Sunday, January 22, 2017

Illiberal Liberal

America has a new president. Even if I am no longer physically present in the country, my home of three short years still holds a special place in my heart. In fact,  I always joke that I've been an American since I was nine. Today, however, I shall not bore you with my thoughts or analysis on the inauguration, the unique speech given by President Trump, or even the Women's March that followed. I am mostly interested in the violent protests, on the streets and on twitter, by the liberals towards Trump's supporters. 

I am all for public demonstration and our democratic right to protest to show our disdain or support for a specific cause. There is also nothing wrong in portraying your thoughts and emotions peacefully online. Even if it won't affect immediate change, it is useful as a means to educate the masses. But I definitely do not support the arrogance of telling 63 million people that their ideas and beliefs are plain wrong. You may argue that they are violating basic principles of human rights, but most of these ideas are debatable and still without a conclusion today for the simple reason that roughly half of the population cannot agree with the other half.

As a political liberal myself, believe me when I say that it tortures me to come face to face with the reality that there are as many conservatives in the world as there are liberals. But last year I learned something that has stuck with me ever since. While a lot of people do not like Wan Saiful Wan Jan either for his politics or personality, I once worked for him and I can tell you that a lot of times he just makes sense. At a talk I saw him last year he said, "Do not be an illiberal liberal". Since then I cannot get that quote out of my mind.

I was once an illiberal liberal too. I cannot fathom how and why anyone in this day and age can still hold on to conservative ideas. In the case of Malaysian Muslims, ideas that have NO precedence in basic Islamic teachings or even political history. They are just ideas conjured up by a specific group of people at a specific time under specific circumstances. But the fact is people still hold on to these ideas because of familiarity and to maintain peace in society. Is that entirely wrong? Well, educating ourselves is a much better option. Do they hurt society? Well, that is totally arguable too. But I realized if I am ever to call myself a true liberal--a believer in the freedom to choose and to think--how can I question the choice made by other people that may economically or politically benefit them. Who am I to say they are wrong? That's what democracy is about. And I choose democracy over dictatorship any day. 

Friday's inauguration may be a hard pill to swallow especially since Mrs. Clinton won the popular vote. Trust me, I know what it feels like. I was filled with anger and disappointment too in 2013. Yes, maybe the system needs an overhaul for an election result to fairly represent the people's choice both in the USA and Malaysia. But more importantly, there is no need to spread further hate towards others who are merely different from you. They are not criminals. As liberals, we are supposed to uphold the virtue of tolerance and diversity, and it does not mean just among us. 

Anyway, they already had a difficult first day. No spinning from the Press Secretary can sway people's opinion over the FACT that there was a much lower physical turnout on Friday compared to eight years ago. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Beautiful, Passionate, Dedicated

I’ve been going back and forth for months on whether I should write this entry. With the passing of Carrie Fisher, I felt it is time someone say something, and thus my decision to put my thoughts into words. What do I have in common with Princess Leia, you may ask. Well, I hope a lot. But it is how people remember her that gave me the encouragement I needed.  Besides praising her role in the Star Wars universe, most eulogy also praises her role in bringing Bipolar Disorder, and mental illness in general, to mainstream media in the 1980s.

Personally, after years of questioning my own sanity, God finally responded with an answer. In 2016, I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). I don’t need to go into details about the symptoms and causes as they are easily found online. But I would like to share my own experience. Only God knows the exuberance I felt when the psychiatrist spit the words out. Instead of denial, I was relieved. Finally someone was able to put a label to what I’ve been living with for half of my life. I’m not exaggerating. If someone scours through just this website, the symptoms are written all over. But I did not have anyone piecing them all together.

I started going to treatment in 2015. Unfortunately I was not properly diagnosed. I self-diagnosed as Anxiety. When I was told I have BPD, everything, and I literally mean everything, starts to make sense. My life starts to make sense.

Just like how Carrie Fisher refused to let her Bipolarity defines her, I shall not let BPD defines me. Just as any physical illness, it is just something I have to live with, but it is not my entirety. To the contrary, similar to how we applaud someone with a physical illness being able to get up and go on with life, it is time not only for our society to accept the reality of mental illness, but also to provide support and understanding. As someone suffering from mental illness, I can tell you first-hand that it is not easy to go through the simplest of daily routine. I never know if today is going to be a good or a bad day. I don’t know if I am going to be Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde. I just have to wing it as I go. It is difficult.

I am not writing this entry to ask for pity. I am also not asking for people I know to walk on eggshells around me. I am writing to tell you that being diagnosed with a mental illness is not a death sentence. Yes it is a very difficult life. But look where I am now. I am only nearing 28 and I already have my PhD in the pipeline. I have two beautiful daughters. I can achieve whatever my heart desires. I just have to put extra effort than the normal person. If I wanted to, I can use BPD as an excuse to not get anything done in life; instead I am able to lead as normal a life possible in spite of my illness. If anything, my BPD makes me stronger.

Given my penchant for Hollywood, I have been thinking a lot about some of my favourite movies: Thirteen, Silver Lining Playbook, (500) Days of Summer, My Week with Marilyn, Blue Jasmine, Black Swan and Gia. All of these movies have a character with BPD. I used to watch some of these movies over and over. Somehow I felt that I can relate without knowing exactly why. Now I know. They are stories about my life. Take for example My Week with Marilyn. I remember after watching the movie I blurted out that Marilyn Monroe is now my hero. My mum gave me a weird look. I explained that I can understand how difficult it must be for her to overcome her anxiety and be who the world expects her to be. Or take Jennifer Lawrence's character in Silver Lining Playbook. She said that maybe people like us know something that normal people don't. I like that line because I have always been a believer that in order to be a genius, you need to be mad. Before anyone starts rolling their eyes, take it with a grain of salt as something a crazy person tells herself in order to make sense of her presence on earth.

Again, the purpose I am writing this entry is to de-stigmatize mental illness. It is real. It is not the devil. It is caused by some traumatic childhood experience, just as how a physical illness is brought about by excessiveness. It can never be cured, but psychiatrists are working on how best to limit the symptoms. Let’s applaud them. People like the psychiatrist who finally diagnosed me is the reason I am able to look my illness in the eyes and say, “Hi, nice to meet you. But you have met your match.”

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Election Watch

As an after-the-fact, this musing may not count as much. Although I have predicted this outcome earlier this year, I did not put my thoughts into writing because I was too much of a chicken to declare an early victory to the right. I'm just going to call it my analysis for this surprising-yet-very-much-predictable outcome.

I may not be the best political scientist out there, but I have an intrinsic understanding of human nature. The first reason I called a Trump presidency earlier this year is because, as shallow as it may sound, I believe that middle-class men are not going to vote for Mrs. Clinton. We just live in that kind of world--a misogynistic one--no matter how much we would like to sweep that fact under the rug. No man, with his ego intact, want to see a woman leading him. If he is not a proud political liberal, there is no reason for him to go out of his way to vote for Clinton. It does not mean he is going to vote for Trump either, but he won't vote for Clinton. And we need to remember that Obama's success, especially in 2008, was very much due to an unprecedented turnout.

Speaking of Trump, while he is definitely a divisive figure, you have to remember what that really means. It means that for every American who thinks of him as a crude representation of the country, there will be another person who trusts and adores him, not because of his policies, but because of who he is in the public eye. Middle Americans who do not have the time nor capability to go through the intricacies of politics just want to vote for someone, anyone, with the personality to match a leader of a great nation. All he needs to do is to portray confidence and those with a TV set with no tertiary education will take that as a cue that he knows what he's doing.

Next is the economy. Poll after poll shows that the economy is the main concern of voters. While the official statistic may portray a recovering America, the perception is that it is not enough. People want more jobs, better trade deals and stability of income. Here's the irony: unemployment level has actually gone down in the past six years. It's an irony because unemployment has always been a reliable indicator in an election year. It shows that perception on the economy comes from many different sources these days. Or perhaps it is time we re-evaluate how people vote, which is no longer based on the depth of their wallets, especially when there are other pressing matter such as domestic security.

My final point, which is really intuitve, is that America is moving to the left at a faster pace than the average person is comfortable with. Even if Trump is morally bankrupt, most middle Americans see Hillary's social agenda as more dangerous. While Trump has had a colorful history, most hypocritical white Americans can say that his sins are forgiveable, thus, making him relatable. Hillary's fight for equality on the other hand does not make much sense to people who have never encountered outsiders or social outcasts before. In other words, while New York and California are more in step with Europe and other first world countries, the rest of America is uniquely conservative. Because of Hollywood, we sometimes forget the real demographic of the 300 million strong Americans who would like to see a country unchanged from the days of their grandparents.

At the end of the day, while we laugh at Trump's brash demeanour and his seemingly lack of a campaign strategy, that may have been his strategy all along. Him playing with people's fear actually worked because of the uncertainties we face this day and age. Politics is not about doing what's right, it's about gaining access to a limited resource. Can we blame Trump for trying?

Thursday, January 14, 2016

I'm Calling It

We had barely passed the first two weeks of 2016 and ISIS has already caused grievous and heinous acts that resulted in innocent lives lost all over the world, including in the Muslim world. First Istanbul, now Jakarta, in less than a week. It sickens me how these socio-paths can detonate bombs on unsuspecting victims who are just minding their own business, going about their lives. More than that, honestly, it scares me that a teenager somewhere in northern Malaysia, spending too much time on the internet, is inspired to imitate these terrorists in their aspiration for a better life.

Before it happens, I’m going to call it. Make no mistake, I do not wish for KL to be the next target, but at this rate, I am not sure how surprised I will be if the city is next. And I’m sure I’m not the only person fearing the obvious seeping of hatred and ignorance into our society, as many other political scientists, political analysts, political pundits, and politicians are currently on our feet.

This is getting serious. Are we ready for it? I don’t just mean our security forces, but us, Malaysian citizens in general, are we ready to stand up and take a proactive role in defeating these terrorists before they could invoke the name of God in confusion? It is no longer about not being afraid; it is now about being two steps ahead of the terrorists.

I’m scared because unlike al-Qaeda, ISIS is interested in defeating the near enemy. In 2004, calls by al-Qaeda do not resonate much with Malaysians because: 1) we were relatively peaceful, and 2) the United States is just too far. Today, the situation is different. Malaysians are very polarized. We are afraid of one another, distrustful of each other’s intention. Making things worse are rising inflation and high unemployment, a unique combination in economic theory. How does this bring terrorists to our shores? History taught us that most rebellions are due to bread and butter issue. If the people’s pockets are getting thinner by the day, and they are feeling the pinch of trying to live adequately, they are going to rebel against the system. Add extreme indoctrination into that mix of frustration and we have the perfect recipe for disaster.

Maybe I can be countered with some withheld data and statistics of our special branch’s top-notch surveillance of the situation in the country. However I can’t help but feel with so many ISIS sympathizers, some may have fallen through the cracks… An anecdotal evidence by someone I trust is an ISIS flag flying proudly over a bridge in a kampong here in Malaysia. If the authorities are on top of things, how could they allow this? I am not throwing the police under the bus, but seriously, how can we found out about the two Malaysian suicide bombers in Iraq almost two weeks after the fact? Why can’t our politicians come out and firmly say stop with this nonsense? If it is for fear of losing votes, you can afford to lose the votes of people who do not believe in peaceful transition and democracy.

At the end of the day, of all the things I’m scared of, my main fear is of our emotions clouding our judgements. Just because they proclaim to be Muslims, it does not mean we have to justify their actions. Just because they are supposedly trying to uphold shariah (without truly understanding what shariah law is…a topic for another entry), it does not mean they are in the right. Just because there are Muslims patronizing Starbucks, it does not give the terrorists the right to kill, which happens to be one of the six major sins in the Quran. Suicide? Yes, that’s haram too. Check out ayah 29, surah An-Nisa.

As usual, let me end with a personal experience. A year ago, when we are still trying to make sense of this new terrorist group, a mother of one of them made a statement in a Malaysian newspaper about how her son was unjustly labelled a terrorist when he was simply a jihadist. I was shocked at such brazen statement entwined with misinformation. But I was more surprised that the person who showed me the article actually showed sympathy to this lady for no other reason except for the person’s own ignorance in defending anything that has to do with ‘Islam’. If one of them is in my circle, I suggest you take a look around and see who among your friends, family members, and neighbours sympathize with these horrible human beings. Then, be very careful.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

When Love Strikes

I have had nightmares for two days this past week. They are almost similar in context: I am either crying or distressed over discrimination faced by Muslims in the West following last week’s terror attacks in Paris. These events and the subsequent outpouring of hate by misinformed individuals just brought back the memories and fears I had growing up. After 9/11 I thought it would be impossible for me to reach my dream in the West, if not for an official ban by the government, then by unofficial bigots on the streets. However, when I did reach America eight years later, I was surprised to find a people that were eager to learn more about my religion. More than that, I found them to be kinder, gentler, more compassionate, more conscientious, and more Islamic in action than Muslims in Malaysia. I was in love.

Of course, there were occasional bouts of incidents which are obviously steeped in Islamophobia. And though we should condemn Islamophobia, there is no running away from the fact that these terrorists did profess to be Muslims and invoked the name of God before killing themselves. These supposed Muslims kill hundreds and thousands of innocents for no reason other than professing a different faith. But I know better than to call this a religious act of war. This is a political game they are playing. The only reason they are attacking the West is because of their own disenfranchisement, caused by decades of mismanagement by the political establishment at home. Why shout “Allahu Akbar” then? Because it is the easiest rallying call.

I see it around me all the time. People get so emotional that their judgement gets clouded. In the end, the terrorists win. What these cowards want by blowing up themselves is for the cycle of hatred to continue: the West blames Muslims, Muslims get angry at the West, some radical Muslims took it too far and blows up a Western landmark, and Islamophobia continues. This is what the coward terrorists want. Why should we give in? We should stop the cycle and start spreading love. Stop the hate. When people start to question, why mourn the loss in France but not in Beirut? Who says we don’t? If the media did not cover those horrendous attacks in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Palestine, would you be aware of them? So who is cherry-picking? The media’s report or your consumption of news? I understand the frustration when the death of Muslims does not get front news, but you have to be naive to expect otherwise. In the newsroom, there is a difference between deaths during wars and occupation, and attacks during peace time. 

While it tore me inside to read and watch the action of a lone man pushing a Muslim woman in front of an oncoming underground train in London, it also gave me hope when the many other passers-by came to help her. (A side note: following a spate of similar events while I was in London, I always, always, stand with my back against the wall while waiting for a train.) Then, I read and saw the images of French men and women giving a blindfolded Muslim man a hug in support of his—OUR--religion. I bawled like I’ve never bawled before. There are many of these nice westerners that show so much kindness to my fellow brothers and sisters in faith while I see ignorant Muslims around me speak of hatred to Chinese, Indians and Jews, when Islam is clearly a religion of peace.

I would like to end this by sharing something that has only previously been shared with my husband. Once in a London tube on the way to school, an old lady with a head cover stepped into the carriage I was in, carrying a backpack. Not any backpack, but a sturdy one that is usually carried by teenagers, not grandmas. She immediately started talking about what if today would be our last day on earth. Immediately images of my parents flashed by me (I am not exaggerating) as I tried to imagine how they would feel if there is no body for them to bury. Yes, I honestly thought I was going to die in a suicide attack that day. That was the closest I felt to death. The ride to the next station felt like eternity. I stepped out--trembling--even though it was a few more stations to school. I know it may sound silly to some as nothing ended up happening, and I’m pretty sure an old preacher rides the tube all the time. But the fear of seeing a person with a backpack talking about the last day on earth in a tube in London is too real for me to shake off even today. I just can’t help thinking about those who did not have the opportunity to assess their surrounding before death comes with a blow.