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.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A comic for the nation

Multitude of emotions washed over me earlier this afternoon as I continue to refresh my internet browser for the latest update from the Palace of Justice. Words cannot do justice to how I was feeling—embarrassed, mainly—over the fact that I was at a Starbucks nearby and not standing with the people.

I am weak and a coward. I dare not jeopardize what I have built for myself and my family to show solidarity with the people. Instead, like most Malaysians, I sit behind my laptop, struggling to wax poetic over the political situation in the country. But unlike many Malaysians, I am an academician, with a purpose and responsibility to ignite change in my limited capacity. Most importantly, unlike you, sir, I lack the courage to face the injustice pervading our nation today. For that, I salute you.

I admit that I don’t really like you as a person or politician. It does not mean that I am in favor of your nemesis either. It just means that I have yet to find a political figure that I fully trust to lead the country. I don’t even like the people in your party. I find them arrogant and mainly interested in superfluous politicking, making them no different than those they criticize day and night.

However, I respect the foundation that put your party in motion more than fifteen years ago. I support the fight for justice, I support the need for a liberal society, and I support the effort to create a harmonious society. Therefore, all I can say is, “Be patient, sir.”

Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but I believe that your name will soon be written in our history textbook in the same light as our founding fathers. Yes, you made mistakes while within and without the government, just like any other political and civil leader before you. You are, after all, a fallible human being like the rest of us. But it is your courage that has paved the way for later generations to push forward for reform and for a better Malaysia.

Be patient, sir, for I believe that your struggle will bear fruit in a few more years as we see a generational shift in the make-up of the country. My generation, which has witnessed your ups and downs, will not forget all that you have sacrificed for us. My generation, though narcissistic, dependent, and unemployable, is ready for a new Malaysia that will come from this verdict. It shall not be in vain. This is not a call for the youth to band together in a renewed movement, for I am not an activist with the interest of crashing the gates on injustice. I am just an academician with an eye for patterns of cause and effects, and what I see is a renewed spirit for change that will continue for years to come. Will we soon be successful? I doubt it because of the many institutional challenges blocking our way. But will the people surrender? I don’t think so.

Sir, I hope you will be patient in knowing that you are the Mandela and Suu Kyi of Malaysia. And just like them, I hope your future is brighter than the bleak prospect you’re currently facing.

Be fearful, don’t, as fear by your opponent is the catalyst for your predicament.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Peace, His Destiny

Per written about me on the right side of this page, I see myself as an optimist. Well, optimist may be too strong a word; I am a person who likes to see my glass as half full. This positive attitude of mine is the simple result of my strong faith in society and in God. Seldom do I stress over the little things in life because my faith in people is greater than my doubt for their ability to do the right thing most of the time. Also, seldom do I complain about my present life circumstances because I have faith that God has written a much more beautiful story arc for me than I could ever imagined.

When I first started on my journey to become a student of political science, I honestly could not answer to those inquiring about my plan once I was conferred with a piece of paper that has BA in political science written on it. All I knew was that I had a really strong desire to study power structure and ways for goodness to permeate throughout society especially to those at the bottom of the power pyramid.

In Pittsburgh, the first class I attended was not a course on political science, but a history course on Islamic civilization. I decided to enroll in that specific course because I thought—wrongly—that it would be an easy A to me, a Muslim who grew up in a Muslim-majority nation. More significantly, my decision at the eleventh hour just before class actually began to enroll in that specific class became the stimuli that evoked my interest to better understand Islam and Turkey (as successor to the Islamic Caliphate). Since then, every project, every paper, ever class presentation that I did at Pittsburgh revolves around issues affecting the Muslim world.

That was what I wrote in the essay that got me accepted to the London School of Economics and Political Science to do my MSc.

Now, roughly 5 years later, I am a PhD candidate and Fellow at the International Islamic University of Malaysia. The first month I am here, almost everyone I met, from fellow classmates to professors, have asked me the simple question of why would an LSE graduate come to IIUM? Honestly, I had also asked that question myself.

But at the end of the day, as much as these all seems to be my doing, it is actually not—it is His doing. Of course I would be lying if I said I did not wish to do my PhD at another prestigious university in the UK or maybe even go back to the US. But as He had planned for me, I got pregnant the minute I touched down from London, and my priorities changed upside down. As a consolation, I applied to the best university in Malaysia and was accepted, with one of the best professors around agreeing to supervise my thesis. But again, as He had planned, the professor got politically entangled and my employer wanted me to familiarize myself with the school that I am going to eventually teach in one day.

Now, here is the irony: never in my youthful days had I ever consider applying to IIUM, because I felt it was too Islamic for my liking. But now, after a quarter of a century under my belt, I am neither lying nor being defensive when I say that I am very excited to be a part of IIUM.

First of all, I am excited to be part of IIUM because I can’t wait to become a better Muslim holistically. One of the issues I have always had was in term of dressing Islamically appropriate. I remember divulging to my husband and roommate in London how I envy those who are comfortable dressing according to the Shariah in a non-Muslim country. I envy them. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to be confident displaying my religion unapologetically. Yet I was weak. I succumbed to the fashion world as marketed by the industry while ignoring my inner desire to be a better Muslim. At IIUM, I am expected to conform not to ‘their’ rules, but to God’s rules, and I am more than happy to abide. The happiness and contentment within me, I believe, is part of God’s plan to bring me closer to Him.

Secondly, I feel like IIUM fits my long-term goal to be an expert in Political Islam with as much an emphasis on Islamic knowledge as well as on political science. See, I used to question every day and every night, why has God written ‘political science’ on my destiny card, and not medicine, law, mathematics or even psychology. Now I have the answer. It is because of my desire to study Political Islam that I acknowledged the need for me to have substantial knowledge on the religion itself if I am to speak about politics according to the religion. As a result, I have learned so much more about Islam. More importantly, I feel so much closer to God.

Who would have thought political science will be that which brought me closer to Islam. If the purpose of life is to submit, I am happy to say that I am on the right path.