Friday, November 25, 2005

What the hell hit me?

Okay, so I sent a comment to Jeff Ooi’s blog about this particular post :

I don’t know about the rest of you, but the reason why I didn’t talk about the technology behind the whole leak was because I didn’t give a damn on the authenticity of the video, or where it came from. I instead focused on the rather sorry state of the relationship between the police and the community they were supposed to be protecting.

The fact that technology uncovered this means nothing. The issue was that we were, and still are, so willing to believe it, because that’s how we view the police. Whether this was because of the actions and the integrity of the police or the administration or something that is inherent in Malaysians, I don’t know.

Oh, and Jeff… I am a reader of your blog, I admit that. People have called me your h0, and there’s a grain of truth in what they say. But you know something? Sometimes you can be a big jerk. This, matey, is one of those times.

Thumbs down.

Here’s his response:

JEFF OOI says: I don’t make a living out of blogging, much less am I here on a beuty parade or on a popularity race. So, must I give a damn as to what/how you feel so long as I keep my e-space serene and rational? If you urge to hand down decree, go jerk it elsewhere. Here, you play by my rules.

Huh. Intellectual masturbation reference, and then implied insult to my ‘lifestyle blogger’ position. Which I don’t even care about, since I’ve never really done the whole “blogging as a lifestyle” thing.

I honestly don’t know how to think about this. Okay, so… I come into his blog, knowing full well that I do play by his rules. Yeah, okay, so probably I walked into that.

For some reason I keep getting the feeling that the response I got from him was not proportional to the “attack” or decree I made. I made a decree? What, who voted and made me Member of Parliament?

I am, actually, kind of in shock. Mind you, Jeff’s always struck me as a bit of a robot. I’ve never had any meaningful interaction with him, other than the usual rare, curt and brusque reply. His posts tend to be impenetrable, or at the very least, not aimed at my target market. Maybe because I’m a popularity race or beauty train blogger. Yeah, that’s probably it.

I’m still thinking about whether this crossed the line between firm reminder and Going Too Far.

Hell, I’m still thinking whether what I said or did was wrong or not. I guess this is what happens when someone big bitch-slaps you around. You stagger around, in shock.

Naked Woman Police Brouhaha

I heard the news. And worse still, later on, I saw a series of stills that purpotively capture the act, as it is, with its pants down. There is, predictably, even commentary about the whole issue.

I’m going to take the best-case scenario and assume the video is fake. Not because I believe it is, or I want to believe that it is (quite the opposite, actually), but I want to show you how effective my argument is, even if the video was proven to be fake.

Malaysians And The Law.

Malaysians have an interesting relationship with the law. The best way we can describe it is, very probably, “If we can ignore it we will.” We’re not very law abiding—pirated goods still sell pretty strong, traffic laws are mostly optional, and generally we’re free to do what we like so long as we pay the monetary price.

It isn’t exactly cynicism, really. Take a look at the news, and you might suddenly realize that if you do have the money and the right connections, you might even get away with murder. Allegedly.

What, Us?

Is there something wrong with us? Some fundamental flaw that makes us incapable of following the law, either through the letter or its spirit? Are Malaysians, genetically, incapable of following the law?

I don’t really think so. Part of it lies with the impression we get from the news—that yes, if you’re clever enough, and if you’re subtle enough, you can escape from anything, on a technicality and public prosecutor incompetence. Crime doesn’t get punished here, not really.

The other reason, the one I’ll be going to at length, is our relationship with the police.

Bad Boys Bad Boys…

The police have been trying to get people to trust on them more for the past few years. You’ve seen the posters and signs—“Rakan COP”, and the like. They’ve been trying to bring the message that the Royal Malaysian Police are competent, transparent, and especially, especially, don’t fucking doubt it or we’ll fucking sue you, bitch, not corrupt.

They’re not succeeding. Partly because, hey, the aren’t exactly competent, transparent and not corrupt, but the solution to that one is particularly obvious—stop being incompetent, not transparent and corrupt. The second reason is a little harder to deal with, and involves a paradigm shift not only in the RMP, but in Malaysian society in general.

What ‘choo Gonna Do When They Come For You?

The police force owes a lot to the Communist Insurgency. When you have an insurgency, folks, your police force needs to be good at several things to enforce the law. One of these things is that you start getting good at—specializing in, even—controlling the populace by fear.

You’ve got to give credit where credit is due, of course—the police are amazingly skilled in some things. If you want someone to handle riot control, you really can do much worse than Malaysian police. If you want checkpoints, same thing. Ditto suppressing terrorism and the like. Our cops are just that good1.

The problem is, the real problem behind all of this is that they haven’t moved with the times.

Cops, Actually.

If anything, what I loved the most about my time overseas was to see a different relationship between the police and the local community.

The police in the London Metropolitan area don’t, let’s face it, have an awesome reputation either. They shot some kid dead without due process, didn’t they? But the fact was, they responded well. The London community trusts the police to a degree, and the police find that their work in enforcement is a lot easier.

Yeah, it is actually easier to obey the law when you know that the police are on our side. It stops being a matter of lawbreaking being something you do to “stick it up to the man” and more that lawbreaking becomes something that goes against your interest in the end.

Bad Attitude

It boils down in the end to our attitude towards the law. The law, imposed by an external force, is a burden. But the minute a society realizes, or is made to realize, that obeying the law, all the time is to their best interests, they do. This isn’t foolish optimism—the idea in itself is based on Skinnerian psychology. Rewards are better than punishment.

It’s something that not only our police fail to understand. The music industry here fails to understand that as well, with their campaign against media piracy. It is pointless to try the legalistic argument in Malaysia—no one trusts or necessarily obeys the law.

Who cares if it’s fake?

Who cares if the video is fake? The fact is, the video is seen as conforming to our view of what policemen do. You may have, no doubt, heard some stories. They don’t exactly protect and serve in those tales, do they?

The thought of cooperating to the police for your own good is alien to the mind of many Malaysians. What we do instead is cooperate because of fear of greater punishment.

What kind of incentive is that?


1 Or maybe not, if you hear rumors about how we’re supposedly the terrorist hub in the region. We might actually be, you know.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Hard Science, Fuzzy Belief

I agree with a lot of what Richard Dawkins says, especially with his views on pseudo-science, New Age beliefs, and the current obsession with combining science and religion into one coherent, harmonious whole.

I think, like him, that it’s a load of crock. It’s bullshit, it’s stupid, it leads to bad science and even worse religion.

I’ll get to that bit a little later. Here’s the funny clincher, though—I think Dawkins, and atheists in general, have gotten religion wrong.

The Un-Nameable Cause

The ironic thing about my beliefs is that I am a hard scientist. I like my science hard and deterministic, the universe devoid of any intrinsic unifying meaning, there being no Great Bearded Being in the sky.

And yet, I am a Muslim. Yes, I hold witness to the affirmation that there is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger.

It seems like there’s a contradiction there. Let’s leave that contradiction for a bit and revisit it later.

Reason and reason alone.

Listen to the fight between the forces of Reason and Enlightenment versus the forces of Faith and Superstition and you’d think that there was only one way of seeing the world, One True Way, and all other ways were… well, stupid. Foolish. Misguided. Nonsense, meaningless.

This of course fails to take into account on what role faith and reason have in the modern world. We know reason has a role—take away reason and you can see the immediate consequences, economically, politically, militarily. But it seems that if you take away faith, nothing happens. Apparently.

Which is ironic, since religious fundamentalism and New Age quackery is on the rise, despite our best damn efforts to leave superstitious claptrap behind. The promised fruits of abandoning Old-World Superstition—the end of killing, the abandonment of war, the elimination of self-righteous blindness—seems even further than ever.

One of the arguments that anti-religious people seem to trot out—that religions inspires people to do horrible, horrible things—looks hollow in the face of this cold historical fact: that the driving force behind the the biggest human and technological catastrophes of the past 100 hundred years wasn’t even religion.

The Real Killer

It isn’t. Take the top five catastrophes. And I mean the top five, in terms of what impact it had on how many people. You’d be surprised. September 11th, however horrible it was, doesn’t even come close to what we can do to each other.

Hiroshima. Chernobyl. The Soviet Gulags. The Killing Fields. The Great Leap Forward. Exxon Valdez. While to say that religion didn’t play a part in at least some of these is preposterous—but it wasn’t the be-all and end-all. There were other causes—technology run amuck. Nationalism. Racial hatred. Ideological insanity.

Even the even that shaped our national policy today—the May 13th riots—was less about religion and more about the politics of race and economics of inequality. Religion wasn’t fashionable then, as it is now. We did not need to cry out for ‘jihad’ then as we do now.

But the parade of horrors I’ve just shown you was meant to tell you one thing—you do not need religion to justify your horrors. We thought it was, once. We were wrong.

But enough of that. Let’s talk about something else.

Meat and Bread.

But what good is religion? It doesn’t explain the universe—it’s terrible at it, and attempts like Intelligent Design and trying to justify universal events through Scripture just read like a rather pathetic attempt of stealing the throne science wrested away very recently—at least in historical terms—from religion.

You’ve lost the throne, children. Move on.

Science does a great job in giving us explanations. It doesn’t do a lot good for meaning... at least for me. Some people don’t need it, which is why they can find wonder and joy in the real world. But those people aren’t everyone, at least not yet. Maybe not ever.

For others, there’s always those nagging questions: “Why? What are we doing here? Do we need to do anything? What is the sum total meaning of my life, really? Am I here merely to exist, to breed until I cannot, and then, to merely die? Why should I?”

And here’s the moment where you think I’ll sell you religion, right?

The search of meaning

That, ladies and gentlemen, is what preoccupies us a lot these days. We look for something to anchor us, to give us context in our lives, to make some sense of it all. Yes, we are a collection of baryonic particles held together by coincidence and goo, transient and evanescent.

Try getting out of bed in the morning for that. Believe me, I tried. For two fucking years. Didn’t work. Got diagnosed with depression.

The Real Use of Religion

Religion is a tool, much like anything else is a tool. I am a Muslim, because, you know, that’s what I am. I tried atheism for a while, you know. I couldn’t do it—I was raised a Muslim, and turning away from God felt impossible. Rather than tear myself away from Him, and risk damaging something, I came back. I made peace with myself.

I could never hope to be a good Muslim, so I settled with being just a Muslim. I relearnt the language of my religion, the cadences that spoke to me1 in a way that philosophy and reason didn’t. I moved away from the absurdity and the contradiction inherent in any religion, and found that that contradiction masked a deeper meaning that really can’t be expressed in words. You have to experience it to get it.


When you don’t have meaning, life is empty, pointless. It doesn’t have to be religion—you can believe in your fellow man, in a political ideology, in your family, in your culture, in something, anything—we’re adaptive that way. But look for something, and hold on to it.

I chose Islam, Hani and my family. centerpide chose Jesus and Christianity, and hey, that works for him. Other people choose mystical and magical paths, others choose relgion, a few adopt a philosophy of life, others devote their lives to serving others or escaping desire and pain.

Everyone has their own goddamn path, and there’s not a lot you can do to convince the other person to your way—only to guide them into whatever it is they need.

It isn’t religion that’s the danger, to be honest—it’s being blind to the truth, that there are other people around you, and that not all of them share what you believe. To live in the modern world means abandoning any kind of ideological certainty, or to be in danger of repeating the same meaningless horror over and over again.

No, it’s not pleasant or easy. But since when has life ever been that?


1 And that was the thing that people don’t get about Osama bin Laden. He used language, at least in the early days of him in hiding, in a way no non-Muslim or moderate Muslim could. They were good at it. We had a lot of catching up to do. We still do.