responses or reaction from various quarters. Seeing the whole episode as 'a phenomenon', we can categorize or typify the responses into standard or characteristic forms,which operate almost automatically whatever the 'issues', 'exposure', 'sensation', 'scourge', 'lie' maybe, without being bogged into 'partisan' or 'interested' views, consciously or unconsciously obliged 'to believe' or' not to believe' soundly.

The opposition of course had taken the most natural course of responding. Instinctively it has dissociated, denied the authenticity of the video, and then capitalise. Hence the denial that the main character is indeed the person alleged. Then the issue of content is sidelined or marginalised to become that of the depravity of those behind the whole incident. The issue is redefined as the immoral act of some to 'shame' (mengaibkan), 'disgrace', 'humiliate', linking the issue with past precedence which had somewhat won some public sympathy, in this case the Elizabeth Wong affair. In this manner it is hoped that public attention is deflected from 'content' and 'authenticity' (actual content of video) to 'disqualification' and ' admissibility' (the right of the video to exist is called into question), Strictly speaking this charge of 'mengaibkan' (to shame) refers to the doer and his action, but not to those out to expose it. The pornography is 'shameful' and 'shaming' but not the act of political exposure. By analogy, if a corrupt politician is caught on tape negotiating a shady deal, it is not for him, once exposed, to complain that the exposure is 'embarassing' him. Or at most, the motivation and the morality of those responsible for the exposure should be viewed quite independently of the authenticity and content of the video.  

Then the whole video affair is overblown to fit into 'the dogma of conspiracy'. Almost over nothing, the involvement of the PM, Home Affairs Minister, the Police force were insinuated, the whole affair pronounced as being orchestrated at ' the highest level', all calculated to 'fix' one man . Of course by now this dogma of conspiracy is wearing thin, becoming like a national cliche to those non-doctrinaire. Now the actual meaning of this 'dogma of conspiracy' is interesting and intriguing. Firstly there is a limit to its efficacy. As we know, it is not easy to fabricate truth or lie, even at the lowest level of everyday life. We may succeed in lying to one person, it gets more difficult to lie to two, even more so with three and so on. As the circle of victims gets wider it gets more and more difficult. What more at the national and historical level. You cannot simply fix and arrange a whole complex of cultural or historical phenomena  to support or reinforce your lie or 'conspiracy'. I am sure we realise it is not easy to fix a whole bureaucary, police force, members of public, journalists, battery of witnesses, judges, whole court machinery etc. As the popular expression goes, one may be able to lie to some people all the time, to all the people sometime, but not to all the people all the time.

I am not  as naive as to deny that there can be vested interests or political motives influencing political views or leanings. I am aware too that the nature of politics can involve plots or conspiracy in the conventional sense. But I am certainly sceptic towards ' conspiracy' as dogma: a blanket, instinctive,mechanical, emotional response to whatever political issues of the day. At the bottom of it,' conspiracy' as dogma simply functions as unthinking or fanatical anti-establishment ideology.

As we know the law speaks its own language, but the meaning of life is not entirely represented or monopolised by the legal meaning. For instance the sex video in question do have other meanings, at different depth and penetration. It admits of other angles and perspectives. Depending on positions taken, the video can assume other significance or meaning, deserving our consideration. For example, is it a 'porno'? The content maybe that, but if we consider the circumstances it may not be. Was it shot with a view of the porno market? Is it really meant to arouse, to stimulate, to cater to lust, or is it meant really to record the doing of a politician, with a view of exposure? Is it meant as a product for the porno market or not? Our answer to these questions will make it either a 'porno' or  a 'political document'

. And then there is the question of 'dissemination'. Was it really disseminated? Were copies made and widely distributed in the media, or made public? Actually it was shown not as porno to a sleazy market, but to selected invited senior editors, journalists, public figures with specific relevance. Not quite 'public' or ' porno market'. So  was it a porno item and pornographic dissemination, or simply the preview of a political document in the wider sense?  Whatever we may say about 'gutter politics' etc, the sexual behaviour of top politician or public figures is part and parcel of their public image and political standing, East or West, and history can easily bear this out (Consider Clinton or Christine Keeler?) We still remember the case of the US senator who had to resign over gay solicitation in a public loo.

In the meantime, we note other responses. Wan Azizah had commented why she refuse to watch the video because it is ' haram dan berdosa' (forbidden and sinful). Obvously she is going by the strict or direct meaning of the content. and not as a political document. Some parties are demanding the Trio be arrested for 'possession' and 'disseminating', obviously seeing it as basically 'porno'. Others are advising the public to stop being obsessed with 'sex'  again seeing it essentially as 'porno'. Ustaz Hadi Awang uses the Islamic card, arguing that Islam insists on having four witnesses, missing the point, that is the whole design of the video and modern digital recording, in part playing the role of 'witness'. Or that it can be part of the intention of the Trio in calling the selected niche pre-viewers, not to arouse them but more in the capacity of ' to bear witnesses'

The purpose of this posting is not arrogate myself the truth of the matter, as most of us don't know many details as yet, but merely to share other perspectives, worthy of our attention. Like I say, it is not simply a legal matter, but perhaps more importantly a matter of  penetration and depth (of meaning) beyond the legal.  Having said that, I have faith that truth will prevail if we do not pre-determined the matter prematurely either way. After all who is the person in the video is a question of fact which can be diligently or scrupulously established by proper procedures.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Cat Out of the Bag

I read the news in yesterday’s Malay Mail(15 March 2011) over the demands of 20 animal rights activists that the DAP takes action against its assemblyman and member of parliament, alleged to be siding and protecting ‘cat killer’ Chao Xiao Wei.

The news vividly brought to mind the video. Objectively speaking, it would be an understatement to describe the incident as simply ‘killing a cat’. The recording shows it to be a far more serious or disturbing than this. I must say that it was an act of utter cruelty.

It was a despicable sadistic act. When the perpetrator rained the blows on the poor helpless kitten, she would taunt the mother cat, looking her way after each blow, assessing and relishing the pain she must be causing to the desperate and anguished mother. The whole episode was not simply to ‘kill the cat’ but really a performance calculated to cause maximum pain not to the kitten but more to the mother cat, to torment and torture her against her maternal instinct.  The elements of cruelty is greatly enhanced or heightened considering she was then acting against helpless creatures, which must have given her a sense of absolute power over life and death, clearly evidenced by her mannerism and gestures. When the desperate mother cat courageously tried to save her young ones, she would be intimidated and menacingly drove away by Chao Xiao Wei. We see this happening twice in the video. Why was there a need to deny the mother retrieving and rescuing her kittens?

Then consider the actual act of slowly killing the kitten. She rained a series of blows over the poor helpless kitten, who tried pitifully to crawl  away. And once cornered in a sort of pit, Chao Xiao Wei bludgeoned the kitten half dead with her deadly umbrella.

 And the way she wielded that umbrella is noteworthy. It reminds one of Reihana’s ‘My Umbrella’, albeit the difference. The one uses the umbrella in a seductive artistic dance, while the other in a dance of death,  to torture and snuff life. Chao Xiao Wei actually prances to and fro with her weapon in the recording, to bludgeon the kitten and to menace the mother cat. Watch how she would support herself with her umbrella, one foot neatly tucked slightly behind the other, as if in a dance movement ala Reihana.

 She would take the half dead kitten, cast it down before the mother cat, and then most sadistically stamped on it twice, with all the force of her full weight. She kicked the kitten, a full keeper’s goal kick, in the direction of the mother.

I read in the newspaper, she explained her behavior as follows. She could not control her depression over her parent’s divorce. Frankly speaking, while I normally sympathize with those experiencing depression over personal problems, in this case I failed to see the explanation corresponding with the sadistic nature of the offence perpetrated.

Serdang MP Teo Nie Ching (DAP) said that she and her colleague were not siding or protecting Teo Xiao Wei but merely providing her with a channel to apologize. She added that Teo Xiao Wei has the right to apologize while it is up to the animal right’s activist to accept her apology or not. All this set me wondering. Is the issue of the cat killing merely an issue of animal rights and the concern of only animal rights activists? I don’t think so. In my opinion the nature of the act should outrage our sense of human decency, not necessarily confined to the smaller cycle of animal rights activists.

I am also wondering to whom should the apology be directed? In normal circumstances, if we feel remorseful over our action, it would be ideal if we apologize and make amends to the victims or aggrieved party directly. But then just how do you apologize to a dead kitten and to its grieving mother for sure? Rights and nine lives notwithstanding, animals still depend on the sense of human decency that militates against cruelty.



Friday, March 4, 2011

Race: Substance Over Form

For sometime now, there has been a move to erase 'race' from some official and public forms, both in public and private sector. Yesterday the Star reported the move had been given a new push by the 1Malaysia foundation. The pronouncements of various public figures seem to recognise that the endeavour is wrought with difficulties but justified the move as 'the beginning' and little steps in the realisation of a long-term idealism. In other words, going by their statements, they seem to claim a vision of Malaysia without 'race' as a sense of identification.At the same time I sense many contradictions in their trepidations and a certain awkwardness. They do not seem to be comfortable in their stand, and seemed lacking in confidence and conviction.There is apologetic tone to their admission that 'it won't be easy', ' would be difficult' and its just a beginning. There is also the device of ' erase only in some forms, while it may be necessary to retain in some forms'. The overall intonation conjures an image of people caught in the promises and pronouncements of their own campaign and the demand of consistency, rather than those speaking with the power of their conviction.

I have some comments to share in this connection. I think the question is far more complicated than realised by those in the headlong race to erase 'race' from the forms, even given their trepidations and admission of 'difficulties'.

Within the Malaysian context, the term 'race' and 'ethnicity' is by no means as clean as understood in the academic or scientific sense, where the biological, 'the blood' is distinguished from 'ethnic', the cultural identity. This is particularly so in the case of the Malays, where historically speaking 'race' , 'bangsa' has always been held to be 'cultural' and not ' blood', where self-identity is based on factors like language, religion and way of life. Hence it is valid to raise the question, is the 'race' in the forms asking of one's 'blood', 'biology' or one's cultural roots or socio-historical identity? If it is asking of one's cultural self-identity, which is the case in my assessment, it begs some questions in the light of the suggestion to erase race. What is wrong with it? Is it really possible for people of various denominations to overnight forget and shed their sense of cultural identity? Can the Malays simply trade in their religious identity and cultural history for a clean Malaysian tag? Likewise can the Chinese and Indians and others simply trade in their long cultural history and sense of identity for a Malaysian identity?

 Well those naive enough would object that we need to cultivate the national identity in substitute of other forms of cultural identity. But then we all know, human self -identity is always complex, plural, manifolds and multiple. It is not like a matter of changing one's shirt or the process of branding in the consumer market, where one has only one facet and monolithic at any one time. This is the reality of human sense of the self and there is nothing wrong in this.

Of course I am distinguishing here between 'race' or 'ethnic' as self-identification and 'racism' . They are by no means the same. To have a cultural sense of identity is not being a racist. Racism is more a question of fanaticism and bigotry over one's ' blood', 'biology', and attributing values to it. An extreme example familiar to all of us is nazism, where the self-identification is based on the purity of the Aryan stock, which is claimed to have the monopoly of all the positive human attributes , as against all other 'races', of non-Aryan stock. Now this is racism. To be proud of or to acknowledge one's cultural identity does not presupposes such bigotry. To treat them as the same is not only naive, but very dangerous and of great consequences. For one, such naivety may be camouflaging and championing actual racism of some against the valid sense of cultural-identity of others.

Such moves like removing 'race' from official forms ( even when it is supposed to include the private sector) in the Malaysian context has a hidden danger. It operates on the implicit assumption that 'racism' is the vice of officialdom of the establishment. This is why the moves usually invites the support of 'the public'. Now given the fact that officialdom, the bureaucracy, the civil service, the public sector, the establishment, the status-quo, the 'dominant' is often seen as 'Malay', invariably the 'erase race' movement becomes a one-sided, lopsided, and grossly distorted quest of eradicating 'Malay racism', as if all the other ethnic groups are free of the problem. Now we know the truth is that there is communalism and communalists in all camps and denomination, if we have the courage and honesty to admit it.

Our ethnic identities (often slurred or stigmatised as 'race') run very deep indeed, culturally and historically speaking) As such there is a great deal of naivety in the argument of the 'erase movement', in that 'we do not want the people focus too much on 'race'. Come on! Within the Malaysian context in general the names on the forms itself will announce one's 'race'. In most cases the names would indicate very clearly one's 'race', 'religion', and cultural background. Are they then to standardise the names of Malaysians too, befitting the intention of the 'erase race' move?

There are other realities of our Malaysian nation which represent the deeper roots of our ethnic identities. In the first place ours is a pluralistic society. All the major ethnic groups have their own cultural history, of deeper and older tradition than the Malaysian identity. And there is nothing wrong with this, as I had argued in the above. What is wrong is not ethnic self-identity but communalism, racism, or chauvinism.

 Secondly, our ethnic consciousness is deeply rooted and structural in origin and nature. The economic structure is still divided along 'racial' (ethnic) line. The following economic categories still conform closely to ethnic lines. Rural versus urban, agricultural versus commercial and industrial, professional versus working class etc. The religious denominations still conforms closely to ethnic lines in general. Linguistically, we are still divided. Just consider the attitudes and valuation towards the national language and English or other languages. The political structure is essentially rooted and determined by the various history of 'ethnic' groups. Hence the origin and basis of the national language, official religion, certain provisions of the constitution ( I do not mean only the Malay position, but of the others too). In other words the origin and nature of the nation itself had been the outcome or the synthesis of 'racial' , 'ethnic' proce of bargaining. Take for example the origin and nature of the Malaysian monarchy itself and the sultanates. Are these to be 'erased' too, along with the change of form in the form

Given these deeper roots and the above considerations, I think the move to 'erase' is assuming in saying ' we do not want the people to be conscious of 'race'. Given the deeper roots of ethnic identities, it may well work in the opposite direction. In denying the external expression of such identities, the inner, the emotional, the mental process of chauvinism may well be reinforced. When articulation of legitimate self-identification is denied and stigmatised in naive idealism, it may well lend support for the inner and usually covert, sinister chauvinism among us.

Time to declare my own position as to the 'erase race' move. I think it is quite non-consequential, to leave or erase it. The issue of this posting is not to lend support or objection to it. I just want to provide the bigger picture and the true value of it. Quite independent of the form, ethnic self-identification will continue, given its deeper roots. It is not about to be affected by the forms. Having said this, I do concede as an election move, 'erase race' may prove to be a popular move. It is gimmicky, sensational, of media value and it is quite simply to do because it is essentially a bureaucratic move. And above all, it is just a question of 'form', paper or otherwise, and yet of great political mileage. Is this a safe assumption?