Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Carnivorous predators and the food chain: enough to drive us into vegetarianism!

It's a dog-eat-dog world, some say, pointing at the primeval principle of kill-or-be-killed underlying all political and economic conflict. The smell of blood is all it takes to trigger a feeding frenzy among sharks. We see it around us, every single day, and so we become desensitized to the blood and gore of the abattoir (a word we borrowed from the French, because it sounds a lot more genteel than "slaughterhouse").

Few of us have had to hunt and kill and skin and gut and cook the meat we consume. We buy it from the supermarket, neatly wrapped in cellophane and kept fresh in the freezer. No protruding heads or feet to remind us what the animal looked like when it was alive. Often the meat comes in tidy, bloodless, machine-sliced fillets, ready to stick in the oven or frying pan.

That's the only way we can deal with the horror of being part of the food chain. When children become aware of what being a carnivore actually entails, many become horrified and vow to get off the bloody wheel by turning to vegetarianism.

Eating fruit and greens doesn't seem so hideous, perhaps because plants don't scream or bleed when chopped up. And, even if they do, their blood is green or colorless, and their screams are beyond our hearing range. Fruits and nuts, of course, are aesthetically the least offensive, since they grow off trees - and no matter how many fruits or nuts we consume, at least we're not harming the trees themselves.

I wish I could live on fruits and nuts - but that would require a monumental, almost fanatical, effort. And it's no fun being a fanatic about anything. Nevertheless, after an ayahuasca experience I had in July 2011, I'm beginning to feel more tolerant towards vegetarians.

Hishamuddin Hashim,
Teoh Beng Hock's  tormentor
It's not every day that I'm so vividly aware of being part of the food chain. In theory, it seems only natural that one species devours and consumes another. Animals whose flesh we find delicious usually feed off plants and grains. And because we humans consider ourselves "the crown of creation" with our access to technology, we are no longer prey to other species of carnivores - apart from our own.

Even so, we can still be killed by the tiniest lifeforms. A disease-carrying mosquito or flea, even a bunch of hostile bacteria - or something totally invisible, like a mutant strain of virus - can take us down, no problem.

Ku Nan the Barbarian
Those who have seen Apocalypse Now - Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 film adaptation of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness - will recall the spine-chilling last words of Colonel Walter E. Kurtz: "The horror... the horror!"

That was exactly how I felt when I was granted a vision of what Malaysian politics looks like from the astral perspective. We live in a multi-tiered social hierarchy defined by genetic heredity (traditional aristocracy) and financial inheritance (the nouveau riche). Those not born into one of the nine royal bloodlines have to buy their perks and privileges with hard cash.

Everybody wants to scrabble up the status ladder - and those who have to start from scratch place their hopes on their progeny. So they invest every cent they can scrape together in "higher education" for their offspring - which they believe will grant them access to the upper tiers of society through membership in various professional guilds.

Strong egos dominate, exploit and oppress the weaker ones - that's the way the world works. That's how it has always worked and that's how it will forever be.

Mahathir Mohamad,
Tyrannosaurus rex
The battlecry of the French Revolution - Liberté, égalité, fraternité - sounds noble and stirring, but it can never happen. Liberty, equality and fraternity for all means no more slave labor. We would be forced to clean up after ourselves, do our own dishes, nobody to carry bricks on their broken backs to build our dream castles!

Can you imagine: who would risk their lives balancing on precarious scaffoldings, day in and day out, to construct a 100-story skyscraper, for a measly RM100 a day? Would you do it? Would you want your children to do it? Let those foreign workers from impoverished countries do the dirty and dangerous work!

Najib Razak, cold-blooded and vicious
But why are some countries "impoverished"? Do they not have their own natural resources? A cursory probe into the history of these "impoverished" lands will reveal the same age-old pattern: the extreme gulf between the haves and the have-nots is an artificial one, created by a feudal social structure wherein the privileged few live like gods, while those at the bottom have to be content with the most basic of necessities.

Apandi Ali,
High Priest of Iniquity
In between you will find the lower, middle and upper classes constantly pushing their way upwards, towards the top of the power pyramid, presided over by a complacent and corrupt priesthood whose function is to sanctify the status quo and assure everyone it's all part of God's plan.

Is there a way out of this endless loop of energy predation, this neverending nightmare of master-slave, victor-victim relationships?

Hishammuddin Hussein,
fang-and-claw politics
Yes, of course, there is. Twenty-five centuries ago, a young prince named Siddhartha Gautama walked out of his cushioned existence in his father's palace - after he was inadvertently exposed to the horrible sight of disease, decay, death and inescapable debt.

Prince Siddhartha realized he was living in an artificial bubble of comfort, insulated from the raw reality beyond the palace walls. Unable to enjoy his creature comforts, knowing they were merely transient, Siddhartha set off quietly to live like an ascetic. He learned to meditate from a variety of spiritual masters and eventually broke free from the robotism of physical embodiment.

In short, Siddhartha awakened from his cultural trance and was henceforth called Buddha - the Awakened One. The title "Buddha" (like "Christ" or "Christos") is not a personal name - it's a state of consciousness each of us must attain if we wish to gain true liberation from the wheel of life, death and rebirth - from the feeding frenzy of the biological food chain.

It's not enough to believe in or revere what Prince Siddhartha achieved. We have to become Buddha ourselves. And that's just a start on an inner journey back to where we began, as the Source of All Energy and Consciousness. But, once we attain our own enlightenment, we will never again wallow in the abysmal ignorance of automatism. Every word we utter, every thought we bear, and every action we take will be done consciously.

We may continue to devour the flesh of other species, but we shall do so with apologetic humility and gratitude - and, in so doing, we shall consciously bless the animal whose death now feeds our life and whose body now becomes part of our bodies. The soul of the animal, thus being acknowledged and blessed, will depart in peace and continue its adventure, perhaps in different embodiments, and it may even opt to experience being human.

Zahid Hamidi, ready to pounce
For the slayer and the slain are bound in a karmic knot, so that any human who kills and devours an animal is actually granting the soul of the animal entry into the human domain.

Personally, I would rejoice in the ability to live entirely off sunshine, fresh air and love. Occasionally, as a special treat, I would allow myself to be devoured and consumed - and to, in turn, consume and devour - but only as a ritual of sacred union performed with a lover in the celebratory spirit of tantra.

[First posted 26 July 2011, reposted 19 June 2014 & 2 May 2017]

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Huzir Sulaiman tackles the thorny issue of Ketuanan Melayu (repost)

The Malaysian Insider
A middle class Malay perspective
Sunday Star, December 14, 2008

The children of the Establishment tackle some difficult issues.

IN the strident and unnecessarily unpleasant debate over the concept of ketuanan Melayu and the Malay community’s political future, the quiet voices of urban middle-class Malays have yet to make themselves heard.

As a partial corrective, I spoke to several members of a tribe that, while small in number, is intriguing from a social anthropology perspective.

The Malays of the anak Datuk class – the children of senior civil servants and technocrats whose parents’ careers in public service predated the Mahathir era – are interesting in that their values and ideas about Malaysia must have been formed at least in part by their families’ experiences of nation building.

As their parents made the country, it stands to reason that they would have a considerable emotional stake in how it develops in the future.

Even within this rarefied sub-caste of children of the Establishment who are not themselves involved in politics, however, their feelings about ketuanan Melayu show a marked diversity.

Fahmi Fadzil (The Nut Graph)
Fahmi Fadzil, 27, is a writer and performer. He is the son of Datuk Fadzil Yunus, the former director-general – and later general manager – of the Felda group of companies, and Datin Fauziah Ramly, a senior civil servant who was most recently a Commissioner with the Public Service Commission.

I asked him what he makes of the concept of ketuanan Melayu.

“I never grew up thinking about it very much. My parents never spoke to me about it. Even when I was in college the whole matter was never really present in how I saw things.

“I think because I live in KL – and especially because my parents came from that group of earlier middle class Malay civil servants – I don’t think I would subscribe to ideas of ketuanan Melayu.”

But does he subscribe in any way to the idea that the Malays are the natural leaders – or in some way the owners – of Malaysia?

“No. On my father’s side I’m the fourth generation born on this peninsula, on my mother’s side just the third generation, so I see myself as a pendatang too. I don’t subscribe to the idea of a natural leadership role for the Malays.

“More than that, as a Muslim, I don’t see the need for this. There is no such thing as one group being ethnically superior to another.

“The thing I remember most from school, from kelas agama, (is that) from the early days of Islam there was a clear message that you were all the same. Whether you were Arabs or not, you are all the same now.

“We should be talking about values and principles held by people rather than subscribing to simplistic ideas of certain ethnicities being the owners of the land. I don’t subscribe to that, and even if I did, I think the rightful owners would be the Orang Asal.”

Zahim Albakri (The Nut Graph)
Datuk Zahim Albakri, 45, the director and actor, is the son of Datuk Ikmal Hisham Albakri, the first Malay architect and the first President of Pertubuhan Akitek Malaysia, who designed the National Library, Putra World Trade Centre, and the Bank Bumiputera headquarters in KL.

Zahim’s grandfather, Datuk Seri Mustafa Albakri, of the Malayan Civil Service, was the first Commissioner of the Election Commission and the first Keeper of the Ruler’s Seal.

For Zahim, coming to grips with the concept of ketuanan Melayu means dispelling ambiguity: “There seems to be a confusion between the bumiputera policy (the New Economic Policy) and the idea of ketuanan Melayu. The bumiputera policy was a reaction to the riots of 1969, whereas ketuanan Melayu, in the Constitution, I don’t think is particularly giving special privileges or rights to the Malays, it’s to ensure that the Malay Rulers have a certain place, to ensure that those institutions continue.

“I grew up in a family where we were brought up with the understanding that the Malay rulers are there, and this is our history, our culture.

“I grew up with my granddad being proudly Malay, and proudly Orang Perak. There was this sense of being proud of our culture. But never were we made to think that being Malay gave us a right to something beyond.

“I was brought up (to believe) that every citizen in Malaysia was equal. I was never brought up believing that Malays should have more than everyone else.”

How would he feel about a non-Malay Prime Minister?

“I have no problem with a non-Malay PM. It should be about their competence. It should be the best person for the job.”

Saidah Rastam
The composer Datin Saidah Rastam comes from a family steeped in public life. Her maternal grandfather was Perak’s 14th Datuk Panglima Kinta, who held 56 public service posts at the time of his death. Her father is Datuk Rastam Hadi, the former managing director of Petronas and former deputy governor of Bank Negara. Her husband is the urbane lawyer-turned-banker Datuk Charon Mokhzani (who, with exquisite politeness, declined to be interviewed for this article).

Says Saidah, “I think the races should be treated equally and the biggest thing that makes me uneasy about the concept of ketuanan Melayu is that it’s increasingly being used in fascist ways.”

She believes that the NEP “was a necessary thing at the time, given the racial tensions, but that’s different from the concept of Malay supremacy”.

She points to the historical record: “Tun Razak said that that was only for that time, and this NEP thing would end at some point, so that’s different from the notion that there’s an inherent Malay supremacy that can’t be questioned, which I’m very uneasy with.

“I’m somebody who benefited from the policies which favoured Malays – at the outset I’m happy to admit that. But looking at things today, my personal view is that we should give everybody equal opportunities because the policies favouring Malays haven’t been used properly.

“And given that the people who are supposed to safeguard the correct implementation of the policies are the same ones who benefit from them, I’m not optimistic that those policies will be correctly implemented.”

Dain Said
Dain-Iskandar Said is a writer and film director. His father was Datuk Mohamed Said Zain, a diplomat and intelligence officer.

He sees the concept of ketuanan Melayu as “outmoded, out of step with the times we live in, when the world is becoming more and more global. The world over, people are bringing down barriers of race, yet we are trying to instill and install those outmoded values.”

In his eyes, there are many aspects to the problem. “First, what is a Malay? Most Malays I know are some kind of mix, so who defines being Malay? Who are the guardians of the definition?

“The definition of ketuanan Melayu seems to be Umno; it always seems to lead back to Umno’s agenda.

“I’m not saying that outside of it it’s not valid; it may be valid to a lot of people. I can understand that. The main problem is the way it’s implemented. The tone of it is fascistic.”

Mahathir Mohamad: the ultimate Melayu?
For him, the promotion of the tenets of ketuanan Melayu “exposes deep insecurity, because if you really believe you are leading this country, what are you so scared of? I don’t think any of the other races want to take that away from you. They can’t, because in the Constitution are enshrined certain precepts.”

Dain argues that our debate is impoverished. “While many of us middle class Malays can be liberal and open, there’s never been any kind of infrastructure that supports ideas or traditions of openness.

“So on the one hand you have people who are willing to be open and liberal, but on the other hand it is so easy to destroy it, because there is no critical, intellectual or educational infrastructure to support those ideas.

“When you attack something that has no support, it is so easy to play to the rural Malay masses, to instill that kind of fear, and make people feel extremely powerless.

“There’s no tradition of talking critically about race and identity politics. You’re almost suspended in a vacuum.”

This is a vacuum that we need to fill with the plurality and diversity of our opinions. It has always been the position of Wide Angle that Malaysia’s many problems and tensions should not be ignored; they need to be addressed by continued, forthright yet respectful debate by citizens, and the issue of ketuanan Melayu is no exception.

Huzir Sulaiman writes for theatre, film, television, and newspapers. 

[First posted 18 May 2012, reposted 11 July 2014]