NY Times Book Review: What the Greek Myths Teach Us About Anger in Troubled Times


September 7, 2017

ENRAGED
Why Violent Times Need Ancient Greek Myths
By Emily Katz Anhalt
268 pp. Yale University Press. $30.

The very first word in the history of Western literature is “rage” or “wrath.” For that is how Homer’s “Iliad” begins. Composed some time in the eighth century B.C., it starts with a call to the Muse, the goddess of inspiration, to help tell the story of the “wrath” of Achilles (menin in the original Greek) — and of the incalculable sorrows and the terrible deaths of so many brave warriors that this wrath caused. Homer’s epic, set during the mythical war between Greeks and Trojans, is as much about anger, private vendetta and its fatal consequences as it is about heroic combat and the clash of two ancient superpowers. What happens, the poem asks, when your best warrior is so furious at a personal insult that he withdraws from the war and simply refuses to fight? What are the costs, to use the modern coinage, of “Achilles sulking in his tent”?

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In “Enraged,” Emily Katz Anhalt, a professor at Sarah Lawrence College, offers an engaging and sometimes inspiring guide to the rich complexities of the “Iliad.” Her underlying point is that, from its earliest origins, Western literature questioned the values of the society that produced it. The “Iliad” is no jingoistic Greek anthem, proudly celebrating the achievements of its warrior heroes and their struggles for military, political and personal glory (their struggles, as she sums it up, to be “best”). The poem both encapsulates and simultaneously challenges that worldview, by asking what “bestness” is and what the costs of such a competitive culture are.

The 10-year Trojan War was fought to protect the honor of one Greek king, whose wife, Helen, had been stolen by — or had run off with — a Trojan prince. It must always have been very hard to listen to the “Iliad” (it was originally delivered orally) without wondering whether being “best” really should mean deploying almost unlimited resources and sacrificing the lives of countless friends and allies to avenge such a personal slight. Or, to put it in our terms, was the military response proportionate to the provocation? The dilemma in Homer’s plot, which focused on a few days’ slice of the action, is similar. In a public contest of bravado, clout and honor, Achilles had been forced to give up a captive girl, who was his favorite spoil of war, to the Greek commander in chief, Agamemnon. It was for that reason — the dishonor more than the girl herself — that he sulked off from the fight and by his absence caused the deaths of many dear to him. “Was he justified?” is the obvious and, in terms of traditional heroic codes of honor, the radical question.

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No less radical are the different perspectives on the story that Homer encourages his listeners and readers to adopt. As Anhalt rightly insists, by setting some of his scenes behind enemy lines, among the Trojan fighters and their families — from the ruminations of the sadly regretful Helen to the encounters between Hector, the Trojan super-warrior, and his young son — Homer destabilizes the traditional “them-and-us” culture of the ancient Greek world, and its conventional polarization between civilization and barbarity. We are invited to see the Trojan enemy not as barbarians at all but as people very much like us (that is, like Greeks): laughing and joking, loving their children, kindly, fearful and in awe of their gods. In short, as Anhalt writes, the first work of Western literature already reminds us that even a sworn enemy is “fully human.”

Anhalt, however, has bigger points to make. She wants to show that the “Iliad” and other works of Greek literature (she also examines in detail two fifth-century-B.C. Athenian tragedies set in the last days and aftermath of the Trojan War) have direct lessons for the modern world. You can see why. As she makes very clear, dehumanizing the enemy is still one of the most counterproductive aspects of political rhetoric. It may suit some narrowly short-term ends to pretend that, for example, the politicians and people of North Korea do not laugh and joke and love their children; but of course they do.

She has some powerful words too on the modern unreflective complacency about the democratic political process, as if so-called free and fair elections were its only touchstone. One of her chosen tragedies, Sophocles’ “Ajax,” explores the consequences of a popular group decision that was morally wrong: After his death, the armor of Achilles was unfairly awarded as a prize to Odysseus, not to his rival Ajax — and bloody mayhem came from Ajax’s rage at the decision. Anhalt urges us to look harder, as Sophocles did, at the way democracy works, to face the uncomfortable fact that democratic decisions can be wrong and can sometimes serve the ends of tyranny and ignorance rather than of justice and equality. Her implication that it is the job of a democracy to debate and to deal with democracy’s mistakes as well as to celebrate its successes is important, even if she is occasionally unfair to some human political achievements. “In many parts of the world today,” Anhalt writes, “slavery and ethnic inequality persist and women still lack equal rights and cannot vote” — which in some general sense is true, though the last part is misleading. It is certainly the case that in some places voting may not amount to much, and that women face all kinds of political disadvantage almost everywhere, but to my knowledge it is only in Vatican City that women are allowed nowhere near a ballot box.

But as the title “Enraged” suggests, fury and anger are at the center of Anhalt’s agenda. If, she claims, we were to take a lesson from the “Iliad” and from the human costs of Achilles’ anger, we would now be trying much more determinedly to move away from the politics of violence, vengeance and reprisals, to the politics of debate and verbal persuasion. “As we face the domestic, international, and global crises of our own times we have to resist the seductions of rage,” she writes.

Ancient literature can certainly be eye opening, and it has a wonderful capacity to make us re-examine many modern assumptions that we take too much for granted. But I am very doubtful that it has any particularly useful direct lessons for us. It is slightly disappointing to find that, after many fine observations, the book’s central conclusion lies somewhere between a liberal truism (essentially: It is better to talk about things than fight) and a misleading oversimplification. As Anhalt more or less concedes, the final verdict on anger, whether political or personal, must come down to what we are angry about and how we act as a consequence. Rage, as shown in the “Iliad” and some modern geopolitical debate, can be petty and corrosive, but I doubt that Homer was advocating that we should live entirely without it. It is sometimes not only justifiable but necessary. Do we want to live in a world in which we don’t get furious at slavery, racism, or any number of other global injustices — or even at some of the dreadful truths of the human condition? When more than two millenniums after Homer the poet Dylan Thomas wrote of facing death with the words “Rage, rage against the dying of the light,” it was the kind of rage that many of us understandably cherish.

 

Carpe Diem for Bangsa Malaysia


September 4, 2017

Carpe Diem for Bangsa Malaysia: Fellow Malaysians

by Zairil Khir Johari

http://penangmonthly.com/article.aspx?pageid=9497&name=bangsa_malaysia_a_dream_worth_fighting_for

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After over 20 rounds of Transformasi Nasional 2050 (TN50) dialogues held at various locations throughout the country, Khairy Jamaluddin, the Minister of Youth and Sports and de facto TN50 coordinator, found that Malaysian youths desire to be known more as Malaysian rather than through their ethnic identities.1

This post-racial posturing is interesting though not altogether surprising. Firstly, every Malaysian under the age of 30 was born after 1987 into an era of high-performing growth and rapid development. They went to school under the aegis of Bangsa Malaysia and Vision 2020, both of which were forward-looking philosophies designed to usher the nation into the twenty-first century. This also means that turbulent episodes of our past, such as the Singapore Separation, Indonesian Confrontation, May 13 incident and even the Communist Insurgency that officially ended in 1989, would carry little meaning to this generation of millennials.

Image result for A Millennial MalaysianThe Millennial Malaysians with Dato’ Seri Nazir Razak, the No. 1 Malaysian Banker

 

Secondly, while the contentious polemics of identity politics that drove those historical incidents are somewhat lost on younger Malaysians, they would still have been conditioned by the narrow ethno-centric narrative that is prevalent in the education system, the bureaucracy and the mainstream media.

However, growing up in the late 1990s and 2000s would also mean exposure to wider dissension, particularly online, and alternative narratives that challenge the “social compact” that the federal government propagates. Hence, for many young Malaysians, the broad label of “race and religious politics” symbolises the baggage of past generations and is further perceived to be the reason why there is so much social division today. For these Malaysians, it would not be hard to imagine that a post-racial paradigm could provide a solution for all the legacy problems faced by the nation.

Is Race and Religion Still Relevant?

Yet aspirations often and perhaps necessarily reflect naive idealism more than reality. While there are few Malaysians who would disagree with the notion of identifying with a larger Malaysian race where every citizen is equal within constitutional boundaries, the fact is that public life in Malaysia is driven by ideals that are polar opposites.

The legacy of decades of ethno-religious nationalism has seen the entrenchment of institutionalised discrimination in every aspect of life in Malaysia, from education to politics to the economy and even sports. And the consequences are plain to see – thinly veiled private-sector discrimination has resulted as a reaction to public-sector employment policies, cost of education is increasing as more and more parents veer away from free national schools to private schools, and the nation today suffers from an acute brain drain problem, with over one million Malaysians – mostly skilled and educated – now plying their trade overseas.2

Tellingly, most of these emigrants, most of whom are professionally employed, cited career prospects and social injustice as the two main reasons for their departure from Malaysia. In other words, discrimination is a key push factor that drives out many talented Malaysians, the bulk of whom are made up of ethnic minorities who feel victimised by the system.

Bangsa Malaysia should represent a nation where public policies do not discriminate but instead encourage, where freedom is valued over suppression and where competitiveness is a virtue and not an excuse for patronage and rent-seeking.

Deepening the frustration are the broiling challenges faced by young people in urban Malaysia. The typical young worker in the city starts off with a low-paying job that is barely enough to sustain fixed monthly expenditures such as house rent, utilities, study loan repayment for degrees that have added little value to their competitiveness in the job market, and, as necessitated by underdeveloped public transport infrastructure, often a privatevehicle loan repayment as well. Coupled with increasing costs of living, prospects look daunting for young Malaysians.

More importantly, racial and religious rhetoric offers no solution to any of these problems, nor do they even offer any constructive perspective. The general presumption that the Malays are poor and the Chinese are rich no longer hold true. The fact is that everyone is poor. According to the Department of Statistics Wages and Salaries Survey Report 2016, the median wage of Malaysian workers stands at RM2,000 a month. Ethnic Chinese workers earn a median wage of RM2,350 a month while Bumiputera (including Sabah and Sarawakian natives) workers are not far off with RM1,931. This means that no matter their race, half of all Malaysian workers earn below RM2,500 a month, which is a paltry sum when juxtaposed with the burdens of modern day life.

More and more Malaysians face escalating pressures and struggle to maintain the same standards of living that their parents enjoyed.

So What of Bangsa Malaysia?

As more and more Malaysians face escalating pressures and struggle to maintain the same standards of living that their parents enjoyed, everything will come to a head. The hegemonic ethno-religious nationalist narrative that has permeated Malaysian society for decades could be tolerated so long as socio-economic conditions improved. But as bread and butter problems become more prominent, the politics of race and religion will become less relevant.

In this context, the concept of Bangsa Malaysia can provide an ideal meta-narrative, although it should not be confined to being merely an elusive post-racial vision. Rather, Bangsa Malaysia should be about inclusive prosperity, social mobility and the empowerment of all citizens.

Bangsa Malaysia should represent a nation where public policies do not discriminate but instead encourage, where freedom is valued over suppression and where competitiveness is a virtue and not an excuse for patronage and rent-seeking. In short, Bangsa Malaysia should be about the upliftment of all Malaysians. Only then can it be a dream worth fighting for.

1 http://www.thestar.com.my/news/ nation/2017/04/18/youth-want-to-be-msian-first-next- generation-shares-its-true-aspiration-during-tn50- dialogue
2 https://www.aseantoday.com/2016/03/malaysias-brain- drain

A Great Nation with an Unstable Leader not Once but also today


August 27, 2017

 

What happens when the people of a great nation gradually realize that their leader may not be, er, quite right in the head?

When Caligula became Roman emperor in A.D. 37, the people rejoiced. “On all sides, you could see nothing but altars and sacrifices, men and women decked in their holiday best and smiling,” according to the first-century writer Philo.

The Senate embraced him, and he was hailed as a breath of fresh air after the dourness, absenteeism and miserliness of his great-uncle, Emperor Tiberius. Caligula was colorful and flamboyant, offering plenty of opportunities for ribald gossip. Caligula had four wives in rapid succession, and he was said to be sleeping with his sister. (Roman historians despised him, so some of the gossip should be treated skeptically.)

Image result for Donald Trump an Unstable Leader

The guy is not a Roman Leader, but Donald J. Trump, 45th POTUS

He was charming, impetuous and energetic, sleeping only three hours a night, and he displayed a common touch as he constantly engaged with the public. His early months as emperor brimmed with hope.

Initially, Caligula focused on denouncing his predecessor and reversing everything that he had done. Caligula also made popular promises of tax reform so as to reduce the burden on the public. He was full of grandiose pledges of infrastructure projects, such as a scheme to cut through the Isthmus of Corinth.

But, alas, Caligula had no significant government experience, and he proved utterly incompetent at actually getting things done. Meanwhile, his personal extravagance actually increased the need for tax revenue.

Suetonius, the Roman historian, recounted how Caligula’s boats had “sterns set with gems, parti-colored sails, huge spacious baths, colonnades and banquet halls, and even a great variety of vines and fruit trees.”

Romans initially accepted Caligula’s luxurious tastes, perhaps intrigued by them. But Caligula’s lavish spending soon exhausted the surplus he had inherited, and Rome ran out of money.

This led to increasingly desperate, cruel and tyrannical behavior. Caligula reportedly opened a brothel in the imperial palace to make money, and he introduced new taxes. When this wasn’t enough, he began to confiscate estates, antagonizing Roman elites and sometimes killing them.

A coward himself, Caligula was said to delight in the torture of others; rumor had it that he would tell his executioners: “Kill him so that he can feel he is dying.”

Caligula, a narcissist and megalomaniac, became increasingly unhinged. He supposedly rolled around on a huge pile of gold coins, and he engaged in conversations with the moon, which he would invite into his bed. He replaced the heads of some statues of gods with his own head, and he occasionally appeared in public dressed as a god. He was referred to as a god in certain circumstances, and he set up a temple where he could be worshiped.

“Remember that I have the right to do anything to anybody,” he told his grandmother, according to Suetonius.

Caligula had a thing for generals, and he periodically wore the garb of a triumphant military commander. He removed the breastplate of Alexander the Great from his sarcophagus and wore it himself at times.

The Senate, dignified and traditional, watched Caligula with increasing alarm. He scandalized the public by sometimes dressing as a woman, and he aggravated tensions by scathingly denouncing the Senate, relying on sarcasm and insult, and showing utter contempt for it.

One of Caligula’s last allies was his beloved racehorse, Incitatus, who wore a collar of precious stones and lived in a marble stall. Caligula would invite Incitatus to dine with him.

Edward Champlin, a historian of Rome at Princeton University, says that Caligula pursued “a love of pranks that a 4-year-old might disdain” and had a penchant for “blurting out whatever is on his mind” — such as suggesting that Incitatus could become consul. These rash statements rippled through Rome, for leaders of great powers are often taken not just seriously but also literally.

Yet as Caligula wreaked havoc, Rome also had values, institutions and mores that inspired resistance. He offended practically everyone, he couldn’t deliver on his promises, his mental stability was increasingly doubted and he showed he simply had no idea how to govern. Within a few years, he had lost all support, and the Praetorian Guard murdered him in January 41 (not a path I would ever condone).

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Credit Liza Donnelly

Caligula was as abominable a ruler as a great nation could have, yet Rome proved resilient.

Likewise, Rome survived Emperor Nero a generation later, even as Nero apparently torched Rome, slaughtered Christians, slept with and then murdered his mother, kicked his pregnant wife to death, castrated and married a man and generally mismanaged the empire.

“If there’s a hero in the story of first-century Rome, it’s Roman institutions and traditional expectations,” reflects Emma Dench, a Harvard scholar of the period. “However battered or modified, they kept the empire alive for future greatness.”

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To me, the lesson is that Rome was able to inoculate itself against unstable rulers so that it could recover and rise to new glories. Even the greatest of nations may suffer a catastrophic leader, but the nation can survive the test and protect its resilience — if the public stays true to its values, institutions and traditions. That was true two millennia ago, and remains true today.

Malusia: Take On Hypocrites


August 16, 2017

Malusia: Take On Hypocrites and those who betrayed this nation and our children

by Azly Rahman@www.malaysiankini.com

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In honour of the thinking and rational man

Atheist Club? Atheist Republic? Is that a band from California, after Linkin Park and Nirvana? Or a new name for a brand of Chinese-made jeans? I know One Republic is a brand of clothing and True Religion is a pair of cool jeans. Only true believers wear them.

And for the atheist, there is always the question when they die:

All dressed up and nowhere to go?

And what does it mean to believe in Nothing? When we live in a world in which we cannot escape from Somethingness?

Seriously folks, this is a serious matter in Malaysia, today and yesterday, at least. Another distraction from the issue of 1MDB and who allegedly stole the money, and who killed Altantuya and who masterminded the tragedy.

Even if one is an atheist, you’d say: Oh my God. Why was so much money allegedly stolen? Why use C4 explosives on the pregnant woman?

That is what we will say and what we have been saying about what the hell is happening in this heaven called Malaysia.

Malay-Muslims denouncing their religion. Why? Loss of meaning. No spiritual compass. Perhaps? The elders have betrayed them and robbed them of their future.

What is the meaning of Islam in Malaysia today? What has the Islamicisation agenda brought us?

Not what Prophet Muhammad taught: Opposing gluttony, combating greed. Look at the kind of lives the leaders and the sultans of the world are living. Look at the poor. Remember what the Arab Spring was about? Herein lies the rise of those who are disillusioned by Islam.

What we are reading about in the Islamic world is about Muslims killing each other, and the richer amongst the Islamic countries are building and buying weapons from the enemies of Islam, to annihilate each other.

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A Malay Muslim of the UMNO variety will freak out at the sight of pork or bacon or ham but find it quite moral to squander or songlap state funds to quote Azly Rahman. MACC, what are you doing about these hypocrites? Billions of ringgits have been songlaped by the UMNO state, while you take on small fries.Occasionally you arrest the likes of Isa Samad for show.–Din Merican

At home in Malaysia, we have these streams of reports about massive and even billion-ringgit corruption cases allegedly involving those who profess the religion of Islam. As the popular saying goes, a Muslim will freak out at the sight of pork or bacon or ham but find it quite moral to squander or songlap millions.

Words they merely are. A prison-house of language we live in. Atheism. Agnosticism. Platonism. Theism. Pantheism. Secularism. Islamism. Anachronism. These are mere words.

The last one is not a belief system though. It sounded like an anaconda with a chronic illness. And if it is “anachronistic”, it should be an anaconda with a lipstick.

Who to hunt

Hunt down not the atheist to destroy them. Hunt those who are killing the nation and the coming generations. Those in power who cause untold damage, pretending to believe in God yet godless in the way they treat the world and its inhabitants.

I hope those planning to do the goodwill hunting of the atheists will be ready with the best weapons: philosophy of religion and rationalistic thought.

The self-proclaimed atheists are very smart people and have all the good arguments (though many might be faulty) to argue why they have left religion, in general.

Image result for The Greek PhilosophersFarewell to Socrates

 

Dialogue is good, hunting is not, let alone calling for the death of atheists. I doubt the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) would agree to that. I doubt Islam is about that brand of paranoia.

 When I read about the issue, I recall what I wrote about believing. Here it goes.

“Prayer of a Believer”
by Azly Rahman

Believe in anything you wish to
in anything
in something
in nothing
anything that teaches you the beauty within
and shows you the kingdom you are to govern wisely 
shown by you … yourself 
as Time evolves itself within you
begin believing in anything
privately 
privately 
privately
moving into intimacy with yourself
so that when you worship
you become the worshipper – and the worshipped
like the dancer and the danced
the waves in the water
the self in your self
and when you have become good in believing what is 
good in you
the human in your humanity
the love in your beloved — you become lovers
you evolved 
you and yourself
none should tell you how
none should know
no signs 
no symbols
no house of worship should shroud your soul 
from infinitesimal glows
you evolve 
and evolve 
and walk proudly
publicly
publicly
publicly
even like the sage Siddhartha
with a begging bowl
with Rumi and reason whirling as rhymes in you
like a sadhu
a wanderer in the wilderness
a prophet on Wall Street
a soul meditating on a mountain of light
away from the madness of civilization’s plight
believe in anything you wish to 
you are truth
evolving
creating meaning
in a world
where nothing can become everything
and believing makes you a being
every minute 
every breath 
evolving
a cycle
never ending
a circle 
expanding
illuminating

No. Let us not hunt atheists but focus our energy and resources hunting down hypocrites and those who betrayed this nation and our children: leaders that are godless but wearing the mask of religiosity.

That should be our goal. As for Muslims, we do it with Bismillah hirRahman nirRahim. In the name of the Universal God, Most Merciful, Most Compassionate.


DR AZLY RAHMAN is an educator, academic, international columnist, and author of seven books. He grew up in Johor Baru and holds a Columbia University doctorate in International Education Development and Masters degrees in five areas: Education, International Affairs, Peace Studies Communication, and Creative Writing. Follow him on FacebookTwitter and his blog.

Edward Said–A Tribute


August 12, 2017

Edward Said–A Tribute

by A.C. Grayling

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Edward Said (pic above) was a much interviewed man, partly because he stood in a unique cross-cultural place at a painful historical juncture, and could speak about it with intelligence and eloquence,thus attracting the persistent attention of journalists and fellow intellectuals, and partly because he agreed so often to be interviewed , doubtless out of the intellectual’s need for expression, but almost  certainly also because there was more than a tincture of vanity in that handsome man who derived so much from so many places–Palestine, the Western literary tradition, the East, America, the British public school tradition,the Arab world, the East Coast Ivy League tradition, Cairo, Jerusalem,New York, well lit European television studios, the border with Israel at whose fence he could throw stones–because he claim to belong to none of them though benefiting massively from them all.

The many interviews he gave between them beautifully manifest these paradoxical  self-positionings and deep ambiguities, and in the process offer a portrait–all the more striking for being so unselfconsciously self-conscious–of a vitally interesting individual. A volume collecting his interviews was ready for publication shortly before his lamented death, and he therefore read it;  one wonders whether he saw how chameleon-like he was, taking on colours of the side from which his interviewers  came: an Arab for Arabs, a ‘colonial’ when talking to other ‘colonials’ (for example the Indian editor of the volume), and a culturally conservative four-square Western-educated intellectual for Western academic colleagues. He even went so far as to say to Israel’s Ha’aretz magazine, “I’m the last Jewish intellectual…I’m a Jewish-Palestinian.”

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He was, of course, nothing of the sort, and not much of the other thing either. Born a Protestant Christian in West Jerusalem of wealthy Christian Arab parents, he spent his early life in Cairo being educated at a famous English public school there along with later King Hussein of Jordan and the famous bridge player-actor Omar Sharif, and then went to university in America. After taking his PhD in English Literature he joined the faculty of Columbia University in the early 1960s, and New York remained his home until his death in 2003.

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Although his chosen milieu was American academia, the accident of his origins gave him a stake in the tragedy of the Middle East, and he became an indefatigable and powerful advocate of the Palestinian cause. Fame came with his book Orientalism , whose argument is that Europeans deal with the Orient through a process of colonisation premised on the Orient as ‘Other’ expressed in many ways, from literature and art to scholarship and thence colonial bureaucracy. He saw the Occident-Orient relationship as deriving  not in fact from alienation but from historical closeness, although at its fullest it takes the form of power, dominance, and varying degrees of hegemony in Gramsci’s of ‘cultural domination’. This important idea, and its extension into Said’s views about the relation of culture and imperialism generally, is discussed repeatedly and from a variety of angles in the interviews he gave, which between them therefore constitute a work in itself, and an excellent introduction to hie thought.

For all that Said was a campaigner for Palestine and enemy of Zionism in unequivocal terms (he disliked Martin Luther King Jr. and King was pro-Israel), he was otherwise a small conservative in cultural terms. Despite everything he said about Orientalism, his most abiding loyalty was to Western High Culture ( he loved serious music and opera, and wrote about it frequently) and the literature of the English tongue. Claiming that even Jane Austen embodies the imperialising thrust of English literature–Mansfield Park is paid for by a slave plantation in Antigua, a passingly mentioned item which for Said, as for the many engaged in the industry of ‘postcolonial literary studies’, is an endless resource–Said  was able to be a prophet among avant-garde lit.-crit. fraternity, and yet at the same time he came early to despise them.

“One thing that everyone can agree with Said about–and it is  a point he often  and eloquently made–is that academy should not be disengaged from the real world and especially the injustices it contains. His own life is a monument to that conviction, and deserves praise for it”.–A.C. Grayling

Refreshingly, he was sometimes dismissive of ‘literary theory’ and the jargon-laden ‘auto-tinkering’ of the academy,  in which literary criticism  is a cheap form of philosophy done by waving banners  with ‘Derrida’ and ‘Heidegger’ on them, resulting in salaried logorrhoea, a thick stream of indecipherable nonsense that has spewed, like outfall from a main sewer, into an intellectually polluted sea of futility.

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But interviews with him show  that he never quite escaped the grip of this intellectual disease. When speaking to fellow lit.-crit. academics he falls easily into the jargon: ‘As (Michel) Foucault said…As  (Jacques) Derrida said…’is the familiar refrain, and, like his colleagues he misquotes  and misrepresents (as when he shows unfamiliarity with what for example (Thomas) Hobbes and (Karl) Popper really meant, though airily invoking their names in that lit.-crt.way, which is like a verbal twic or twitch: ‘…as Popper said…’)

As just one of many  ambiguities that cluster around Said’s intellectual persona,though, his divided attitude  to his academic discipline is understandable enough. Often pressed in interviews on  the question of how he can regard (Jane) Austen and (Joseph) Conrad as great writers and their works as great literature while at the same time viewing them as imperialist producers of texts not merely expressing but embodying the very process of colonisation and therefore diminishment of the Other, Said had to navigate carefully between emphasising  now on one side of the dilemma and now the other, trying to show that a work can be great literature even if it is, because it is of its time and place, an instrument of a form of harm. To perceptions which catch less shiftingly grey nuances, this seems like having a cake and eating it; much of what Said tried to do in interviews was to show how that can be done.

One thing that everyone can agree with Said about–and it is  a point he often  and eloquently made–is that academy should not be disengaged from the real world and especially the injustices it contains. His own life is a monument to that conviction, and deserves praise for it.

Source: A.C. Grayling, The Heart of Things: Applying Philosophy to the 21st Century (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2005), Edward Said, 1935-2003, pp 226-229

Be Wary of Spin Doctors


July 14, 2017–The Bastille Day

In the Run up to GE-14: Be Wary of Spin Doctors

by R. Nadeswaran@www,malaysiakini.com

COMMENT | In 1984, British journalist Henry Porter published a book outlining the excesses of what used to be Fleet Street newspapers. He chastised them for their lack of concern for simple matters such as the truth.

Image result for Najib Razak's Spin Doctors

Smart and Decent  Malaysians say Prime Minister Najib Razak, is a Crook

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Golf Buddy Tan Kay Hock thinks Prime Najib Razak is the best Prime Minister Malaysia ever had.

It was written in an era before the advent of the mobile phone which became a necessary tool for journalists to survive. And if not for this gadget, the world would not have knowledge of the phone-tapping technology which journalists in the red-tops in England used (illegally) and made headlines worldwide.

It was also an era when the term “fake news” was unheard of and when we scribes prepared our stories on the Olivetti or Remington typewriters on several sheets of carbon paper in between specially-cut A4-sized newsprint.

In one chapter, Porter describes how a Daily Telegraph journalist created a fictitious character with a military background living in Gloucester, through which he expressed right-wing views. Even when it became apparent that he did not exist, the newspaper reported that “Raphael Duvant died when lightning struck his metal leg while he was umpiring a cricket match.”

In a way of sorts, Duvant or a number of Duvant clones have been resurrected right here in Malaysia to be the new darlings of political parties who seek to embrace the new media.

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R. Nadeswaran–Malaysia’s Foremost and Gutsy Investigative Journalist

Nothing wrong with that, except that these specially-created Duvants claim to have been given access to all meetings. Even when two opposition leaders are having a cuppa, he or she can sit and record every word they utter. Their ears are so powerful that they can generate first-person accounts describing the words whispered between sheets in someone’s bedroom.

But their mind-reading capabilities must take the cake. They can conjure what someone is planning to do and even have knowledge of the inner secrets that circulate in the minds of third parties. This is no ordinary boast. In their writings, they appear to give the impression that they have front row seats.

Image result for The New Straits Times, The Star and Utusan Malaysia

They cannot be expected to be factual, reliable and truthful since they are owned by UMNO and Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA)

The mainstream media is popularising these non-existent characters by quoting them extensively to give them an aura of legitimacy and authority without even knowing their identity.

Yes, everyone is in the pre-election mode or to put it more bluntly, survival mode. The affairs of 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) and the court filings of the US Department of Justice (DOJ) are indeed part of it. Praise the former, demonise the latter and you are guaranteed to be in the news.

During the last general election, I took umbrage with the newspapers publishing full-page advertisements, making all kinds of claims against the opposition without any substantiation.

The riposte was not unexpected. Instead of addressing the issue, Vincent Lee, the then Executive Vice-chairperson of the Star Publications group replied: “I am disappointed with him (Nadeswaran) because when I was President of the 4As, I sided with him when he took on the issue of corruption in the outdoor advertising industry. At that time, I received death threats after speaking up against illegal billboards in the Klang Valley.

“After a year, the situation has remained unchanged. However, he has moved on from his anti-corruption stand to talking about advertising, but his own newspaper has accepted and carried the same advertisement.”

But writing about advertising is not exclusive to anyone, and I responded thus: “The fact is that although the management of theSun (my employers at that time) may not see an issue in the same light as the writer, it sees it as expressions of opinion. It may not necessarily reflect the stance of the newspaper. The publication of such articles does not mean that the newspaper endorses my views.

“It was in a plain and simple language that journalists have no control over newspaper operations and the final decision on content – advertising and editorial are left to the management.”

I then posed a vital question: “The outburst in cyberspace reflects the anger of ordinary Malaysians who view such audacious campaigns as insulting their intelligence. On a similar note, will the same newspapers publish an advertisement paid for by well-minded citizens which reads: ‘Can you trust a party which is led by a crook?’

“This question can only be answered by none other than owners of publishing houses who have accepted and consented to publish those questionable and code-breaking advertisements.”

In dire straits

This time around, the election campaign will be dominated once again by the media – but with a difference. The worms that have crawled out of the woodwork will get their five minutes of fame, albeit writing under pen names or pseudonyms.

How else to explain government mouthpieces taking the stand that the 1MDB is a non-issue? Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s stance that 1MDB has contributed to the people in many ways which they are unaware of, has further added to the continued parroting of praises of the state sovereign fund which is in dire straits.

Yes, the company has financed haj pilgrims, built houses and sponsored students’ education but at what cost to the nation and its people? Committing the taxpayer to several billion ringgit in debt and giving away a few million makes little sense because it is akin to robbing the bank to feed the needy.

As this article is being written, news has just filtered of yet another episode in the 1MDB saga. Former Singapore banker Yeo Jiawei, who is serving the longest jail term in Singapore’s probes linked to 1MDB, has admitted to charges including money laundering.

Yeo, who also pleaded guilty to cheating his former employer, agreed to help with Singapore’s money-laundering investigation, which prosecutors described as the largest in the country’s history. He was sentenced to 54 months in jail. He was handed a 30-month term last December on charges of trying to tamper with witnesses in the probe.

Yeo’s admission of guilt came after the Monetary Authority of Singapore wrapped up a two-year probe into flows related to the 1MDB. Prosecutors named him as a central figure linked to Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, who was identified by Singapore police as a “key person of interest” in their probe. Low has also been described by DOJ investigators as the controller of a plan to steal billions from 1MDB.

According to international news organisations of repute, 1MDB is at the heart of several money-laundering and corruption probes across the globe.

Against such a background and given that the people in Putrajaya and their spin doctors can make black look white and vice versa, would anyone be surprised if any of these worms would come out with this incredulous statement: “Singapore and other countries are deliberately carrying out investigations and taking action to discredit Malaysia and its leaders because they are jealous of our success and that 1MDB has been able to help people in times of need?”

I wouldn’t be, but would you?

Last words:  When comparing state sovereign wealth funds, Singapore’s Temasek Holdings on Tuesday announced that its global portfolio is worth US$197 billion (about RM850 billion). Can someone tell us what 1MDB has to show besides a large amount of borrowing and crooked deals?

R NADESWARAN is an award-winning veteran journalist who writes on bread and butter issues with one agenda – a better quality of life for all Malaysians irrespective of colour, creed or religion. He can be reached at citizen.nades22@gmail.com.

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