Friday, November 28, 2014


Recently a Malaysian friend residing in New York forwarded a rant from a fellow Malaysian abroad lamenting the rampant ultra-Malay racism oozing from the purulent pores of a few politicos at the Umno General Assembly (the local equivalent of the Republican National Convention). This was my email response...

Hey, don't get into fear over a bunch of chest-thumping primates and their monkey tricks. I assume everybody is a racist until they transcend the very idea of "race." Look at the Orang Asli. Lowest rung on the "economic ladder" - and even they call Indian people "Keling"! After 20 years I'm still "Cina" to them. Worse, a few dimwits have been coached by their Umno handlers to call me "pendatang" (immigrant). But they don't know any better. Most folks don't know any better until they've pulled the ethnic wool away from their eyes. The bad vision is called Cultural Imprinting.

Sure, every time I experience lousy work attitudes in corporations like Telekom or Syabas (the privatized Selangor water company) I joke about the fact that they're monoethnic (100% Melayu) outfits. Having grown up during the NEP years, it's hard not to feel miffed about racial quotas. Yet, when it comes down to interpersonal contact on a daily basis, I don't harbor negative feelings about Malays... or even the genocidal Israelis who are merely pawns of certain cynical and opportunistic elements amongst their own leadership... yup, just like the Malays!

What's been apparent to me is that among the Melayu, there's a great divide between the Anglophonic upper and upper-middle classes and the more plebeian post-kampong types. My English-speaking Malay friends are all pretty cosmopolitan and share most of my perceptions and values. However, the ones that suffer from chronic inferiority complex ultimately become aggressive as a way to compensate for their ego insecurities. Some end up holding positions in Umno - and that's when they turn into Bangsa-dan-Ugama (Race & Religion) extremists. They're really quite pathetic - no flag to wave beyond the mere fact of being born "Melayu" and "Muslim." Even so, they never question what it actually means to be "Melayu" or "Muslim." Indeed, the term "Malay" is so nebulous: the majority originate from Sumatra, some have Javanese, Bugis, and Siamese genes; others Chinese; many are descended from Arab, Turkish, and Indian Muslim traders - you won't find a more mongrelized genetic mix (except perhaps in Europe!)

That's why they cling tenaciously to the fact that the King of Melaka embraced Islam several hundred years ago (before that they were all vaguely Hindu, influence of the Srivijaya and Majapahit Empires). The same syndrome applies to the Khazars whose kingdom disintegrated around 1000 A.D., after their monarch had officially converted to Judaism in a political maneuver to sidestep Rome's imperialistic designs. Many generations later, the Khazar Jews became a widely scattered fraternity who told themselves that as Jews they were Yahweh's "Chosen" and therefore had every right to regard non-Jews as expendable and exploitable "infidels" (goyim, they called anybody who wasn't Jewish).

Interestingly, the Orang Asli have derogatory names for the Malays (originally they were all called dagang, traders): e.g., the Batek call them gob, and the Temuan, jobok. Other folks, in turn, called the Orang Asli sakai - pretty much the equivalent of nigger! That's true everywhere, people in fear label others: geeks, gooks, frogs, wops, micks, greasers, chinks, ragheads, squareheads, dickheads...

My point is: it's "normal" for insular communities to be innately or outwardly xenophobic. What do the Chinese call Europeans? That's right, Red-Haired Devils! So... why get worked up over low-grade displays of primate territoriality? That's the lowest common denominator of politics everywhere - it's the same in the UK, USA, Australia, Sweden, Germany, France.

And no matter how stupidly brutish the politicking gets, there will always be good, honest folks you can befriend who don't give a shit about your ethnicity. Let's celebrate humans who genuinely, passionately envisage heaven on earth, here and now, simply by allowing love rather fear to fill their hearts.

[First published 26 December 2006. Reposted 30 August 2012]

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Bob McCluskey's virtual conversation with God

Bob said...

Are there ideas about the nature of God that are true and others that are untrue?

If I believe something about the nature of God that is untrue, can I get close to God?

Is truth the same for everyone?

Why is truth above every religion?

September 14, 2010 at 6:25 PM

God said...

Hi there, Bob! Nice of you to drop by and leave a comment. My feisty pal Lily has asked me to help her respond to your questions. Hard to say no to someone as delightful, so here goes...

Ideas about the nature of God... some true, some untrue? Well, ideas is all most of us have about the nature of God - and the word "God" itself is pretty loaded with all sorts of false notions (that God is male, has an only begotten son, disapproves of human sexuality, hates alcohol, spurns the flesh of pigs, the list goes on...). Let's say that some ideas about God resonate on many levels - from the cellular to the cosmic - while others are just plain ridiculous. It's really a question of maturity. When a 2-year-old says something silly, a sensible adult response would be to laugh with the kid, not at the kid. However, when it comes to institutionalized religion, we often find rabid septuagenarians ranting and raving in an utterly stupid manner - and because they have Ayatollah/Cardinal powers and can order your head chopped off or worse, people tend to keep quiet and avoid arguing with them.

The good news is: even if you believe the most preposterous things about God, it doesn't disqualify you from being as lovable as anyone else in the eyes of God. How so? Simply because God isn't caught up in semantics and exists not just as a bunch of ideas - but, indeed, as the nuclear intelligence within every atom and also as the totality of all existence itself. Whatever anyone thinks of God... God is most certainly never petty.

Is the truth the same for everyone? Definitely not! Our human apprehension of "truth" constantly evolves as we acquire experience and expand our vocabulary. A 9-year-old girl would look upon truth quite differently than a 90-year-old great-grandpa. And we're still talking about the realm of human experience and understanding - what about non-human consciousness? It's not healthy to get addicted to anthropocentrism when dealing with the nature of God. 

The Original and Ultimate Essence of Being caters to amoebae as well as nebulae - elemental, mineral, vegetable, animal, human, angelic, archangelic, deific and so on - it's All-Inclusive and All-Embracing.

Truth is just another way of valuing one's Integrity. Only those with a wholesome attitude can know the Whole and be mindful of being an integral aspect of the All-in-One and the One-in-All. As you achieve Integrity or become an Integer (instead of a Cipher) you will experience Existence as a holographic construct, and your Core Self as a perfect fractal of God. Celebrate that!

September 16, 2010 at 2:02 AM

Bob McCluskey said...

Thanks for your thorough response! Perhaps I could continue the thread of one point, because I didn't make my question clear. When I asked whether the truth is the same for everyone, I didn't mean to ask whether everyone has the same perspective on truth, but whether what is "true" for one person is true for all other people, as well.

Leaving aside the issue of natural law for now, I'll limit my question specifically to moral truth. Let's assume, for example, that it is wrong for me to dishonor my parents, whatever that means. May I assume, then, that it is wrong for everyone to dishonor his/her parents? Thanks!

September 16, 2010 at 6:57 PM

God's Secretary said...

You're a fine gentleman, Bob McCluskey. And you're doing a great job of blending faith with reason. You asked whether what is "true" for one person is true for all other people, as well...

Using the example you gave: first, it may not be true that you are "wrong" to "dishonor" your parents. In what way "dishonor"? Being unappreciative of and withholding love from them? Giving up on them and severing ties? Being rude and mean to them? 

Such behavior is certainly most unpleasant and actually unnecessary. Whether or not it's "wrong" depends on what the parents have done to trigger such a reaction in their child. A violent, emotionally unstable father or a nagging, domineering mother can drive a child to despair and deep resentment.

In effect, if you can't be sure whether what you believe to be true, is true - how can it hold true for everybody else?

Let's not miss the forest for the trees!

September 18, 2010 at 3:39 AM


Sunday, November 23, 2014


“If religion is the opiate of the masses, as it pretty much is in most of Asia and the Middle East, then Tiger Isle was the drug capital of the world. It did not help that most Tigerists lived in a state of denial, in particular about their religion.”

First-time novelist E.S. Shankar: encyclopedic erudition

E.S. Shankar is an erudite, articulate, Renaissance Man of multitudinous facets. A UK-trained accountant and management consultant by profession, Shankar also maintains a satirical blog called Donplaypuks where he lampoons local politics with a generous dollop of schoolboy humor laced with sagacious insight.

Recently he published his first novel, Tiger Isle, A Government of Thieves – a highly engaging 380-page study of the evils of kakistocracy (defined as “governance by a clique representing the worst elements of society, from the Greek, kakos, meaning foul, or filthy”). I don’t know if he has found a local distributor yet but the book can be easily ordered online. I can assure you, nobody will begrudge Shankar the $13.49 price tag, considering the massive amount of brilliance and sheer hard work the man has invested in this epic read, replete with evil machinations, murder, sex, and apocalyptic mayhem.

Shankar’s spicy fiction is based on depressing facts anyone who has been monitoring Malaysia’s political milieu since 1969 will be familiar with: the bureaucratic apartheid created by artificially imposed racial and religious boundaries; the boundless avarice and power lust of a privileged coterie that wields a deadly stranglehold on the national psyche through absolute control of the mass media; the audacious and systematic plunder of a nation’s wealth and the methodical hijacking of its destiny for private gain and ego gratification.

Indeed, while the events and characters depicted in Tiger Isle appear to be broadly inspired by actual events and characters in Malaysia, the scenario is easily modified to fit any post-colonial Southeast Asian nation. As such, Shankar’s lovingly crafted debut novel sheds valuable light on the nature and internal workings of corruption, hubris and megalomaniacal delusions of grandeur – and deserves to be prescribed as supplementary reading in any meaningful political science curriculum.

It’s no mean feat to construct a parallel universe populated by doppelgängers of clearly recognizable personalities - and yet allow the characters sufficient autonomy to generate the tension and drama necessary to animate this fictional domain called Pulipore, or Tiger Isle. There is enough narrative momentum to keep the reader turning pages – although one requires a photographic memory to keep track of unwieldy names like Rekha Krishnasamy Roshan Prasad, Adhi Sri Dr Bhairav Oak Broad Leaf Sivan, Kapalin Blowfish Black Panther Chandran, Maitreya Blue Dolphin Suryan, and Sri Sanatkumar Mutthiah Muralidharan. Those in the know will smile at the inclusion of a few “ascended masters” in the colorful cast of characters.

Not only are the names extended, Shankar gleefully provides genealogies for a few of them, going back several generations – in the process adding a wealth of side commentary on the fascinating diversity of cultures to be found in the region. Place names like Pulijayam, Chandrapore, Shaktipore and Suryapore evoke a subcontinental aroma – hinting at the lingering influence of ancient civilizations like the Srivijaya and Majapahit Empires.

With an accountant’s eye for detail, Shankar delves into a morass of financial shenanigans conducted under the corrupt aegis of UNTA (United National Tigerists Association). Indeed, one might conclude that Shankar is merely making it all up - were it not for the fact that most Malaysians are already aware – thanks to the internet - of the endless list of dubious deals signed behind closed doors and labeled Official Secrets.

I couldn’t help but smile wryly at the irony of it all. Whenever Shankar relishes his role as novelist and puts effort into fleshing out his fictional characters, he succeeds in giving his narrative a measure of realism; however, his intimately reconstructed accounts of high-level wheeling and dealing come across as pure fiction because their outrageousness simply boggles the mind. We shudder at the realization that Shankar didn’t have to invent anything – merely switch a few acronyms and names around.

And, just as happens in real life, we are confounded by a plethora of acronyms: PACC (Pulipore Anti-Corruption Council), CCCP (Chandrapore City Center Plaza), PPC (Pulipetrol Corporation), PSA (Patriot and Security Act), PSB (Police Special Branch), and PITS (Pulipore Information Technology Service) – so much so the reader is at times compelled to refer to the acronym list on page 382.

As a writer, E.S. Shankar occasionally suffers from what may be called “the fisheye lens” syndrome – in effect, his omniscience and encyclopedic knowledge compel him to throw in too many asides and insider jokes. This slows the pace down – but only minimally. On the whole I was impressed by Shankar’s fluid syntax and flashes of literary virtuosity, for instance, when he begins a chapter with a killer line like: “The economic picture was pretty from far, but actually far from pretty.”

The story acquires a hint of Ian Fleming towards the end, when Shankar conspires to put all the biggest crooks of Tiger Isle together on board a private jet – and then leaves them at the mercy of seven female amateur ninjas and a couple of renegade pilots. Regime change through the ballot box is simply too banal and boring, I suppose. Or too unlikely. Or perhaps the eternal child in E.S. Shankar just felt like giving the plot a tiny twist of Quentin Tarantino.

Regrettably, Shankar’s magnificent effort will not qualify for the epithet “The Great Malaysian Novel” – simply because it’s all about Tiger Isle, heh heh, not Malaysia.

GOOD NEWS! Shankar has found a local publisher, Gerak Budaya, and Tiger Isle ~ A Government of Thieves will be officially launched at the Royal Selangor Club at 7PM on 20 November 2012.
[First posted 28 September 2012]

Friday, November 21, 2014


When Erich von Däniken published his controversial Chariots of the Gods? in the early 1970s, many dismissed him as a sensationalist crank. Von Däniken’s chief contention was that the Earth had been visited and colonized by extraterrestrial races who had long mastered interstellar travel. Unfortunately, von Däniken’s fondness for exclamation points and his literary inelegance detracted from his otherwise well-documented theses. He had poured a large part of his personal fortune, and many years of field research, into his obsession with mysterious and colossal artefacts that abound all over the planet - from the Pyramids of Giza and Central America to the gigantic geoglyphs of Nazca, and the megalithic monuments of Rapa Nui.

Von Däniken may have achieved instant international notoriety with his hard-hitting best-sellers, but he was certainly not the first to delve into this taboo area of paleoanthropological and exobiological conjecture.

Indeed, as early as 1953, Desmond Leslie had co-authored a book with George Adamski (right) who claimed to have had personal contact with space visitors. Their book, Flying Saucers Have Landed, was reissued as a paperback in 1970 and became a cult classic among ufologists, along with the writings of George Hunt Williamson (Secret Places of the Lion, Road in the Sky) who forged a potent link between ETs and esoteric lore. Another important early work on the subject was The Sky People by Brinsley Le Poer Trench (published by Neville Spearman in 1963).

Worldwide interest in UFO phenomena spread at lightspeed. The noted psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung commented on the archetypal significance of UFOs in his journals. Award-winning novelist Doris Lessing incorporated the ET question into her Canopus in Argos trilogy in the late 1970s, written from the perspective of a Sirian colonial agent. Along came Uri Geller, the Israeli spoon-bender, whose collaboration with Dr Andrija Puharich resulted in a series of astonishing books revealing the presence of interstellar entities proactively involved with earthly affairs.

Despite the best efforts of academic status quoists and business-as-usual lobbyists, the Little Green Men From Mars refused to leave the limelight. In 1994, respected Harvard psychiatrist John E. Mack (left) published his findings in a level-headed book called Abduction: Human Encounters With Aliens – investigations into some 200 cases of alien abduction. Mack was prepared to stake his professional reputation on his personal conclusion - the abductees were reporting true experiences; and there is a great deal more to mundane reality than meets the eye.

What evidence, if any, can we find that might ground these notions in the realm of common sense and reason? How about written records, engraved on clay tablets in cuneiform script, some 6,000 years old?

Zecharia Sitchin (right) spent more than three decades studying the Sumerian clay tablets and soaking up Mesopotamian lore. Sitchin has the unique advantage of being a multilinguist with a handful of dead languages at his command. His laborious Mesopotamian research was published in a series called The Earth Chronicles, beginning with The Twelfth Planet in 1976.

Sitchin’s interpretation of the Sumerian records boldly crosses the boundary between history and science fiction. The stories engraved in ancient clay spoke of Sky Gods who established a colony on Earth to prospect for precious metals, particularly gold. Described as “the ones that descended from heaven” (Anunnaki in Sumerian and Nefilim in Hebrew), these creator gods claimed to be sons and daughters of ANU, the King of Heaven. According to the Sumerian chronicles, the Sky Gods’ first terrestrial encampment was called E.RIDU – meaning “cultivated place away from home” – and the word subsequently went through various permutations as Aratha or Ereds in Aramaic, Eretz in Hebrew, Erde in German (Erda in Old High German), Jördh in Icelandic, Jord in Danish, Airtha in Gothic, Erthe in Middle English, and Earth in modern English.

The first wave of Anunnaki settlers were under the command of ANU’s firstborn, the Lord E.A (whose mother was of a serpent race that had earlier arrived on the planet and had now gone subterranean). Soon E.A, Lord of the Waters, became known as EN.KI – Lord of the Firm Lands – and he was an avid engineer and scientist who embarked on a thorough study of terrestrial flora and fauna. The earliest gold mines were located in AB.ZU (southeastern Africa) and as work progressed, more workers arrived to tunnel and dig. ANU then sent his second son, EN.LIL, Lord of the Winds and Regent of Heaven, to govern the growing Earth colony. After 40 Anunnaki Years (about 144,000 terrestrial years), the goldminers began to chafe at the harsh conditions on Earth and there was mutiny in the air. The incipient sibling rivalry between EN.KI and EN.LIL flared up in their differing perspectives on the problem of striking workers. EN.LIL wanted to punish the workers for insubordination, while EN.KI (who had been among them from the outset) was sympathetic to their plight and argued on their behalf.

Finally EN.KI proposed a scientific solution to this archetypal rift between labor and management: he would enlist the aid of his half-sister NIN.TI - a brilliant geneticist whose name means Lady of Life (or Lady of the Rib, because the word TI also denotes the rib) - and attempt to create a semi-intelligent slave race to perform all the menial tasks. After much trial and error, EN.KI and NIN.TI succeeded in manufacturing and cloning a modified primate which they dubbed the A.DAMA (“created from red clay”). It was smart enough to be taught the use simple tools, but not sufficiently intelligent to notice what a raw deal it was getting. The experiment succeeded to the extent that the Anunnaki workers were relieved from the arduous hazards of digging and tunneling. However, cloning these A.DAMA was a time-consuming procedure.

Consequently, EN.KI and NIN.TI decided to contribute their own genetic material and create a self-replicating new breed of A.DAMA in uterus, thereby facilitating sexual reproduction. This led to a dilution of the Anunnaki bloodlines over time, as many of the Earth-based Sky Gods became enamored of their pet slaves, which they affectionately called the LU.LU. The Book of Genesis (chapter 6, verses 1 and 2) coyly skims over this era of genetic confusion: “And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.”

Sitchin gives a detailed account of the Great Deluge as recorded in the Sumerian epic called Enuma Elish (literally, “When the gods walked among us”). EN.LIL was worried about the rapidly reproducing Adamic-Anunnaki strain of human and wished to obliterate this genetic aberration before it got out of control.

When the I.GI.GI (“Watchers in the Sky”) stationed in the orbiting mother ship reported to Ground Command that a major wobble in the planetary axis was expected in a matter of months, EN.LIL summoned all ranking officers to an emergency council and made them swear an oath of silence about the impending catastrophe. The Anunnaki would prepare to evacuate Earth just before the axial wobble, leaving the A.DAMA and all genetic monstrosities to perish. There could be no extermination program more elegant and efficient – as well as convenient, that is, morally acceptable to Sky Gods who preferred to keep their hands clean and their conscience clear.

Now, EN.KI had also sworn complicity to EN.LIL’s plan to cleanse the planet of genetic mutations – but he was deeply attached to the semi-sapient creature he and NIN.TI had spawned in their laboratory. Indeed, EN.KI had been secretly enhancing the A.DAMA strain to produce a small number of A.DAPA – an adaptable new breed with enough brain capacity to learn astronomy, physics, and mathematics, thereby trainable as an elite priesthood to the Sky Gods. Perhaps the term “Adept” as it occurs in magical traditions etymologically derives from “Adapa.”

Among the A.DAPA, EN.KI had a particular favorite named Ziusudra whom he summoned to his abode near the source of the Nile. Ziusudra entered the Temple of EN.KI, only to find himself alone... except for a pre-recorded message from his Lord advising him to construct a seaworthy vessel according to a specific design, gather his extended family about him, along with a digitized and compressed genetic database covering a wide spectrum of terrestrial flora and fauna (encoded and recorded in what might today be described as blueray DVD discs, but which in Sumerian were called MEs.)

The Voice of The Lord commanded that when the sky was seen to glow, it would be Ziusudra’s cue to enter the craft and batten down the hatches securely. Accompanying Ziusudra and his family would be experienced navigators with instructions to steer the craft towards Mount Ararat, where they would drop anchor and wait for the turbulent seas to subside.

The same legend is found in Babylonian mythology - specifically in the Epic of Gilgamesh - though Ziusudra’s name appears therein as Utnapishtim, from whom Gilgamesh claimed direct descent. Many millennia down the line, Hebrew scribes transformed his name to Noah, in what is now known as the Old Testament.

As the Sky Gods lifted off from Earth en masse, the heavens glowed with the radiance of their spaceships. Ziusudra knew it was time to board the vessel, fully provisioned with supplies for several weeks, and await the tidal waves that would soon sweep all traces of civilization from the face of the Earth.

For forty days and forty nights, as the tale has passed down from generation to generation, there was no dry land in sight. Terrestrial flora and fauna were wiped out instantly, along with the Adamic populations – except, of course, for Ziusudra and crew, who eventually alighted from their vessel atop Al Judi peak in the vicinity of Ararat, and surveyed the horrific desolation around them.

Meanwhile, safe in their orbiting spacecraft high above the earth, the Sky Gods felt the pangs of remorse and profound sorrow at the sight of the wholesale devastation below. They had seen the terrified faces of the LU.LUs as the raging waters engulfed their homes, and heard the piercing screams of women and children as they drowned by the thousands, by the millions. They saw priests and priestesses stoically seated in prayer and meditation, calmly awaiting oblivion. But to whom were they praying; on what were they meditating? Their Makers were high and dry above them, documenting their demise for their own scientific archives, seemingly indifferent – or powerless to save them. Even so, devotion and faith registered on the serene faces of the supplicants as they clung to the disintegrating pillars of their temples, and then vanished abruptly into the murderous maw of the murky maelstrom. The disturbing memory of this cataclysm was forever etched in the minds of the observing Sky Gods.

Even EN.LIL, aloof in his divine splendor, was beginning to regret his decision to exterminate the hominid slave species. And so, when the Sky Gods returned to Earth after her magnetic field had been reinstated, and a measure of stability had been restored to the planet’s orbit, they were overjoyed and relieved to discover that a tiny remnant of humanity had actually survived. No questions were asked, although it was fairly obvious that an early warning had been leaked to Ziusudra. The sibling Lords EN.KI and EN.LIL agreed to cooperate in the task of rehabilitating earthly civilization and, in record time, cities populated by the illegitimate descendants of the Sky Gods sprang up seemingly overnight like mushrooms, and human civilizations once again began to proliferate across the continents.

The Great Deluge is a recurring theme in all mythologies. In the Malayan Peninsula, aboriginal tribes speak of how the land was repopulated after a massive flood which destroyed everyone except their divine ancestors. Similar accounts can be found in folkloric traditions from almost every indigenous culture around the globe. Paleoanthropologists speculate that this period of regeneration probably dates from around 10,800 BCE – coinciding with the end of the last glacial era, which reshaped land masses and radically altered climatic zones.

And what became of the Sky Gods – the Anunnaki or Nefilim who colonized the planet approximately 430,000 years ago? The Enuma Elish speaks of divine kings and queens whose reigns apparently endured over thousands of terrestrial years – and how their human progeny eventually were granted rulership of the lands, while the gods themselves retired into obscurity (lurking in the astral?), or perhaps they were repatriated to their home planet.

Nevertheless, the Sky Gods seem to have left us a genetic legacy of sibling rivalry, warlordism, and destructive technology – a lethal combination indeed. They also implanted religious belief systems designed to remotely control us through superstitious terror – exposing our ancestors to extreme degrees of shock and awe, while flaunting deadly weapons in perpetual cycles of warfare, using their slightly retarded progeny as cannon fodder.

Thus was the absurd notion of righteous war (call it a crusade or jihad) seeded in the human psyche – along with the insane belief that anyone dying in such a noble cause automatically attained martyrdom, and was thereby assured a place in heaven.

[Excerpt from an unpublished work titled THE (UNFINISHED) BOOK OF JOHN: Confessions of a former Christian fundamentalist by Antares, adapted from an original manuscript by John Chin. First posted 15 February 2009.]

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

What happens when Jada Pinkett & Will Smith combine their DNA?

Published on 24 Sep 2012
Directed and Edited by Mike Vargas/Nuyorktricity

Published on 1 May 2012

Uploaded on 18 Oct 2010

Uploaded on 3 Mar 2011

Published on 21 Sep 2012

Published on 6 Aug 2012

Published on 16 Dec 2011

Uploaded on 11 Jul 2010

Farish A. Noor on the gory history of corporal punishment (reprise)

Punishing the Body or the Person?
Why Some Cannot Accept Physical Punishments

By Farish A. Noor ~ August 28th, 2009

In his book Torture and Modernity: Self, Society and State in Modern Iran (1994), the scholar Darius Rejali looks at how the processes of torture and punishment have evolved over the centuries in Iran, from the period of the Qajar dynasty all the way to the regime of the Shah and the Islamic Revolutionary government. He makes one interesting and important observation which remains relevant to all of those who are concerned about the use of corporal punishment and torture by modern states today: that corporal punishment dates back to the medieval era where the popular perception of punishment was that it was a public spectacle that ought to be enacted upon the body of the individual, and not the subject him/herself.

In this respect, the modes of torture and punishment that were used in pre-modern Iran were no different from the modes of punishment that were used in China, India, Africa or Europe. Throughout the world during the pre-modern era the popular understanding of punishment was that it was meant to be a form of public humiliation, operating through the mode of public violence, that was intended to compel the guilty to repent and alter his/her ways through the threat of violence and force.

Hence we see how in medieval Europe, Asia and the Arab world the modes of public punishment were all equally gory and bloody: Heads were chopped off, bodies were impaled, whipped, burned, branded, broken, quartered and sliced to pieces. Most of these punishments were carried out in public, ostensibly as a 'lesson' to others. But as many modern psychologists have pointed out, these public spectacles of violence also served the voyeuristic inclination of those who relished the sight of bodies being violated in public, and were thus also forms of bizarre public pornography.

In his study on the evolution of torture and punishment in Iran, Rejali notes how this medieval mode of punishment gradually developed to become a more sophisticated mode of care and policing instead. The violent spectacles of state-sanctioned violence that involved public enactments of torture eventually gave way to the regime of the prison and the culture of pastoral care and reform of the Self instead. Why?

Simply put, the reason behind this evolution lay in the growing consciousness that the medieval modes of punishment of the past were simply barbaric, primitive, and missed the point. Particularly after the advent of the Iranian revolution, Iranian lawmakers realized that the aim of law enforcement was not simply to exercise legitimate state violence upon citizens, but to help citizens reach their full potential as rational agents and responsible individuals. Medieval modes of violent punishment could not do that for the simple reason that by abusing and violating the bodies of the condemned, they were targeting the body, and not the conscious Self.

The argument can be illustrated thus: Pre-modern modes of punishment assumed that if an individual had committed a crime or a wrong against society, then the offending organ or part of the body of the individual would pay the price. Hence in many primitive societies we come across instances of bodily abuse and torture that target the organs or parts of the body that were to 'blame': The person who lies or slanders, for instance, would have his tongue cut out. The voyeur would have his eyes gouged out. The thief would have his hand cut off. The rapist would be castrated, and so on.

Such modes of physical punishment were, however, deemed to be less and less effective and furthermore failed to solve the problem of criminality itself, for the punishment was not being inflicted on the truly offending party, namely the subjective Self. For it is not the tongue that lies, but the person. It is not the hand that steals, but the person. It is not the penis that rapes, but the person. Addressing the responsibility of the person entailed going beyond the body, and dealing with the psychology of the individual itself. This in turn meant that violence was not a solution to the problem, but in fact only made things worse: For a state that endorses violence as a means to achieve justice eventually arrives at a different destination altogether. Such a state merely normalizes violence and makes violence more and more commonplace and acceptable. Rather than morally uplifting society, it debases and brutalizes society even further. An example would be the case of the French Revolution, where the revolutionaries who executed the leaders of the old regime eventually ended up being murdered themselves too, including Robespierre, who died at the guillotine that he himself introduced.

The development of the related notions of justice, care, reform (of the Self) and responsibility (of both the State and the Individual subject) only came about much later, with the development of modern social sciences that included political sociology, psychology and notably the psychology of criminality. The modern age marks its difference from the medieval age by accepting that bodies are not to be blamed, but rather subjectivities and selves. In other words, modern human beings relinquished their obsession with violent torture and punishment when they realized that torturing and abusing people would not make them better human beings.

Which brings us to the current debate about caning in Malaysia, be it caning that is enforced by civil secular law or by Islamic law. Already in Malaysia we have the instance of a woman who may soon be caned for the Shariah offence of drinking beer. And meanwhile in Malaysia we have illegal immigrants being caned for over-staying their visas and entry permits in the country.

Human rights activists who oppose caning and other forms of state-sanctioned physical violence do so on the grounds that we believe that such violent punishments do nothing to solve the attendant problems and issues that need to be addressed in another, more intelligent way. Caning an illegal immigrant does nothing to reform the person, but merely violates and abuses his/her body. Likewise caning someone for what is perceived to be a moral crime by religious law does nothing to reform the person’s subjectivity, but merely abuses the body of the person instead. Why, even in the Islamic Republic of Iran the regime of the Ayatollahs realized that physical torture was never and could never succeed in making someone a better human being, but would actually lead to the opposite and create a society that was more and more violent and accustomed to violence. Hence their use of public education and counselling instead.

Malaysians are now faced with a similar question and we need to ask ourselves whether the time has come for this society of ours to understand and accept the fact that violence is not and will never be a solution to the social problems of our times - be it criminality, corruption, abuse of power or the breakdown of the social contract. The modern human subject realizes that one cannot be forced to be just or good, and that a good society cannot emerge out of violent compulsion. State violence merely brutalizes us further and denies the value and primacy of human reason and the capacity for human beings to think rationally and to alter themselves rationally too. Whipping someone into submission cannot ever do that; for violence and reason are never complementary.

Would you like a Norwegian fishwhipping? Great for your morals!

[First posted 28 August 2009]

Friday, November 14, 2014


Odds are, this blog entry would be in Chinese – were it not for a twist of fate that made the mighty Ming dynasty turn isolationist after the death of Admiral Zheng He in 1433.

I remember reading about the exploits of China’s legendary eunuch admiral, Zheng He (sometimes rendered Cheng Ho), as almost a casual footnote in the history books. All the big names in navigation were, of course, European: Ferdinand Magellan, Bartolomeu Dias, Vasco da Gama, Christopher Columbus. Occasionally I’d come across a reference to Leif Eriksson’s discovery of North America in 1001; or an apocryphal tale of some intrepid (or gloriously intoxicated) Irish monk crossing the Atlantic in a coracle centuries before Columbus stumbled upon the West Indies.

It wasn’t till fairly recently that the world has seen a resurgence of scholarly interest in the geopolitical significance of Zheng He’s Seven Voyages between 1405 and 1433. Gavin Menzies published in 2002 a best-seller called 1421 in which he postulates that Zheng He had despatched a few ships from his gigantic Treasure Fleet to explore the oceans west of Africa, and that the Chinese had successfully circumnavigated the world a full century before Magellan (more on this at Menzies suggests, furthermore, that Zheng He’s scoutships may have visited North America (where Ming pottery shards were recently unearthed), sailed as far south as Australia, and perhaps even the Antarctic. The eunuch admiral’s navigators produced detailed maps which found their way to Europe, initiating a fever of maritime exploration at the beginning of the 16th century that saw Portugal, Spain, Holland, and England competing for supremacy at sea as a means to world domination.

In any case there can be no doubt whatsoever that the absolute master of the global seaways in the 15th century was Admiral Zheng He - loyal emissary of the Ming Court, supreme commander of the imperial Treasure Fleet, fearless explorer, and diplomat extraordinaire. Eunuch jokes aside, Zheng He was a ballsy larger-than-life hero who towered above his peers at a standing height of nine Chinese feet (approximately six-foot-eight by modern measure).

Zheng He’s name at birth was Ma Sanpao. He belonged to a Central Asian tribe known as the Semur which converted to Islam before migrating to Yunnan Province. When the Chinese army invaded Yunnan in 1382, the 11-year-old Ma Sanpao was taken captive, castrated, and given as a personal slave to Prince Zhu Di, who seized the Ming throne from his elder brother Zhu Yunwen in 1402, proclaiming himself Emperor Yong Le (“Everlasting Joy”). During Zhu Di’s military campaign against his sibling, Ma Sanpao distinguished himself as a cunning and fearless fighter. Yong Le was determined to extend tne glory of the Ming Dynasty to the far ends of the earth. Having rebuilt the Great Wall so that China’s rear end was covered, he conferred on Ma Sanpao, his brave and trusted eunuch warrior, the nom de guerre “Zheng He” and offered him the title, “Admiral of the Western Seas.”

Between 1405 and 1433 Zheng He embarked on seven voyages that established Chinese naval and diplomatic supremacy in 36 countries - including Taiwan, Vietnam, Cambodia, The Philippines, Brunei, Java, Aceh, Temasek, the Melaka Sultanate, Siam, India, Ceylon, the Maldives, Persia, Arabia, the Swahili Coast of Africa, North America, and the Pacific Islands. Zheng He’s fleet was truly massive. One biographer writes: “No other nation on earth had ever sent such a fleet onto the ocean. It included sixty-two large ships, some 600 feet long, larger than any other on the seas. Hundreds of smaller vessels accompanied them.” On certain voyages Zheng He’s Grand Fleet carried as many as 28,000 crew and the decks were lined with huge tubs of earth for planting vegetables and fruit trees. Fresh bean sprouts - and tofu in every imaginable form - were a staple diet at sea, providing the crew sufficient nutrients to minimize scurvy on long voyages.

Emperor Zhu Di was succeeded in 1424 by his son Zhu Gaozhi, whose 9-month reign was fraught with palace intrigue and financial anxiety. He ordered an abrupt halt to all treasure ship expeditions and concentrated on internal affairs, believing that China’s security lay in a robust policy of agrarian reform. Some researchers speculate that, during the 8-year hiatus between his sixth and seventh voyages, Zheng He was charged with the establishment of an Imperial Intelligence Agency, a prototype CIA, in effect.

The next Ming emperor, Zhu Zhanji, ascended the throne in 1425 and was somewhat more outward-looking, reinstating the practice of receiving tributes from far-flung vassal states – but it wasn’t till January 1432 that Zheng He embarked on his last and largest voyage with 317 ships. Sensing it might be his final journey, the Admiral erected a stone pillar - inscribed with a detailed account of his previous voyages - at a temple in Chang Le on the Fujian Coast dedicated to the Celestial Spouse (a Taoist goddess). In the 1930s this important artefact was rediscovered, leading to a revival of academic interest in Zheng He’s remarkable accomplishments.

According to most accounts Zheng He (already ailing before he set sail) died on the return voyage in 1433 and was buried with full honors at sea; but we shall never know if he was reunited with his “missing parts” as was customary for imperial eunuchs. The Chinese believed that the deceased could otherwise never reincarnate as a man. Emperor Zhu Zhanji survived Admiral Zheng He by only two years and his passing marked the end of China’s seafaring era. Confucian court advisors advocating national introversion overruled the imperial eunuchs who sought to build upon Zheng He’s maritime achievements. The great shipyards at Longjiang were shut down, Zheng He’s voluminous journals were removed from the imperial archives (and destroyed or stolen), and in 1500 it was decreed that anyone building seaworthy vessels with more than two masts would be sentenced to death. In 1575 the emperor ordered the arrest of all merchants trading with foreigners and the destruction of all oceangoing ships. And thus the torch of naval exploration and systematic colonization passed into European hands.

Cheng Ho Cultural Museum, 51 Lorong Hang Jebat, Melaka
Melaka’s central location on the sea route between the South China Sea and the Bay of Bengal made it Zheng He’s main port-of-call on all seven of his voyages. In 2005, to mark the 600th anniversary of Zheng He’s first naval expedition, the multimillion-ringgit Cheng Ho Cultural Museum was officially inaugurated in Melaka, on the riverbank site of the Admiral’s original godown.

This massive project was funded by private capital largely raised by well-known Zheng He authority, Professor Tan Ta Sen, and the Gwei family (who contributed hundreds of priceless porcelain pieces to the excellent Ming exhibit on the second floor).

According to Gwei Tze Co, who took me on a tour of the museum, part of the godown also served as living quarters for one of Zheng He’s captains, whose descendants can still be found in various parts of Malaysia. He showed me a couple of wells dug during Zheng He’s stopovers, a source of potable water after all these centuries. Admiring a gilded bust of the Eunuch Admiral in the foyer, I sensed that this wasn’t so much a museum as a shrine to a great hero of antiquity who has attained cult status in certain quarters. Indeed, Zheng He devotees in various parts of Central Java continue to revere him as a deity every year in a ritual procession from Semarang’s Tay Kak Sie temple to a mysterious cave temple called Gedung Batu, said to have been built by Zheng He’s master pilot.

The Cheng Ho Museum also features a life-sized tableau commemorating Parameswara’s visit in 1411 to the Ming Court, where he was formally recognized by China as the King of Melaka. A Sumatran prince-in-exile, Parameswara sought refuge from his enemies in a sleepy fishing village on the western coast of the Malay Peninsula in the late 1390s and transformed it into the great Kingdom of Melaka.

Parameswara is recognized as King of Melaka by the Ming Emperor
Other exhibits include maps, paintings, a scale model of the Treasure Fleet, maritime artefacts from the Ming era, and dioramas offering a vivid glimpse of life amongst the Chinese community in Melaka after Zheng He’s arrival. If you happen to be in the vicinity, a visit to the thoughtfully appointed Cheng Ho Cultural Museum at 51 Lorong Hang Jebat, Melaka, will prove stimulating and thought-provoking. View an audiovisual introduction to Zheng He, or purchase books and DVDs on his remarkable transformation from eunuch to deity. Call 606-2831135 for more information.

[This article first appeared in The Hilt, December 2006. Uploaded 27 February 2007]

The Mysteries of Machu Picchu ~ 52-minute National Geographic documentary

A National Geographic documentary about the fascinating and mysterious pre-Columbian Inca lost city of Machu Picchu.

Deep in the Andean mountains lays a mysterious ruin named Machu Picchu. For 400 years it sat abandoned on its misty cliff, the quintessential lost city in the jungle. Rediscovered in 1911, it contained no written records or carvings, nothing that could shed light on its history.

For a century since, it has defied the endless scores of visitors and scientists who attempted to understand its purpose. Who were the mysterious people who built it and why did they build it here? Today an international team of archeologists, engineers and scientists are finally piecing together the clues. Together they are discovering astonishing new burials, revealing the intricacies of its ingenious engineering and finally decoding the secrets of Machu Picchu.

© 2009 NGHT, Inc. and WGBH Educational foundation

[Well, the mystery of Machu Picchu isn't quite solved in this documentary... but everything about the Incas is fascinating anyhow...]

First posted 13 February 2013