Thursday, September 30, 2010

If you are interested in Asian-Australian issues...

... there's a forum coming up, and I'm speaking at it.


The Asian Australian Studies Research Network (AASRN) is holding a mini-forum to highlight activities in Asian Australian Studies that benefit from connections with their Asian North American counterparts. The forum precedes a launch that will celebrate the publication of the special ‘Asian Australian’ issue of Amerasia.

Monday 4th October
Forum 1pm - 5pm, followed by Launch 5:30pm - 6pm
Level 2, Museum of Chinese Australian History, 22 Cohen Place, Melbourne

So basically I guess there's gonna be some stuff about the Asian-Australian experience, what's happening in the community, and about some of the commonalities and differences we have with our hombres in the USA, and of course in Asia itself. There's gonna be me and a few other bloggers, some academics, and some artistic and journalistic types.

Should be aaight.

Interested? You actually should have RSVP'd by now, but I'm sure the organisers won't hold it against you if you are nice to them.

You can get more info and download the flyer in PDF form here.

Look out for me, I'll be the guy trying his best to seem intelligent.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

OkCupid and "The REAL Stuff White People Like"

The other day my homie Bonoboboy sent me a link to this story, at the blog of dating site OkCupid, and it is a quite fascinating post.

By analysing enormous amounts of data, the writer and his people were able to analyse the various racial categories of people who use that site, and then break down which interests and traits were most common to each racial category. Thus they have worked out the things that white people like, what black people like, as well as Asians, Latinos, Indians, Pacific Islanders and Middle Easterners. It is conspicuously US-centric so I'm not sure if they are factoring in non-USians as well.

We selected 526,000 OkCupid users at random and divided them into groups by their (self-stated) race. We then took all these people's profile essays (280 million words in total!) and isolated the words and phrases that made each racial group's essays statistically distinct from the others'.

So if you are wondering if certain stereotypes are true about the various ethnicities, you might find some validation here, or some surprises. And you can measure yourself against their findings to determine how close you are to the mainstream tastes of your ethnicity.

Do bear in mind the context: this is only about the sort of people who frequent OkCupid (whoever they are - I guess it is somewhat representative of the broader population), and relies on what people say about themselves (which may not always be as accurate as you would hope). I don't know how much stock anyone should put in any of this, but it's an amusing and enlightening read, and makes me wonder about what I'd need to pretend to be interested in in order to hook up with women of different races. Not that I would ever do such a thing.

Some things I found interesting:

"Philippines" and "Filipino" pops up a lot under the Pacific Islander category, but not at all in the Asian category. Which shows what I believe to be an almost entirely US phenomenon of Filipinos seeing themselves as not being Asian.

The analysts rate the Indians' profiles as being the most sophisticated. How they measure this I have no idea, although it does correlate with Indians being the most highly educated immigrant group in the US.

The people who described themselves as the most serious about religion also correlated with the least sophistication in profile essays; this trend is true or mostly true for all religions.

The second most typical phrase for black men was "I am cool". Which is pretty funny. If I tell people I'm cool, will they just accept me at my word?

White people really like "boating". I never really thought about that.

My favourite few lines of the post: "I have to say that the mind of the white man is the world's greatest sausagefest. Unless you're counting Queens of the Stone Age, there is not even one vaguely feminine thing on his list, and as far as broad categories go we have: sweaty guitar rock, bro-on-bro comedies, things with engines, and dystopias."

Asians are REALLY into food ("a foodie", "food", "pho", "sushi", "sashimi", "noodle", "asian food", "cookbooks", "cooking and baking", "food network" and "chocolates" are all among their list of most typical key words). And if you figured that Asian men were studious and focused on getting a "good job", then these stats prove you right. Appearing in their list of most typical words were "software developer", "mechanical engineer", "pursuing my", "an engineer", "entrepreneur", "analyst", "finance", "accountant", "investing", "investment", "electrical engineering" and "currently studying". By contrast, the white male and female lists of most typical words do not contain a single term relating to their career or studies.

Other (stereo)typical words that appear on the Asian lists: "gadgets", "surfing the net", "computer games" and "my cellphone".

Indian men liked cricket far above and beyond anything else. If you know any Indian men you are unlikely to be surprised at that. Indian men are also as focused on careers and studies as (East) Asian men, if these lists are any indication: they include "software engineer", "an engineer", "MBa", "finance", "exams", "investment", "trading", "analyst", "maths", "entrepreneur" and "consultant".

Black women are seemingly the most religious out of all the groups. On their list you'll find the typical words "God-fearing", "gospel", "The Lord", "God's plan", "my church", "God and family", "God's love", "to church", "blessings" and "faith in God".

MUSICAL TASTES: Some things are completely unsurprising; white males like "mostly rock". Black males are into rap, and black women are into neo-soul and R&B.
Other stuff is not quite so obvious; Middle Eastern women are really into Nina Simone, Cat Power and Manu Chao. In contrast with Middle Eastern men who are more likely to like "Nickelback and electronic music".

READING TASTES: White males really like Tom Clancy novels. Like, REALLY; it's the most typical word for them. Both Indian and East Asian men really like reading "Freakonomics". (And why not, it's an awesome book, and is very relevant to this whole post.) Indians and Middle Easterners are unified by their love of "The Kite Runner", although whether that's the book or the movie is unclear.

If I were picking a prospective female mate based solely on the most typical words in these lists, I'd have to go for... Middle Eastern women. Based on this, they seem quite interesting! ( I mean, I'm sure they are interesting in real life too.)

Sarah Palin plays the "Hussein" card again

Here's a quick quiz for you:

What is the middle name of Ronald Reagan?
What is the middle name of Sarah Palin?
What is the middle name of John McCain?

If you don't know all of those, don't feel bad. Most people don't. The correct answers, in order, are Wilson, Louise and Sidney. What about this one:

What is the middle name of Barack Obama?

If you guessed "Hussein", that's because everybody knows it. Primarily because he has frequently been referred to by his political opponents as "Barack Hussein Obama".

Now here's another question for you. How often to Democratic politicians refer to "Sarah Louise Palin", or "John Sidney McCain"?

They don't, to any real extent, because no one thinks their middle names are relevant, or that the mention of their middle names enhances the political debate at all.

Why then, do Republicans and their Tea Partier friends love to constantly mention the name "Hussein"?

An example from Sarah Palin this week:

She says: "Funny … that we are learning more about Christine O'Donnell and her college years, her teenage years, and her financial dealings than anybody even bothered to ask about Barack Hussein Obama as a candidate and now as our president."

(You'll notice that she didn't mention Christine O'Donnell's middle name in that sentence either.)

Is it because there is some other Barack Obama running around, and we need to use the middle name to avoid confusing between Barack Hussein Obama, the President, and Barack Nigel Obama, the electrician?
Of course not.

Make no mistake, it is plain as day why Palin and her ilk make use of that name. It is to emphasise the Muslim-ness and foreign-ness of the President, to encourage Americans to associate him with the evil Iraqi dictator that the US has just overthrown. And while being Muslim, or at least being seen as a Muslim, should not be a slur, in the current US political climate it is effectively a slur, and a particularly potent one.

Of course, Palin's defenders can easily rebut, "well, it IS his name, what is wrong with saying it?"

Which is of course, the same "nudge nudge, wink wink" game that the Right have been playing ever since Obama first emerged as a Presidential candidate. They have perfected the art of dog-whistling at the American public by continually depicting him as The Other in various ways, without saying outright that they are threatened by his ethnicity. (In addition to all those numerous Tea Partiers and others who just can't hold it in and have dispensed with any subtlety in how they decry Obama's alleged foreignness.)

This is the game the Republicans are playing, because it's pretty much all they've got. They'll struggle to effectively attack him on economic policy because, having themselves presided over its downfall, they don't have much credibility left right now in that area. No folks, it's going to be all about Obama's credentials as a "real American", for the next couple of years at least. And the scary thing is that it may lead to the election in 2012 of someone who many consider to be a PROPER "real American"- Sarah Palin herself.

Be very, very f*cking afraid.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Are white people more racist than everyone else?

The answer to this question is... no. Or yes. It depends on what you think "racist" means.

It may seem like a provocative question, but I ask it not because I necessarily believe it to be true, but because it is an issue many people think about.

There are plenty of white people who ask questions like, "How come it's only racist if white people do it?"

Likewise, many non-white people, surveying the historical legacy of white people on the world, have wondered, "What is it about white people that makes them do so much f***ed-up racist sh*t?"

Before we start this discussion, we need to first ask: what do "racist" and "racism" actually mean? You may think this is a stupid question with an obvious answer, but exact definitions are disputed.

* The basic definition of racism is the belief that racial groups have inherent differences that make them superior or inferior to others.
* The most common, man-in-the-street definition of racism is probably technically closer to racial prejudice; in other words, having negative views of others due to their ethnicity.
* The sociological definition of racism (which you'll often come across in anti-racist circles) is that it equals racial prejudice plus power.

You could also take issue with the terms I am using here such as "white", "non-white", and "race"; indeed all are problematic, but I'm going to use them as they are generally understood.

So back to the main question: Are white people more racist than everyone else?

If we follow the sociological definition of racism, we can answer that question easily: yes. Under that definition, as it applies to Western countries, white people are the dominant group who control the bulk of social, political and economic power. Non-white people in these countries can certainly have prejudice; however, since they do not have the same degree of power, these prejudices do not systematically impact on the lives of those they are prejudiced against. Thus, going by this definition, a non-white minority in a white-dominated country cannot be racist; it follows that white people are obviously going to be more racist than everyone else.

Case closed?

Not really, because while I'm not going to say that such a definition is wrong, I do feel nonetheless that there are problems with it. Firstly, while it may have currency in academic circles, it is not the definition of racism that is understood by the average person. Try to tell the average person in the West that only white people can be racist, and they'll think you are bullsh*tting them; it just does not ring true. Many would see it as an idea propagated by educated elites to disempower the common man. And this is extremely significant because the battle against racism is primarily fought in the world of the average person, not in academia.

The other problem I have with "racism = prejudice + power" is that power is not just insitutional, but situational. A POC (person of colour) operating in a white system may not have much institutional power; but if a group of POC decide to attack a lone white person because they are prejudiced against whites, their numbers give them significantly greater power to cause harm than the white person.

So let's assume instead, for the sake of this discussion, that we are talking about racial prejudice, which is what most people seem to understand racism to be.

Are white people more racially prejudiced than other races of people?

You could certainly find plenty of evidence to prove that they must be. The histories of Africa, the Americas, Asia and Australia have been irrevocably shaped by the racism of European powers (primarily England, France, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands) in the colonial era until today. Nations like Australia and the US are founded on the racist notion that indigenous peoples had no claim to the land that was worth respecting. The same people whose Bible clearly instructed "Thou shalt not steal" and "Thou shalt not kill" had few qualms about stealing land and resources and killing anyone who tried to stop them; because racism allowed them to see non-Europeans as not sufficiently worthy of such respect. Even into the 20th century, a white nation systematically executed 6 million of its inhabitants who were white, but somehow not white enough.

If we were to compare the impact of white racism over the last few hundred years with the impacts of East Asian racism, or black African racism, or indigenous American racism, there would be no contest. If we base our judgement solely on a body count, then white people are far more racist than anyone else.

But is that the best way to judge these things? Some would say yes; however there is a major problem with such an analysis. If the impacts of the racial prejudices of non-Europeans did not have such a major effect on world history as that of the Europeans, why was that? Are non-white people intrinsically less hateful to others on the basis of their race?

There are some who say yes. But if we look at history, including modern day events, it is clear that white people certainly have no monopoly on cruelty, barbarism and hatred. While the legacy of colonialism cannot be overlooked, it was not Europeans who practised the ethnic cleansing in Rwanda and Burundi that led to almost 2 million people being murdered. Neither was it Europeans who massacred the ethnic Chinese minority in Indonesia in 1965, or who participated in the Rape of Nanjing.

If we look beyond horrific ethnic conflicts and think about personal prejudices, whites and non-whites are little different. It may have been white Americans and not the Chinese who enslaved Africans and treated them as third-class citizens for several hundred years; but today the average Chinese person is probably just as prejudiced towards black people as the average American, if not more. I personally know a great many people of a variety of ethnicities who have dated Asian people (be they Cambodian, Indian, Chinese or whatever), only to fall foul of the deep-seated prejudices of that Asian's parents.

This is not to let white people off the hook for their legacy. As heinous as the effects of racism by non-whites can often be, white racism is simply more of a problem, at least in the Western world. And it comes back to power. A non-white person may have power in a particular situation, sure. But looking at the bigger picture, Western nations are dominated by white people in terms of population, in terms of wealth, in terms of political leadership, in terms of status and influence. A Barack Obama may be able to achieve the highest office in the USA, but while the political and legal decision makers, media players and CEOs remain overwhelmingly white, non-whites lack real power. So white racism has effects that are much more far-reaching than say, Indian racism or African-American racism.

I mentioned earlier about the historical legacies of colonialism and how white racism has been one of the major forces to shape the world in the last several hundred years. This is because whites had the means and opportunity. But what if the tides of history had turned out differently?

While the empires of Western Europe (Britain, Spain, France, etc) dominated the world's landscape since the 15th century, there were other empires that flourished during and before that time. At various times the Turks, Mongols, Chinese, Persians and Arabs (among others) have controlled large chunks of the world map, primarily through violence. No doubt racism was a factor in those conquests as well. Had fate dealt Sub-Saharan Africa a different hand, we could have seen Europe overrun and conquered by armies of Zulus or Somalis. Were that to happen, I do not doubt that they would be capable of just as much brutality and racism as Europeans have shown themselves capable of.

But at the end of the day, we must deal with reality. And in reality, no matter the potential for other races to inflict their racism on the world on a grand scale, it was white people who put it into action. It is their racism that effects everyone else the most.

But those who would claim that this is proof of the instrinsically racist or evil nature of whites, or claim that "the white man is the devil" (as some black radicals have done and continue to do) are way off base. That sort of thinking ignores the fundamentally flawed nature of human morality; we are all capable of great good and great evil, and the latter often happens when we think we are doing great good. If whites are guilty of doing some of those evil things more often, it is only because they have greater opportunity to do so.

White people are not really any more racist than anyone else. But given the context of the present and past, their racism simply matters far more than that of anyone else.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Swearing in English for Koreans: The Remix

So you may have seen this extremely funny video circulating the webs a few months back. Well now someone's given it an electro makeover that just highlights the rudest bits. Good for a low-brow laugh.

Funny Ads from the Arab World

This ad campaign from Panda Cheese is pretty funny; there are a number of them, but these two are the best. I assume Panda Cheese refers only to the brand name and is nothing like goat cheese, because the panda milk industry is not really a booming one right now.

A brief explanation of this next one helps. The son says, "Dad, let's get some Panda cheese."
Dad says, "No son, we already took far too many things."
The ad campaign's slogan: You can't say NO to the Panda.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Wolfmother pull out of tobacco-sponsored Indonesian music festival; then change their minds

Hirsute Australian rockers Wolfmother have pulled out of their appearance at the Java Rockin'land 2010 music festival. They were pressured to do so as a way of taking a stand against tobacco sponsorship - the major sponsor of the festival is Indonesian cigarette giant Gudang Garam.

And then they did a U-turn, and are back in the lineup. "This one is for the fans in Indonesia who have parted with their very own cold hard cash to see Wolfmother," it says on the band's website.

Taking place in Jakarta  from the 8th to the 10th of October, Java Rockin'land (a name that sounds kinda lame, but presumably sounds cool to Indonesians who don't speak much English) it is billed as the biggest rock festival in all of South East Asia. Other international bands still on the bill include Smashing Pumpkins, Stereophonics, The Vines, Dashboard Confessional, Datarock and Arkana.

Now it may strike some of you as PC-thuggery that bands are under pressure to pull out just because of who sponsors a certain concert. Particularly as 95% of musicians seem to be smokers themselves.

But be aware that the power of the tobacco lobby in Indonesia is in a completely different league to their counterparts in most Western countries, who have long had their activities curtailed by advertising bans, enforcement on purchasing, and high taxes. When a tobacco company sponsors an event in Indonesia, it's not just a matter of putting up a few banners; it means massive banners everywhere, and frequently, free cigarette packs handed out to attendees as samples.

It is estimated that around 70% of Indonesian men smoke. We should perhaps be thankful that traditional chauvinistic notions of proper female behaviour have meant that female smoking rates are low (less than 10%). But that just means that there is a burgeoning market out there for tobacco companies to tap into, and they are already targeting young people quite effectively.  Footage of 2 year-old Ardi Rizal puffing smoke rings like a pro caused outrage worldwide recently, and while that story clearly displays some damn shoddy parenting, it needs to be viewed in the broader Indonesian context. In terms of public awareness of the dangers of smoking, Indonesia is around 50 years behind most Western nations, and it is not entirely surprising that a father would think it no big deal that his baby smoked 2 packs a day. (Little Ardi has since quit, I think.)

Bands like Wolfmother are in a difficult position. The ubiquity of tobacco sponsorship means that it is very difficult for a big-name band to play in Indonesia without a cigarette company being involved in some way. And it would be sad for Wolfmother's Indonesian fans to miss out (dozens of them!), particular as some would have already paid for their tickets.

But there are other examples that show that a principled stand is possible. Both Alicia Keys and Kelly Clarkson have both played in Indonesia recently, and threatened to cancel their dates if Sampoerna (a division of Philip Morris) and LA Lights (part of the Gudang Garam empire) remained as sponsors. They got their way. Obviously a major festival such as Java Rockin'land is a more complicated proposition, given the sheer number of bands involved. But if they could get their act together and threaten a boycott en masse, imagine the message that would send to Indonesian health authorities and the entertainment industry?

That sounds cool and inspiring. Of course, nothing occurs in a vacuum; in a poor country in Indonesia, if tobacco companies are taken out of the equation, it would leave a massive gap in sponsorship which would not be easily replaced. And that would quite likely constitute a massive blow to entertainment and youth culture in Indonesia, which would suck. See? Things aren't always as simple as we would like.

Aziz Ansari talks about R Kelly


You can also see Ansari in this Flight of the Conchords sketch.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Cooties in your poontang: Filipino words in the English language

Tagalog, the primary language of the Philippines, has not contributed a great many words to the English language, but those few that are derived from it are quite interesting.

Certain words may have entered the English language via the Spanish, who had first claimed the islands in 1521. In 1898, the USA annexed the Philippines following the Spanish-American war, and continued their colonial relationship until 1946. During this time American soldiers and sailors obviously picked up a few words and brought them back to the States, where they entered the popular vocabulary.

To live out in the boondocks, means in an out-of-the-way place, a remote brushy area. The term is of Tagalog origin, although it is not clear if it is derived from bundok, meaning mountain, or bunduk, meaning hinterland.

Yo-yo is a word apparently derived from the Tagalog or Ilocano languages, but there is possibly some doubt about this. Certainly the person who started the craze in the 1920s was a Filipino immigrant to the US named Pedro Flores. The yo-yo was not invented in the Philippines - it's origin goes back at least as far as ancient Greece. It was known in Britain and France as far back as the 18th century, but did not become a mass phenomenon. It was known under various names, such as "bandalore" or "quiz" in England, and "l'emigrette" or "jou-jou" in France. At some point it arrived in the Philippines (via China? Spain?) and became a popular toy there. There are at least two theories about the origin of the word "yo-yo". One is that it means "come-come" in Ilocano. There was apparently a traditional weapon used by Filipino hunters called a yo-yo, consisting of a rock attached to a long piece of rope. Very different to our modern yo-yo, but the similarity could have led to the same name being adopted. Alternatively, it could be derived from the French term "jou-jou."

Cooties is a term most commonly used by children, a reference to an imaginary infectious disease or parasite caught through contact with children of the opposite sex. Its origin is probably from Tagalog word kutu, meaning lice. There is some conjecture about this though, as kutu with the same meaning also occurs the related Malay language. White "cooties" is today a far more common term in US English than British English (which would point to a Filipino origin because of the US-Philippine connection) there are records of the word being used by British soldiers in WW1 (which opens the possibility of a Malay origin, as Malaysia was a British colony). A dual origin is possible, or even an origin in Polynesia, where the word also exists.

Ever store documents in a manila folder? Well, long before they were made out of thin cardboard, they were fashioned from the trunk fibres of the abaca (Musa textilis), a tree of the banana family. The Philippines capital city of Manila was a major producer of this fibre, known as "manila hemp".

Ylang-ylang is one of those fragrances you'll frequently come across in soaps and scented oils. It is the Tagalog name for a flowering tree (Cananga odorata) native to the Philippines and Indonesia.

Poontang is a slang word primarily used in American English, meaning "vagina". It derives from the Tagalog word putang, which can mean both "f*ck" and "whore". Putang is in turn obviously derived from the Spanish word puta ("whore"). There is an interesting similarity to the slang term punani, also meaning "vagina", which originates in either Hawaii or Jamaica. While the similarity is almost certainly coincidental, it is possible that knowledge of the term punani influenced the adding of the extra "n" to putang. Or possibly the extra "n" made it sound nicer because Americans didn't like the idea of lusting after something that sounded too much like "pooh-tang". Eww.

How language tells the history of Malaysia and Indonesia

Koreans, you too can curse like an American

English words of Indian origin

The risks of tonal languages

Communication challenges in Malaysia

"Pulp Fiction" in Italian, German, Turkish, Spanish and French

How Muslim names evolve across the world

Monday, September 20, 2010

"Cat-poo coffee"

Why would one wish to consume a beverage made from something that has passed out of an animal's bottom?

And why would one pay a sum for it which could probably feed an Indonesian family for a week?

Those are very valid questions, which I found myself asking at Kopi Luwak in the Prawirotaman area of Yogyakarta. The cafe is named after the beverage they specialise in (kopi meaning coffee, and luwak being a local name for the creature that plays a crucial role in its production).

If you've not heard of this beverage, usually referred to as "civet coffee", "weasel coffee" or the somewhat less appealing "cat-poo coffee", here's the lowdown. The luwak eats the coffee berries, and eventually poops them out again. Farmers collect the droppings, find the intact beans, wash them off (thoroughly, one assumes), roast them and grind them into coffee. The result, it is said, is delicious.

If you are wondering what the hell a luwak is, it's neither a cat or a weasel, although it does looks sort of like a cross between the two; like a cat with a longer snout and elongated body. It's an Asiatic palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus), which is a viverrid, a distant relative of the cats. (Cats actually evolved from something very similar to a civet.) Palm civets do catch and eat small animals but they are primarily fruit-eaters.

They absolutely love coffee berries, and when they eat them, enzymes from the civet's stomach seep into the beans and change their amino acid makeup. This results in less bitterness in the final brew. I have also heard somewhere that the luwak is quite selective and doesn't eat the berries it deems inferior; this means that the beans acquired in this way are all high quality. I'm not sure how much the taste of the final product has to do with this, or with the effects of the stomach enzymes. And given the luwak's picky nature, I'm guessing it would probably not pick out the beans from another animal's faeces and consume them; only humans will stoop that low.

It raises the obvious question - who discovered this and how? Who was so desperate for coffee that they were willing to sift through turds to get it?

A cup of the stuff at Kopi Luwak cost us Rp80,000. That's about $10 in Australian or US currency. Which is pricey, but not compared to how much it will cost you in the West - more like $50 to $80.

So, for that price, it had better be worth it, right?

My verdict: it tastes a lot like... coffee. I mean, it's nice coffee, but there was nothing earth-shattering about it that would make me claim that it was worth Rp80,000, let along what it costs elsewhere. I had it in its purest form initially (black, no sugar), then added sugar and then milk to get a sense of the different tastes. Again, all tasted just like coffee.

Admittedly, I'm hardly a coffee connoisseur; I'm the kind of guy who mixes coffee with condensed milk (a no-no to the purists). My significant other is very serious about her coffee though (this visit was primarily for her). She certainly enjoyed it, describing it as very bold, but not distinguishable from any other Sumatran coffee.

At least it didn't taste of a civet's anus. Which is a pretty important detail, all things considered. Not that I know what civet anus tastes like, mind you.

So if you are curious and a serious coffee person, perhaps you'll find some amazing quality in it that we didn't. But it's probably better to get it at a reasonable price in Indonesia, rather than pay through the nose in a Western country. Remember it's still only a cup of coffee.

You gotta wonder what the luwak thinks of all this. I know that if people extracted items from my faeces and sold them for exhorbitant prices, I can't imagine I'd have much respect for them.

More like this:

Egg tea. Yeah, that's right. Hot tea with egg in it.

Filipino iced tea and other hard drugs

My encounter with dog meat in Eastern Indonesia

Is chai latte only a drink for wankers?

Green tea is intent on world domination

The guide to ordering food in Malaysia

Addicted to kuih

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Japanese Precision Walking

Apparently these are students at Nippon Sports Science University. At first when watching this, you may decide that this is mildly odd and a waste of time. But be patient. At about 1:45, you'll begin to realise that this is truly some next sh*t. Amazing.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

"The suspect is of Indian appearance..." Oh wait, no he's not.

I have written in the past here and here about some of the problems with ethnic descriptors of criminals. A news story this week raises more of these issues.

I was listening to the radio the other day and heard the report about a man who was suspected to have committed several sexual assaults at several Melbourne train stations. The most recent one involved him inappropriately touching a 13 year-old girl from behind while on an escalator at Flinders Street Station.

The description of him given on ABC774 was being "of Indian appearance."

Is this based on the police description? I'm not sure. They describe him here as "about 175 centimetres tall, of average build with black hair, tanned skin and was wearing a blue top". So did the radio station see the picture and make their own conclusions about his ethnic appearance?

Here's a photo of the man. You decide whether he is "of Indian appearance".

If you thought, "Nah, he doesn't really look Indian,", you'd be right. If I had to guess, I would pick him as someone from Northern Africa, of mixed African and Arabic ancestry.

Indeed, the man has been caught and has been found to be a 27 year-old Libyan student, Almahde Atagore. He has only been in Melbourne 41 days and has indecently assaulted at least 3 people.

Now for a member of the public in a position to help the police with their inquiries, would the description of him as "of Indian appearance" be helpful or not? I would guess not. This man only looks Indian if you don't really know what an Indian looks like. If I had seen Atagore walking around, and was then asked if I'd seen a man of Indian appearance, I don't know if I would make the connection. Fortunately they did catch him, and it was probably based on the visual footage rather than the radio's description.

The other issue is that radio reports like that are not particularly good PR for the Indian-Australian community. Recently I have heard of a number of widely-reported sexual assaults in Melbourne committed by men described as Indian (who were indeed either Indian or at least South Asian). My first reaction upon hearing this latest one was "Damn, another Indian?"

Perhaps that says something about the way I see the world. But I do not doubt that there will be many people who hear descriptions like that and use it to reinforce certain prejudices and stereotypes they have about Indians. I remember this case in which a Malaysian man was brutally bashed to death in Sydney by two men described as having olive skin and curly hair. Straight away a lot of people assumed the assailants must have been Lebanese or Pacific Islanders (two groups highly represented in cases of violent crime in Sydney). It turns out the men were Indonesian; but that initial reaction tells you a lot about preconceptions.

Describing someone as looking Indian can be useful, certainly. Everyone knows roughly what an Indian looks like, whereas using the more accurate term "South Asian", which is not all that commonly used in Australia, might actually confuse people - they might confuse it with merely "Asian", which in Australia is usually taken to mean someone of East Asian appearance.

Yet it is problematic at the same time. Yes, there are lots of Indians in Australia, but they are not the only South Asians. Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, Bangladeshis also fall into this category. You will also find people from Mauritius, Nepal, Afghanistan, Iran and Burma who could accurately be described as "South Asian in appearance". Indeed, so could many people from the Middle East (and apparently, if this case is any guide, Afro-Arabs as well).

Indians, as the most prominent nationality of this bunch, end up carrying the can. We don't describe suspects as being "of Chinese appearance". So why Indian?

Koran-burning is cancelled. Angry Muslims are still angry.

Thankfully, Florida pastor Terry Jones opted out of the planned Koran-burning fiesta that created outrage around the world. Whether indeed he did strike some deal to have the Ground Zero mosque relocated (as he claimed), whether he just saw sense, or if shadowy government forces made him an offer he couldn't refuse, he has backed down, for the benefit of us all.

I personally couldn't care less if someone burns a Koran, a Bible or any other holy book, but obviously a lot of people do. And the fact that some of those people are violent extremists means that if the Koran-burning went ahead it was almost certain to lead to an increase of hatred and violence against the West.

And while I have little but contempt for someone like Terry Jones, this whole issue also raises the same old issues about Islam and its role as a modern religion.

A pastor from some obscure church in Florida threatens to burn some Korans, and what happens? 15 people are killed in riots in Kashmir, in which a Christian Church is burnt. Thousands protest in Afghanistan and pelt rocks at a NATO base. And more elsewhere. By contrast, remember in 2001, when the Taliban blew up two massive 6th century Buddha statues in Bamiyan? The reaction from Buddhists the world over was to get a little bit miffed and plead for them not to do it. If today in Saudi Arabia or anywhere else in the Muslim world, an imam organised a burning of Bibles, there might be a story on FOX News about it, but apart from that, no one in the Christian world would do much more than shake their head in disappointment.

Why are these reactions so different? Sure, Terry Jones is a damn fool to provoke the wrath of angry Muslims. But why must they be so angry in the first place?

Islam is often described as a "violent" or "medieval" religion, yet all the world's major religions are all quite medieval and violent in their own ways. To say that the Koran is a hateful violent book and the Bible is a book of peace and love is not only too simplistic, it's just plain wrong. If you follow the Bible closely enough, it says that if your son disobeys and offends you, you should stone him to death (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). The world would be a pretty horrid place if we were to truly use the Bible (the Old Testament in particular) as our guide to running a society. An example is in Uganda, where driven by Christian teaching, many are campaigning for homosexuals to face the death penalty. Go back a few hundred years and Christians were rampantly killing and enslaving people and stealing their land all over the globe, often in the name of God.

Yet while predominantly Christian nations are often as violent as any other (see Zimbabwe, Brazil, The Philippines), their violence is usually based in reasons other than religion. Today, Christians in general tend to live relatively peacefully. They do not righteously slay those who work on the Sabbath, or smite those who have sex outside of marriage. Even though their Holy Book instructs them to, almost no Christian believes any of those things should be applied today.

Both the Koran and the Bible can be used as examples of how to treat one's fellow man with utmost respect and kindness; or equally, to justify some of the most heinous acts and attitudes imaginable, which in the past, people certainly have. The difference is that in today's world, Christianity appears to mostly have evolved past this latter stage, and settled into a secular, mild-mannered groove. Islam, in many parts of the world at least, is anything but mild-mannered.

How do we explain this?

One worthwhile article that touches upon this matter came out this week by Christopher Hitchens, which talks about the process of "civilizing" a religion in order for it to exist successfully in a modern society, something which other religions have had to go through to become ensconced and normalised in the West.

"Those who wish that there would be no mosques in America have already lost the argument: Globalization, no less than the promise of American liberty, mandates that the United States will have a Muslim population of some size. The only question, then, is what kind, or rather kinds, of Islam it will follow. There's an excellent chance of a healthy pluralist outcome, but it's very unlikely that this can happen unless, as with their predecessors on these shores, Muslims are compelled to abandon certain presumptions that are exclusive to themselves. The taming and domestication of religion is one of the unceasing chores of civilization. Those who pretend that we can skip this stage in the present case are deluding themselves and asking for trouble not just in the future but in the immediate present."

It is hard to shake the feeling that Christianity has grown up and settled down, and Islam hasn't, at least not to the same extent. While the majority of Muslims, like Christians, are peaceful people who just want to get on with their lives, the radical fringe among Muslims is not only far more numerous than among Christians, but it so much more radical and aggressive than among Christians. Some of the most vile and hateful figures the contemporary Christian world can produce - like Fred Phelps of the homo-hatin' Westboro Baptist Church, for example - are not half as scary as the thousands of British Muslims who took to the streets demanding the murder of Salman Rushdie after he wrote a book they hadn't read but assumed must have been evil.

One of the great achievements of the Prophet Muhammad was to end the tribalism of the Arabian tribes that had mired them in constant war with each other. He did this by the establishment of the Ummah (the community of Islam), in which all are brothers. The trade-off, however, is huge - he exchanged one type of tribalism for another, more vast variety. The Ummah is now, in effect, one vast tribe; full of Muslims who acutely feel the pain of their brothers being oppressed halfway around the world, and who will mobilise in order to help them, yet there is so often a distinct lack of empathy for those outside the Ummah. The Muslims in various parts of the world who have got steamed up recently over the proposed Koran-burning and the Ground Zero mosque controversy would do well to look at the bigger picture. Despite the Islamophobia on display in the US, they actually have a Christian president who has clearly come out in support of the rights of Muslims. And Muslims in the West have it a whole lot sweeter than Christians in Pakistan or Egypt, for example.

I've long felt that a man who is insulted or offended should be able to rise above it and "be the bigger man", rather than constantly reacting to having one's buttons pushed. The Islamic world certainly has its cooler heads, yet it seems too often they are drowned out by the loud voices of those who work themselves into a frenzy and want to kick someone's ass for every imagined slight. Someone needs to teach them that sometimes the high road is better; just take a deep breath and walk away.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A short history of Singapore

This is an animated version of We Live in Singapura, originally performed live in 2006 by funnyman and actor Hossan Leong. It's quicker and more amusing than reading a history book, and the subtitles are handy for those whose Singlish is not so good. (The tune it's based on, if you hadn't guessed, is Billy Joel's We Didn't Start the Fire.

Friday, September 10, 2010

" bitches are some of the most RACIST assholes in the damn world!!"

Further proof, should you need it, that some people need to get a fecking clue. File this one under, "Dumb sh*t that people send me." I occasionally get abusive emails or comments, and usually they are quite amusing in their own way. This is about one of them; I'm reproducing it here because it's an interesting example of the thought process of some people. But first I should provide some context...

Ok so I was reading a post at the Racialicious blog about boxer Floyd Mayweather, who was captured on video making some damn ignorant racial and homophobic comments while talking trash to his rival, Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao. They include references to eating cats and dogs, and how all Pacquiao can do is make Mayweather a sushi roll. Or something like that.

Now since Pacquiao is Filipino, and sushi rolls are Japanese, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense... he may as well have told Pacquiao to go make him a felafel. Oh wait. I get it. Asians are all the same! Ah yes, now it makes sense.

Mayweather issued two lame video apologies, in which he pulls the classic, "I'm not racist, some of my best friends are Asian" manouvre. He even gets a Thai woman and a Chinese woman to hang out with him to prove how he is totally down with Asians; he even says he has a gym in Chinatown! Ok, so Thai, Chinese, Japanese - what's that got to do with a Filipino? Again, it's the "Asians are all the same" trope again.

You can read the post here, along with the 3 videos from Mayweather.

Anyhow, so I left a comment on that blog, saying the following:

"Look, I’m not racist because I can find 2 random Asian women to stand next to."

Mayweather is such a douche.
The douchiest bit is how he thinks the “sushi rolls” and “cats and dogs” bits are so astoundingly clever, that he tries hard to repeat them just in case you missed it; it’s as if he thinks it was the wittiest thing he’s ever said.

In response, someone clicks on the connecting link to my blog, and leaves the following comment on an unrelated post. Anonymous of course. I assume it is a black American guy. I have not corrected the spelling so you will need to do your best to read it.

“You have the nerve to criticize Floyd Mayweather but you bitches are some of the most RACIST assholes in the damn world!! And try so damn hard to kiss white as that you will step on any and ALL other races most notably ‘negroes’ to do it! Trick pleas did you your full of it ass have the SAME reaction to Kenneth Eng’s obnoxious and wretched article?! Doubtful since YOUR bigotry towards blacks is ‘justified’ where Floyd is juts being the ‘big black scway meanyout to pick on you poor widdle Asians’. You are full of shit and a half!”

Recognising irony is perhaps not the strong point of this fellow.

So I presume that when this person says "you bitches", he is referring to Asian people in general. Apparently we are stepping on all other races in our quest to kiss white ass (or "as", as he puts it). I'm not sure why he chooses to make me accountable for the actions of all other Asian people in the world. I'm not sure why he felt the need to make this comment on my blog, rather than Racialicious, where the discussion was going on originally.

He certainly didn't pick that the Racialicious post criticising Mayweather, upon which I commented, was written by Latoya Peterson, who I'm assuming is also African-American.

I think the conclusion he wishes me to draw is that black people (not just as a group, but individual blacks) are above criticism from anyone else.

So apparently I hate black people now, because I criticised Floyd Mayweather. The last abusive email I got implied that I must be black myself, because I apparently focused on issues of interest to black people more than a Eurasian person is supposed to.
Oh well, I can add "You are racist against negroes" to the list of things that people have accused me of being since I've been in the blog game. The others include "You are obviously a black person masquerading as a Eurasian for some strange reason", "You are a self-hating Asian", "You are racist against whites", "You are racist against Asians", "You a radical Leftist", "You are too conservative", "You are sexist and homophobic", and others.

You people need to make up your mind. I surely can't be all those things, can I?

I'm off to kiss some white ass now.

(Oh, and for the record, Kenneth Eng is infinitely more douchey than Floyd Mayweather. No contest.)


The person who left the comment has returned and apologised for it. Kudos to her. You can see it below in the comments section.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Hudson, the singing sensation taking Indonesia by storm

This is off the chain. From the current season of Indonesia Mencari Bakat (Indonesia Finding Talent)". It's a traditional Javanese song given a unique twist...

His name is Hudson (surname Prananjaya), although when singing as his female alter-ego, he is called Jessica. There are plenty of other videos around from the show of him; he also sings rock and pop, and in Dutch, English and Chinese.

Reminds me of the wonderful Tajik Jimmy.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

If Obama is a Muslim, maybe I am too...

A lot of things really bug me about the continued speculation in the US about Barack Obama being a secret Muslim. But most of all, it is the extent to which so many people seem incapable of thinking outside their rigidly-defined little box.

Here are just a few reasons why 1 in 5 Americans think he's really a sneaky Islamist.
  • He's Muslim because he has relatives who are Muslim.
  • He's Muslim because he can remember the opening lines of the Muslim call to prayer.
  • He's Muslim because he was once photographed wearing a traditional Somali garment. The Somali are Muslims, so that makes him a Muslim.
  • He's Muslim because he once bowed to the Saudi king. (He also once bowed to the Japanese emperor, so perhaps he follows the Japanese Shinto religion as well...)
  • He's Muslim because he has an Arabic middle name.
  • He's Muslim because he spent some of his early years in a predominantly Muslim country.
  • He's Muslim because he has tried to cultivate good relationships with numerous Muslim countries, and has only been involved in fighting wars against two of them.
  • He's Muslim because he thinks the azan (call to prayer) is one of the most beautiful sounds on earth at dusk.

The phrase I see again and again on blogs and articles promoting this idea, is "If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it must be a duck."

Thus all those reasons above might seem convincing to some people. But then again, most of them can just be attributed to Obama being a man with an unconventional life story, and a broad range of interests and experiences. And if we pursue the "quacks like a duck" analogy, then surely Obama walks and quacks more like a Christian duck than a Muslim one. Attending church for 2 decades, raising one's daughters as Christian and anouncing one's devotion to Jesus Christ to the entire world seem far more convincing evidence than any of the reasons listed above.

I guess its not a surprise that this kind of thinking occurs in a nation where some labelled Obama as an un-American elitist because he pronounces Pakistan the way Pakistanis do (Paa-ki-staan) rather than the typical American way (Pack-a-Stan).

The small-minded approach to this issue rankles with me particularly because I relate to Obama on a number of things. Being bi-cultural. Having an anthropologist mother. Growing up amongst different cultures. Having a fairly global outlook on things.

And it thus bugs me that many traits that sane people regard as positive (Obama's cross-cultural awareness, his intellectualism, his diverse range of experiences outside America, his lack of enthusiasm for militaristic aggression) are actually seen as a negative. And that any trait that marks him out as different to the stereotypical white conservative American is taken as a sign of being a Muslim or Socialist or both.

So I started to wonder: What if, in some far-fetched future, it was me running for President of the USA? (Of course this would never happen, not least because I'm not an American.) What if I were faced with the same kind of scrutiny from prejudiced ignoramuses that Obama has faced? Would they conclude that I too was a Muslim? Let's see...

I have Muslim parents!
Although both are closer to being agnostic. My mother is Muslim because she was born as one, but practices barely any of the religion's tenets; my father converted in order to marry her (to please the in-laws), but did not actually embrace any Islamic beliefs that I know of.

I have spent a lot of time in Muslim countries!
I've been to Indonesia around 10 times and Malaysia around 6 times. Most of those times were spent with my Christian Indonesian relatives and my Hindu Malaysian girlfriend.

I did some of my schooling in a Muslim country!
Was it a madrassah? Close enough - it was a Teacher Training College in Yogyakarta where I did an intensive course in the Indonesian language. I also learned about the culture of this Muslim country, including how to make batik designs and how to play instruments of the traditional gamelan orchestra. They never taught us how to be martyrs against the infidel West; I must have been away sick that day.

I can recite some phrases in Arabic!
Let's see... Salaam alaikum... W'alaikum salaam... Allahu Akbar... Insha'Allah... Hummus bi Tahini...

I have been photographed wearing Muslim clothing!
I once marched in the Australia Day Parade, representing Melbourne's Indonesian community. Among other things, I wore a peci, the traditional cap worn by Muslim males in Southeast Asia.

I associate with Muslims!
I'm friends with about 20 of them on Facebook. Plus there's another few hundred friends on there who look a bit brown and have suspiciously foreign-sounding names, so they may as well be Muslim. Oh, and I did date a Muslim girl once. I don't know if she was very religious though; we didn't really do much talking, if you catch my meaning.

I listen to the rantings of hate-filled Islamic preachers!
Well, I own 4 albums by Ice Cube and 5 by Public Enemy. That's got to count for something.

I love the sound of the azan (Muslim call to prayer)!
Well, it's all right. I don't love it if it wakes me up in the morning though.

I have studied Islamic literature!
Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet by Karen Armstrong. A great read. It helped me come to the conclusion that I definitely had no interest in being a Muslim.

I have a Muslim-y middle name!
"Harshawardhana". Actually, its Indian (Sanskrit in origin), but who cares? Indian, Arab, Muslim, its all the same sh*t, right? Damned ragheads.

So by that logic, at least 20% of Americans think I'm a Muslim. Because regardless of the true story behind all the above statements, people can spin things anyway they want, if they are so determined to believe what they want to believe.

In truth, I've been an agnostic most of my life, but more recently decided that Jesus was pretty rad and thus have been finding a gradual accommodation with Christianity.

Or is that just what I'd have you believe, while I secretly plan my jihad on the infidels?

See also...

The Muslim-ness of Obama's family, and what it has to do with his presidency

More "Obama's not an American" nonsense

Obama bows again. Conservatives are angry. Sensible people couldn't care less.

"Do you speak English?"

From the British comedy series Big Train. Tells you a lot about the English perception of the French!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Egg tea. Yeah, that's right. Hot tea with egg in it.

Indonesians, like most people, like a nice cup of tea. Occasionally with milk, and very often with sugar. But I'm not sure which bright spark it was who decided that their cuppa would be considerably improved by adding a beaten egg to it. It certainly doesn't sound like a particularly good idea. Yet, somehow it is quite fabulous.

It was at a Padang restaurant in Tebet, Jakarta where we stumbled across this drink, called teh telur. I'd heard of it before, and as someone who views weird foods and drinks as a challenge, I just had to have it.

As I understand it, the process begins by whisking an egg vigorously (with sugar?) until it becomes light and frothy, then combining that with hot black tea, and sweetened condensed milk as well. The result is delicious, if slightly too sweet, and not eggy at all; rather, it has a creamy custard-like quality to it, particularly the top layer.

Kopi telur (egg coffee) is also available, and so I had to come back a few days later to try it. I didn't like it quite as much, but then again I am much more of a tea drinker than a coffee drinker. Again, it is sweet, rich and custardy.

Both drinks comes with a wedge of lime to add tartness. Given that it already contains hot milk and egg, the idea of squeezing lime juice into it seemed kind of bizarre and potentially revolting. I did it, of course, because, well... it was there. I did this against the advice of my significant other, but I did wait until the end when I was almost finished. The result? Umm, it was okay, I couldn't quite work out whether it was good or not. She thought the lime juice made it revolting.

So try it if you ever get the chance.

I've since tried to make it at home; difficult since I didn't actually see it being made and so I had to consult the interwebs for tidbits of information. My first effort was not great - it tasted like pretty much what you'd expect when you mix hot tea into egg. My second cup was better, but really not something I'd choose to drink, in contrast to the original glass we tried. Learning how to make this properly will be on my to-do list on my next Indonesian trip.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Interview with Miss Universe China. Oh man, this is good.

Why do they require candidates make animal noises and sound effects as part of the interview? I don't know, but I'm sure it's the best part of the entire competition. You can see clips of every contestant, but none is as awesome as this one featuring China's entrant, Tang Wen.


Like this? Then check out this and this.


This Miss Universe pageant sure brings out the best in people. I had to add this video of some gay* Filipino guys going completely apesh*t over the pageant. You have to wait til more than 2 minutes in for the real payoff, but it's worth it.

* I'm really just assuming they are gay, but I think you'll agree it's a pretty safe assumption.

The ugly politics of race in Malaysia

Malaysia has just this week celebrated its formation with Hari Merdeka (Independence Day), with its "1 Malaysia, Generating Transformation" theme, which is meant to emphasise national unity. Which is great in concept, of course, but the last few weeks have done much to expose this as mere wishful thinking. "1 Malaysia" is also the name of a campaign instigated by Prime Minister Najib Razak to promote ethnic harmony and unity; but it would be easier to take seriously if members of Najib's ruling coalition (Barisan Nasional) did not have a continual need to make racist statements about the ethnic Chinese and Indians.

Recently there have been comments like this one from Nasir Safar, a special officer to the PM, that "Indians came to Malaysia as beggars and Chinese especially the women came to sell their bodies", and "Indians in Malaysia have crossed the line ... Don't force the government. We can anytime revoke the citizenship of the Indians in Malaysia."

Or from Ibrahim Ali (pictured right), an Independent MP in the ruling coalition and head of controversial Malay-rights organisation Perkasa, who recently stated “It is necessary for the government to delay any allocation and approval of projects for the Chinese community,” because the Chinese in Selangor had mostly voted for the opposition.

Perkasa's economic director, Dr Zubir Harun, warned that the Chinese community will use the next general election to take over the country. While Perkasa's Petaling chairperson, Zainal Abidin Ahmad, lodged a complaint with police against a Protestant church in the Muslim-majority suburb of Shah Alam for planning to stage a Christian play during Ramadan, and accused them of attempting to preach Christianity to Muslims. “We want the church and pastor to be investigated for sedition and for insulting the Sultan," he said.

Perkasa is not part of the government per se (indeed, they have accused Najib of favouring non-Malays too much), but they are part of a spectrum of Malay interest groups, including the major party UMNO, pushing a particular racial barrow right now. Another is Utusan Malaysia, the leading Malay-language newspaper, which has been accused of stirring up ethnic tensions.

So why is this rhetoric against non-Malays at such a high level right now?

It is important to realise that race, religion and political affiliation are difficult to untangle from each other in Malaysia. If you are Malay, you are Muslim; there is no other option available. Thus anything deemed anti-Muslim is also anti-Malay, and vice-versa. Malays are primarily represented by UMNO (United Malay National Congress), the party of PM Najib.

So much of socio-political discourse in Malaysia revolves around one key issue; Ketuanan Melayu, or Malay supremacy, the idea that Malaysia primarily belongs to the Malay majority. Malays are granted special rights (educational scholarships, employment in the civil service, housing assistance) not available to the Chinese and Indian minorities, who have generally been living in Malaysia for several generations. These minorities are expected to be grateful for the kindness of the Malay people for allowing them to live on Malay land. Unsurprisingly, most non-Malays would happily do away with these affirmative action policies, which they claim are discriminatory, do not address actual poverty, and lead to inefficiency by promoting race over ability.

In the last few years, UMNO, the major party in the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, has faced an unprecedented challenge from Anwar Ibrahim's Pakatan Rakyat coalition, which promises a move away from ethnic-based economic policies. Pakatan Rakyat's appeal is broad, due to its unlikely coalition partners; the conservative Islamic party PAS, the predominantly Chinese centre-left party DAP, and the centrist PKR. With the government's attempts to discredit Anwar Ibrahim (through corruption and sodomy charges) proving unsuccessful in terms of votes, they seem to have decided that divisive racial politics are the only thing that will save them.

Because non-Malay voters have deserted BN in droves, BN seems to have decided it doesn't really need them. Instead, they are putting their eggs in the basket of Malay supremacy; trying to shore up the Malay vote by stirring up prejudice against non-Malays on one hand, and championing the special rights of Malays on the other. No doubt it hopes that this extreme Malay nationalist sentiment will lead to the "post-racial" Pakatan Rakyat being seen as a threat to Malay interests.

It is against this backdrop that Malaysian discourse about race and racism needs to be understood.

The authorities do take a firm stand on racism - enacting the draconian ISA (Internal Security Act) to detain without charge anyone seen as inciting racial tension - except for one problem. Inflammatory statements by Malays (or at least Malays who support the notion of ketuanan Melayu) are routinely overlooked, while innocuous incidents by anyone on the other side are seized upon as inflammatory and dealt with harshly. Equally, the authorities are fond of taking a "shoot the messenger" approach; ignoring inflammatory statements made by Malay leaders, but regarding those who report or comment on them as being seditious (such as the cases of blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin and reporter Tan Hoon Cheng).

A few recent examples:

In Kedah, a school principal was accused of racist treatment of Chinese students. The school canteen had closed for the fasting month, and the minority of Chinese students had to find their own food. But after seeing some of them eating breakfast in a common area, the principal accused them at school assembly of being disrespectful to the Malays who were fasting, and that they should go back to China. Another teacher allegedly subsequently told them to take an AirAsia flight "because the fares are cheap now".

This came not a week after Siti Inshah Mansor, the Malay principal of a middle school in Johor, allegedly said in a speech at her school's Merdeka celebrations: "Chinese students are not needed here and can return to China or Foon Yew schools. For the Indian students, the prayer string tied around their neck and wrist makes them look like dogs because only dogs are tied like that." She also reminded the non-Malay students of their place in the country, by giving the example of owning a car and then letting 'Munusamy' and 'Chong' in as passengers.
"Munusamy and Chong are only passengers," she is alleged to have said, "They cannot claim any right to the car. This is the same as Malaysia in which the non-Malay students are passengers."

Various groups have come out calling for the sacking of Siti Inshah. Interestingly, a Facebook page has sprung up, with several thousand members, supporting the principal, who it labels as a victim of politics. Ibrahim Ali of Perkasa predictably came out in support of her as well.

Controversial Chinese-Malaysian rap artist Namewee released a song on Youtube (since removed) entitled Nah, which attacked Inshah's remarks with some vulgarity and alluded to non-Malays being responsible for Malaysia's wealth. Namewee has since had his home raided and faces possible sedition charges. Siti Inshah has apparently faced no criminal charges.

Recently another furore erupted when opposition MP Teo Nie Ching (pictured left) visited a surau (prayer room) on official business, and was invited in. However because she was not wearing proper headcovering, some Muslim leaders were in uproar, seeing this as disrespectful of her religion. Teo has since apologised, although Islamic Party PAS backed her and encouraged her to visit more mosques. UMNO Vice-President Hishamuddin Hussein slammed PAS for encouraging a "dirty" person such as (Chinese and non-Muslim) Teo to enter a mosque. Hishamuddin has form for this kind of thing, having previously supported the Malays who dragged a cow's head through the streets of Shah Alam in protest at the construction of a Hindu temple (which was seen as disrespectful to Malays since it was a primarily Malay area).

Add to this some other recent rulings by BN that non-Muslims are forbidden from using certain words that are deemed the sole property of Muslims ("Allah" being the most obvious example), and accusations that Muslim sensitivities are not being respected, and you have to wonder. While it is true that the Malays as a whole still lag behind the ethnic Chinese in terms of wealth, their grip on social and political power seems unassailable. So why then do so many Malays feel that they are constantly being somehow downtrodden, victimized and their sensitivities disrespected?

Simple: because their leaders are always telling them that they are. And because it leads to a good political outcome for UMNO. Whether this sort of dirty racial politics leads to a good outcome for Malaysia as a whole is a different question entirely.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Anh Do on "Sunrise"

Vietnamese-Australian actor and comedian Anh Do appeared on Channel 7's Sunrise program recently touting his new book The Happiest Refugee.

While I don't really rate Do as a comic, he seems a genuinely likeable and engaging fellow, as well a great representative for Asian-Australians.

You can watch the interview here; at the same site there's also some commentary on the blog of David Koch, the host of Sunrise. It's interesting to read the tone of Koch, whose audience is very mainstream, and who is all-too aware that Do's good-news story is much needed amid Australia's prevailing mood of anti-refugee hysteria.

There's a longer and more illuminating interview with Do on ABC radio which you can listen to here.