An architectural beauty and brutality


August 20, 2016

An architectural beauty and brutality

by Julia Mayer

Image result for angkor wat cambodia

Image result for sleuk rith institute cambodia

Can architecture help heal the wounds of Cambodia’s genocide? Julia Mayer takes a look at the Documentation Centre of Cambodia’s new memorial to a dark past, the Sleuk Rith Institute in Phnom Penh. 

Passion and patience make strange bedfellows but are essential when best-laid plans temporarily go awry.

Youk Chhang, founder of the Sleuk Rith Institute and the Executive Director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia (DC-Cam) continues to work tirelessly on his ambitious proposal to reconcile his country’s brutal past with its rich ancient cultural heritage. He is trying to build a multi-purpose centre commemorating Cambodia’s genocide and is doing this in what can best be described as an uneasy present.

Facing numerous setbacks, Chhang, who is also a survivor of the infamous Khmer Rouge era of 1975-79 in which more than two million people perished, remains undeterred.

“We were planning to start building in February this year,” says Chhang. But efforts have ground to a halt. The delay is very complicated involving government bureaucracy, and we are working to resolve it now.”

Designed by the late multi award-winning London-based Iraqi architect, Zaha Hadid, back in 2014, the Sleuk Rith Institute’s design immediately conjures images of a distant future as well as Cambodia’s glorious past. Five towers reminiscent of Angkor Wat rise from the monsoonal mists of the famed and beautiful jungle to inspire yet another allegory — trees of knowledge and life.

“The repression of cultural knowledge during the French colonial era, followed by the Khmer Rouge regime’s ideology as a form of education meant that links to the rest of the world were severed.It was an ideology that almost destroyed us. Today we are still chained to the past, which is why for me, only education can set us free. We should not be enslaved by the past. We cannot escape it; we have to face it,” says Chhang.

The name Sleuk Rith is highly symbolic and refers to the power of leaves, explains Chhang, as he recounts a story of Cambodian intellectuals and activists secretly writing messages on dried leaves during the colonial era to preserve their knowledge and culture.

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The symbolism runs even deeper.

There are distinctive parallels between the ancient regional tradition of meticulously writing Hindu then later Buddhist texts on palm leaves, sastra, to the hundreds and thousands of leaves of paper filled with forced confessions delivered under unabated torture, to reams of survivor testimonies painstakingly recorded and collected by the DC-Cam team since it began its work in 1995.

Chhang is quick to mention that within the concept of the power of leaves exists another meaning — plain paper, or that critical moment before the page fills with ideas and feelings, and which allows for the possibility of new versions of the history of genocide.

“When I was growing up, there was no education, and very few had traveled outside of the country,” says Chhang.

“As a result of genocide, Cambodians are now all over the world, and I think, because of that, people have formed a new version of the history of genocide. Each person comes with a different idea, different ways of thinking and different views, so there’s no singular interpretation.”

The new building is meant to inspire reflection, reconciliation and the restoration of relationships broken by the Khmer Rouge’s near four-year reign of terror. However, unlike other memorials and in situ sites scattered throughout the country offering explicit and undeniably invaluable evidence of the atrocities orchestrated by the regime, the Sleuk Rith Institute aims to tell the same horror story a little differently.

“Many young people look at a skull, a shackle or a blood stain on a wall and feel that it is the older generation who are responsible for the mistakes made,” says Chhang.

“They see the past as remote and have problems seeing it as part of their identity. But if you come in with photography, with beauty, with dialogue, you bring them in, and they start to question.”

Reinterpreting the atrocities in any way as ‘beautiful’ immediately calls for a reevaluation of aesthetics, as does the message that is hoped to be shared and retold by others.

Sites like Tuol Sleng, the notorious prison and interrogation center codenamed S-21, and Choeung Ek ‘Killing Fields’ where the majority of prisoners were executed, all serve as important witnesses to the past.

However, it can be argued that they elicit intense feelings of pity, shame and disbelief, which can be counterproductive when trying to understand what happened and to possibly achieve reconciliation through empathy. And not everyone can visit such places.

“The best memorials evoke reflection and commemoration, but are also living, dynamic places that engage with all generations in the community,” says Chhang.

“A memorial should be enlightening, a place where both the younger and older generation can feel comfortable learning about the tragedies of the past to find new ways to heal, and to move forward.”

Image result for Sleuk Rith Institute

The centre will not only commemorate the lives lost but also serve as a tribute to the survivors via a museum of memory. It will also be an archive of all documents about the period, a library and an international research center for genocide studies, placing the Cambodian experience in context with other atrocities still being perpetuated today despite global outcries.

While such outcries have sadly done little to lessen the frequency and the impact of genocide across the globe, the fact remains that there are survivors and with them comes the arduous and initially insurmountable task of rebuilding a stable cultural identity that helps to heal. These efforts require hope and relentless optimism.

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Architect Zaha Hadid

Architecturally, Zahara Hadid’s futuristic designs embody this kind of optimism, as well as the belief that the past defines the future. The future depends on it, and, so by challenging the more traditional pessimistic practices of memorialising traumatic histories, her designs reach into the future as if to show that this can be, if not already, achieved. In the case of the Sleuk Rith Institute, this can be seen in the shimmering waterways and the warmth of exposed wooden beams that evoke the image of verdant and fertile trees or the themes of the rebirth of knowledge.

By widening the conceptual space for healing, the Sleuk Rith Institute has a profoundly important role to play. It shows that heritage so unequivocally rooted in pain and shame can be transformative through an oddly unsettling yet familiar kind of beauty that has the potential to evoke much-needed empathy and compassion.Content image - Phnom Penh Post

Youk Chhang, founder of the Sleuk Rith Institute and the Executive Director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia

“Genocide is part our identity– it is our identity. It just takes a matter of time to accept it,” says Chhang.

Time is a great healer, and after a succession of delays we can only hope that Cambodia will see a building it so desperately deserves — one that will aid a more informed idea of the past well into the future.

Julia Mayer is a Masters of Museum and Heritage Studies student at the Australian National University. She has lived in Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and South Korea, and has written extensively on traditional arts, performances and cinema in the region. She is also the Asia Correspondent for Metro Magazine Australia.

A building and brutality

Trust, Sharing Economy and Behavioral Economics


August 22, 2016

Trust, the Sharing Economy and Behavioral Economics

By D’Arcy Coolican & Lucas Coffman

Trust. It’s a complex, tricky, hard to explain, harder to define concept, but it’s crucial for so many things.

As Adam Smith pointed out, a base level of trust in society is necessary for specialization and the economic growth that accompanies it. If we didn’t trust the butcher to give us quality meat without having to inspect the cow every time — or worse yet, if we needed to litigate after every grocery run — the whole system would come to a screeching halt.

This concept is even more critical in the sharing economy — which is often, quite appropriately, referred to as the trust economy.

The sharing economy requires an incredibly high degree of trust, often based off little more than a profile picture and rudimentary reputation system. One needs only a few examples to realize how much trust is actually involved.

  •  Think about the faith required to get into the backseat of a random person’s car late at night? Seemed like a leap, until Uber made it ubiquitous.
  • Or consider letting a complete stranger staying your guest bedroom? Even visionary investors thought it was a dangerous idea … until AirBnB proved that it wasn’t.

Maybe it’s a trust in the platform (i.e., I trust Uber to screen and monitor drivers) or just trust in people (i.e., that AirBnB host looks legit), but either way it requires a tremendous amount of trust.

These successes in the sharing economy startled more than a few cynics who assumed that this reliance on trust, reputation and goodwill would quickly become a giant scam or worse.

The Subsequent Fall of the Sharing Economy

But a concept that began with such promise is already going through some tough growing pains.In many ways, the sharing economy seems to be coming apart at the seams. Whether it’s Uber drivers attacking their passengers, or Lending Club defrauding users, these recent problems — and big problems they are — have re-emboldened the original pessimists who doubted the idea of a trust economy in the first place.

Given that trust that is so crucial to the sharing economy — and that many Silicon Valley darlings seem to be getting it wrong — we thought it was time to go through the important lessons from behavioral economics on how trust (and trustworthiness) actually works, and the important consequences for the sharing economy companies.

Lessons from Behavioral Economics for the Sharing Economy

Lesson 1: Trust begets trustworthiness

One of our favorite concepts in behavioral economics is the idea that signaling that you trust someone, is a strong way to get that person to act in a more trustworthy manner towards you.

Armin Falk and Michael Kosfeld provided the first evidence of this hypothesis in their seminal paper: “The Hidden Costs of Control”. We give details on the experiment here, but the takeaway was that when Person A chooses to control or limit Person B’s options, Person B acts in a less trustworthy way towards Person A.

Put another way: If you show you trust the person, they’ll act more trustworthy towards you. Trust is self-fulfilling.

In many ways this explanation can help us understand the initial success of the trust economy.

  • The stranger that is welcomed into someone’s AirBnB might be a little more conscientious of a guest knowing that the owner has trusted them to act appropriately. After all, trust does beget trustworthiness.

This positive — and counter-intuitive — outcome helps show that people are more trusting than skeptics usually assume, especially when someone else goes out on that limb first.

This idea — and the resulting spike in trust-based activity — helped fuel much of the early optimism of a utopian trust economy where we could all operate on a system of goodwill toward mankind.

Lesson 2: Trust and reciprocity are limited in time

The TED talk types are often inclined to focus on these surprisingly positive elements of trust, but they often ignore the limitations that are just as important. While trust and reciprocity are very real phenomena, they also have very real limitations.

Most importantly, trust and reciprocity decline quickly with the passage of time.

As Uri Gneezy and John List show in their wonderful paper on gift exchange, the warm glow and good feeling of a generous and trustworthy act begins to disappear very quickly and after a few hours there is no difference in outcomes.

As one gets farther from the moment when trust was shown, the less likely one is to act in a trustworthy way.

How does this concept affect the sharing economy?

  • Maybe that AirBnB guest will be conscientious on the first night, but after 10 days in your apartment, they might spilling things on the couch and leaving a mess in the bathroom.
  • Or that 36 month loan on Lending Club or Vouch will look very different in month 32 than it does in month 2.

Many of the challenges the sharing economy has seen recently can be traced back to the evidence documenting this very real limitation on trust and collaboration: timing matters.

Lesson 3: Trust and reciprocity are limited in scope

Just as time can work to diminish trust and goodwill, so too can it diminish with decreased social proximity.

As Arun Chandrasekar from Stanford, Cynthia Kinnan from Northwestern, and Horacio Larreguy from Harvard show in their paper on Social Networks as Contract Enforcement, people are much more likely to act appropriately (even without a contract) when they share many close social connections with the person on the other side of the table. As these common social ties decrease, the degree of cooperation declines significantly.

So what does this mean for the sharing economy?

  • One might be more conscientious of refilling the gas for the car sharing service they use by their apartment that they know their friends also use, but maybe not the car they use when they’re visiting a different city.
  • Or (more controversially) an AirBnB user might be more likely to rent a room to someone that looks and sounds like they do.

Again, this evidence doesn’t mean the sharing economy doesn’t work, but we need to be aware of what the behavioral evidence says we should expect to ensure the systems that are built are fair and durable.

Lesson 4: Don’t lose trust, because it’s really hard to get back

One of the most under-appreciated concepts in the world of sharing economy start-ups is the idea that once trust is lost, it can be extremely hard to get back. “Move fast and break things” might work for a social media company like Facebook, but it can destroy an industry that relies on sharing, trust and cooperation.

For an example of this we need to look no farther than the heartbreaking history of the Tuskegee Study.

The Tuskegee Study was an experiment that started in the 1930’s that aimed to study certain diseases in poor black sharecroppers. The horrifying part was that after a cure for the disease was discovered, doctors withheld treatment in order to continue studying the effects on their patients. Revealed to the public in 1972, it goes down as one of the darkest moments in US history.

In a new paper, Marcela Alsan from Stanford and Marianne Wanamaker from the University of Tennessee, showed that this helped create a post-1972 distrust between black males and the medical community that has persisted. Over the last 50 years this distrust has led to black males underutilizing doctors and dying almost 1.4 years younger.

As the post-2009 finance community can attest, re-gaining the public’s trust after it has been lost can be an extraordinarily difficult task.

So for every sharing economy start-up that fails to foster or reward the trust of their users, the entire industry suffers. One does wonder how the sharing economy as a whole suffers for every one of these Uber driver issues or bad Lending Club loans.

The behavioral research would suggest that the price will be high.

What does it all mean?

The sharing economy was born with an incredible amount of promise. It was going to leverage trust to help create a more cooperative and efficient world. But if it’s going to actually fulfill this promise, its leaders need to begin to acknowledge and design around the limits on trust and cooperation that behavioral economists have already been helping us understand.

It doesn’t mean we should declare the entire industry dead and move on to the “next big thing”. It just means we need to be more thoughtful about where it will work and what design mechanisms can give it the best chance for success.

  • Not every exchange is ripe for the sharing economy. For example, a platform that relies on a reciprocal action years after the initial action might be too disconnected to actually work. This is probably just a no-go.
  • Some platforms might not be as big as Uber. For some, the limitation on scope means the actual circle of trust is necessarily small. I might be willing to lend my lawnmower to 100 people around me but my car to only 25 people around me. This might be smaller that venture capitalists ideally want, but at the end of the day I’m sure they’d prefer a platform that works to one that doesn’t.
  • Commitment mechanisms are critical where time is a factor. For example Frank is a P2P lending platform that allows people to borrow money from friends and family in a safe way. In Frank the reciprocal action usually happens months after the initial action, but because the platform asks borrowers to set up the repayment schedule immediately it captures that sense of trust and reciprocity at its peak. (Full disclosure: the authors of this article helped design and create Frank.)
  • Repetition is important where trust can dissipate. Every interaction can help build and re-enforce trust. Taking an Uber everyday can help me trust the system. Or getting an email from Frank with every successful payment can help restore the feeling of trust and reciprocity.
  • Technology can make the world feel smaller. Online communities — whether a Reddit board, an AirBnb reviewer, or a Facebook group — can make people who were previously distant feel “proximate” and increase that trust factor.
  • Start-up failure rates are unacceptable for the social economy. The majority of start-ups end up failing, it’s just how that system works. And it’s fine if the platforms fail, but for every user that feels a breakdown of trust, the rest of the industry suffers. Everyone needs to be cognizant of that.

I believe in the sharing economy. I believe it has the power to create economic opportunities for a part of country that is often left behind. I believe it can make the world more efficient and reduce the power of middle-men.

But until that industry begins to understand the well documented behavioral and psychology constraints of it, it will fail to meet the lofty expectations that it sparked.

 

 

Public Policy in the 21st Century


July 17, 2016

Public Policy in the 21st Century

Our Public Administrators must abandon old mental maps and deal with the realities of our globalised, technology and internet driven and fast paced world. Even Najib’s Blue Ocean strategy is out of date. We must learn to deal with open systems. Times are unpredictable and uncertainty is the norm. Innovate or become out of date. We need to do things better, faster and cheaper with new capacity to detect and anticipate emergent issues. Listen to this lecture and start thinking differently by creating inventive solutions with an innovative mind set.

Build national resilience through partnership with society and non-government organisations. It is our shared responsibility to make our country better. Our administrators must recognise that there are many ways of producing solutions to our problems. The best way is to be humble by recognising Government cannot deal with these complex challenges without the cooperation of all stakeholders.–Din Merican

 

Brexit Outcome: Schumacher’s Lessons for Nations


New York

June 28, 2016

Brexit Outcome: Schumacher’s Lessons for Nations

by Dr. Lim Teck Ghee

Over 40 years ago, a British economist, E.F. Schumacher, published a collection of essays on the theme of “small is beautiful” which argued that the modern growth-obsessed economy is unsustainable.

Anticipating the present global warming and environmental crisis in our land and oceans, he noted that natural resources should be treated as capital, since they are not renewable and subject to depletion. He further argued that nature’s ability to fight and resist pollution is limited as well – a warning which has still not sunk deeply enough into the corridors of power all over the world.

Besides his somber – and now proven to be correct – message on environmentalism, he made the case for sustainable development and against inappropriate technology transfer to developing countries which, in his view, would not resolve the underlying problems of unsustainable economies.

Schumacher was also amongst the earliest economists to question the appropriateness of using gross national product and other pure economic indicators to measure human well-being.

What has been referred to as “his dense mixture of philosophy, economics and politics” struck an immediate chord with Western readers, especially during the era of the 70s and the advent of the first global energy crisis. In 1995, the Times Literary Supplement ranked the slim volume of his work as among the 100 most influential books published since World War II.

Since then his influence appears to have waned. New critiques of conventional economic thinking have emerged; and Schumacher’s concern for the “philosophy of materialism” to be replaced or subsumed to ideals such as justice and harmony, and his counter-cultural ideas on the organic, the gentle, the non-violent, the elegant and beautiful as laid out in his Buddhist economics, have been taken up by less credible “gurus” with new vocabulary omitting his ideas and name.

Today, however, some of the concerns which “small is beautiful” raised in 1973 just before the push for European Union began to take place, are echoing in the popular sentiments and issues raised by the “Leave” voters in the Brexit referendum.

Why Britain is Leaving EU

The historic upset defeat of the “Remain” camp and successful revolt against the EU has been explained and interpreted in many ways.

In a lead article, the day after the referendum result, the BBC listed 8 reasons why Leave won the UK referendum on the EU. These reasons included the backfiring of Brexit economic warnings; bungled leadership of the Prime Minster, David Cameron; Labour’s disconnect with voters; the inter-generational divide with older voters preferring to leave; the ascendency of immigration and national and cultural identity issues in the minds of lower income voters; perceived economic benefits; and finally, the influence of Euroskeptic leaders and critics such as Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson during the referendum campaign.

While all the reasons advanced played a role in the final voting count to tilt the balance towards those opting for an uncharted and potentially precarious future, in one sense it represented a rejection of what local Britishers see as a much too big, too powerful and out-of-touch technocratic Frankenstein’s monster – as described in a United Kingdom Independence Party’s internet newsletter on the eve of the referendum – which has made life not only difficult but has also profoundly alienated the common citizen (http://www.ukipdaily.com/eu-is-a-frankenstein/)

In the immigration issue especially which assumed center stage in the Brexit debate, many Britons resent the EU migrants who legally move to jobs in Britain, are seen as taking jobs away from locals and are alleged to abuse the country’s benefits and welfare system.

And this is by no means just a view found in Britain. Other nations in the EU face similarly disenchanted citizens fed up with the “big is good; bigger is better” philosophy in economic and political systems that Schumacher warned against, and which the enlarged grouping of European nations seemed to signify.

Ordinary people and communities seem to be looking for solutions which call for more local autonomy and for moves away from centralized control towards greater decentralization and a return to local and national economies in which they have greater influence, however naive or impractical it may appear to the political and business elites that run our world today.

The same soul searching in the rest of Europe has already produced populist politicians and a growing number of Euroskeptics. They will seek their own referendums on EU membership and if successful will produce a breakup of the present union; and the need as French Prime Minister  Manuel Valls puts it “to invent another Europe.”

Can Malaysia Learn

In Malaysia the Brexit referendum result has produced the predictable dollars and cents focused analysis of what it means to the nation’s trade and investment flows as well as to the property, education and other sectors whose links with the UK are based on its inclusion in the EU. This is a limiting and inadequate focus which misses the larger lessons to be learned.

In our part of the world, especially in Sabah and Sarawak which opted to join Malaya and Singapore in the formation of Malaysia in 1963, a sense of alienation towards the federalized centralized political entity, run from Kuala Lumpur and beholden to UMNO’s agenda, has been brewing for some time.

In August 2014, a coalition of NGOs, politicians and activists from Sarawak and Sabah drew up a petition addressed to the United Nations (UN) secretary-general to re-open the issue of self-determination for the two East Malaysian states. The petition believed to be signed by some 100 representatives was also copied to the UN Special Committee of 24 (C-24) and the UN Human Rights Committee (http://www.theborneopost.com/2014/08/13/group-draws-up-self-determination-petition-for-sarawak-and-sabah/#ixzz4Ccnmmakv).

These local autonomy and even separatist tendencies and forces are not going to go away. At some point – unless real reforms are put in place to provide for greater autonomy and to protect the freedoms and sense of local identity that the local communities from the two states feel they have lost – we will have our own version of Brexit demanded more forcefully.

 

The Building Blocks of Learning


June 15, 2016

The Building Blocks of Learning

Malaysia: A Bipolar Nation


June 9, 2016

COMMENT: I received a warning for the second time from  the Media Unit, Malaysian Multimedia Corporation (MMMC) instructing me to remove my posting of Kassim Ahmad’s article.

See: https://dinmerican.wordpress.com/2016/06/06/the-power-of-syahadah-declaration-of-muslim-faith-verse-18-surah-al-i-imran-the-family-of-imran/

Kassim Ahmad is a controversial public intellectual whose bold and forthright take on Islam is deemed unacceptable and yet agreeable to some people like me. I complied with the MMMC directive as I respect the law, although I think their action reflects what Dr. Azly Rahman what says in his article  (below) about our mentality.

A  nation (and people) that cannot accept views which challenge orthodoxy and is unable to embrace diversity is a nation in irreversible decline. Dr. Azly is correct when he says in his eloquent opinion piece (I repeat opinion and assume that we are all entitled to our opinions)  and I quote:

“…we are constantly at war with ourselves and that the goal of each political party is to destroy one another and for each leader to aim for the jugular – to rule the country.

As citizens we are not allowed speak up against evil-doings…We are asked to shut up or else be locked up if we dare speak of the fate of our hard-earned savings. Bipolar a nation we have become, paranoia our leaders are plagued with…

We are not allowed to do all these although as citizens – besides going out to vote – we are accorded the rights to participate in nation-building through making suggestions on how to maintain check and balances in a society supposedly progressive and democratic.”–Dr Azly Rahman

Be of good cheer. Time waits for no one. It is the great leveler and equalizer. History teaches us this reality, if we care and are humble enough to learn. So let us  use not waste it, when others are using it to deal with serious global issues of war and peace, and development and enlightenment. Being petty bureaucrats is not the way to be productive and useful to our country and humanity.–Din Merican

Malaysia: A Bipolar Nation

by Dr. Azly Rahman*

http://www.malaysiakini.com

Columbia University’s Dr. Azly Rahman

Stoning to death. More lashes to the Friday caning. Syaria Law eventually for non-Muslims. Leave Malaysia if you don’t like how things are run. That puzzling and trumpeting Bangsa Johor rhetoric – as if nobody can explain what the concept of ‘nation/natio’ is. Sabah and Sarawak wish to leave the federation.

Criticise the county and you’re not allowed to go for your overseas holidays. Who owns Gold Star and why the deep secret? Syaria-compliant this and that. A possible boxing match with Dr Mahathir Mohamad, in Kuala Kangsar. Humans eating ‘dedak’ or chicken feed. Is Hang Tuah a real person? Is the Taming Sari we have now a fake dagger?

These are some of the topics dominating the discourse of our nation. Can we do better than this? Don’t we care about the intellectual future of our children? Don’t we want them to emulate good ethics from us and the adults they see in power? Don’t we have such moral and critical thinking obligation to them, leaving behind good lessons in their national lives?

That much we owe them, so that they could carry on rejuvenating society without emulating the political and psychological ills of today’s leaders.

I feel that Malaysia’s youth of the next generation are missing out on good and productive discourse plaguing the national debate on things. Malaysians have becoming more global, progressive, intelligent, innovative, and articulate – at least from my analysis of the stories of successes I have been reading.

We might be shamed in the cyberspace and international media with the massive and complex money-laundering scandal implicating our leaders and members of their families, but we are also reading stories of ‘global Malaysians’ – in the arts, business, and sociopreneurship – doing well inside and outside of Malaysia. They are proud calling themselves Malaysians.

But I feel that the discourse dominating the country is one plagued with the filth of retrogressive-ness our youth need not be subjected to.

From the Islamists wishing to push the completeness of the Islamic penal code, the hudud, to the ongoing fights between the members of the opposition and ruling coalitions, to the increasing paranoia over race and religion produced by the political leaders, the daily news of cases of corruption, robbery in broad daylight, the ongoing public arguments between the Johor Royal household with select UMNO politicians – showing who can be more arrogant that the other – the malaise in our education system, and a host of other issues plaguing us, I feel that we are not moving in the right direction and taking advantage of the richness and talented-ness of our diverse population.

In other words, we are constantly at war with ourselves and that the goal of each political party is to destroy one another and for each leader to aim for the jugular – to rule the country.

As citizens we are not allowed speak up against evil-doings, such as the massive losses arising from the 1MDB fiasco although it is the right of each citizen to know what can happen to their life savings such as those in the Employees Provident Fund (EPF), the Haj Fund, and the fund allocated for the servicemen and women (Lembaga Tabung Angkatan Tentera).

Bipolar a nation we have become

We are asked to shut up or else be locked up if we dare speak of the fate of our hard-earned savings. Bipolar a nation we have become, paranoia our leaders are plagued with.

What a pathological state of democracy we are living in. What a shame for a country supposedly a ‘fully-developed industrialised society’ with first-class infrastructure and rhetoric of hypermodernity.

Today the dominant theme is (again) the hudud; of the Hadi-hudud proposal. I am sure by now Malaysians understand what the demands are and how UMNO is helping to fast-track the proposal. Although items concerning the Islamic penal code are minimal, they do point to the inching of our country to the illusionary and ‘non-existent’ concept of an Islamic state.

What a pathological state of democracy we are living in. What a shame for a country supposedly a ‘fully-developed industrialised society’ with first-class infrastructure and rhetoric of hypermodernity.

Today the dominant theme is (again) the hudud; of the Hadi-hudud proposal. I am sure by now Malaysians understand what the demands are and how UMNO is helping to fast-track the proposal. Although items concerning the Islamic penal code are minimal, they do point to the inching of our country to the illusionary and ‘non-existent’ concept of an Islamic state.

Although punishments such as stoning to death and amputation are left out, they might be tabled again eventually when the UMNO-PAS coalition on the ‘survival of the Malays’ and the ‘defence of Islam against its enemies in Malaysia’ becomes louder battle cries, especially for the Islamists wishing to turn Malaysia into a Taliban nation.

Today, the insistence is that the Syaria Law and hudud is only for Muslims, tomorrow it will be for all Malaysians, as political logic would dictate. Analysts on the scenario and the futurism of the implementation of Syaria law and the hudud have written about the complexity of the issue and how it can never be a suitable law in a country that prides itself in the superiority of man-made law as such as the Malaysian constitution.

The thought of stoning to death and amputation itself makes one wonder of the barbarism to be represented as a punishment supposedly ordained by a merciful, loving, and compassionate god -– God of the Religion of Peace. God who forgives more than one who gets angry all the time. Perhaps not many Islamic scholars in Malaysia have even inquired into the ancient cultural origins of such punishments; for example of the Pagan (Greek) and early Judaic origin of stoning which was then borrowed by Islam.

Today, stoning to death can be considered barbaric and inhumane and opposed to the United Nations convention on torture. Why subject a wrongdoer to a slow death? Would that be a philosophical question of today as the Hadi-hudud PAS-UMNO proposal progresses?

These developments in Malaysia that are colouring the discourse on hypermodernity continue to take away our consciousness – especially of the youth – of more exciting things to work on: environmental issues, sustainability, newer technologies of peace, green technologies, newer jobs, newer hopes for world peace, appreciation of the arts, humanities and philosophies in school, good labour practices, respect and understanding one another cross-culturally, virtual reality, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and even new ways of crafting Malaysian politics so that the rich will not get richer and filthier and the poor taken care of well and re-humanised.

But we are not there yet. We seem to love letting the discourse on Medieval and Dark Age practices dominate us. We need to move beyond these. How do we do this?

Let us share as many ways. As a people let us not stone ourselves to death. As smart and peace-loving Malaysians, let us not amputate our intelligence; the gift of the intellect to be used for ethical and social purposes. Is not religion, from the Greek ‘religio’ about making peaceful connections and not about amputations or being spiritually empty after being stoned to death metaphorically?

*Dr. Azly Rahman holds a Columbia University (New York City) doctorate in International Education Development and Masters degrees in the fields of Education, International Affairs, Peace Studies and Communication. He will be pursuing his fifth Masters in Fine Arts, specialising in Fiction and Poetry Writing.

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