Forum Rakyat “No to ISA”

This is post is scribbled in a haste, please forgive its flaws.

I received an email from blogging brother, Amin Iskandar, seeking cooperation to spread the words around about the forum, details of which are as follows:

Forum Rakyat “No to ISA”

Arus Pergolakan Politik di Malaysia, diantara harapan dan cabaran. Satu penilaian semula.

Tarikh: 1 Disember 2008

Hari: Isnin

Masa: 8 Malam

Tempat: Auditorium Bar Council,
Leboh Pasar Besar,
Kuala Lumpur.

Ahli Panel:

1) Sdr. Hishamuddin Rais (Aktivis Reformasi, Kolumnis)
2) Tn Hj. Mohammad Sabu (Naib Presiden PAS)
3) Sdri. Teresa Kok (Ahli Parlimen Seputeh)
4) Raja Petra Kamarudin (Editor Malaysia Today)
5) T S Thenintharan (Indian Opressed Group)
6) Syed Ibrahim (Gerakan Mansuhkan ISA)
7) Faridzun Nasaruddin (Jurucakap Mahasiswa Mansuhkan ISA dan AUKU)

Anjuran: Cakap Rakyat Group.

It is a shame that I have prior engagement at the same time with the forum. Other than that, I see you bloggers and commentators at the high-tea tomorrow.

The Bookseller of Kabul – Book Review

Åsne Seierstad lives the life of my dream. The wanderlust journalist travels across the globe with minimal clothing, plenty of notebooks and her trustworthy laptop in tow. Seierstad is a Norwegian war correspondent (isn’t that a splendid designation to put on your name card?) covering the unfolding events in the war torn Afghanistan.

As Seierstad wandered the streets of Kabul (post Taliban era) she met a lonesome figure, Sultan Khan, who seemed detached from political turmoil which enveloped the whole of Afghan’s capital city. A fast friendship was quickly formed where Seierstad moved into Khan’s family home for the next four months: to tell their story.

The Bookseller of Kabul (TBK) is a crossbreed – in so far as genre is concerned – of culture, history, religion and semi-travelogue. What sets the book apart from other ordinary travelogues is the fact that it is creatively written in a fabric of fiction.

Åsne Seierstad yarns the story of Afghan fabric of life with intriguing conversation from a westerner’s perspective. The land where hope diminishes by days and weak leadership controlled the running of the country. To borrow the words of Will Shakespeare, “where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.”

To digress a little, I blame my obsession with Afghanistan onto that spellbinding Afghan doctor, Khaled Hosseini, who penned the Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. Hosseini’s books first piqued my interest on Afghanistan with his tales of the desert.

The author partly narrates the book – at least in my personal interpretation – about women who have been reduced to second class citizen, oppressed, degraded and caged in a “burka”. The cover-all dress code was first made compulsory during the five years of Taliban’s reign of power. In short, in Afghanistan, it is acceptable for men to behave like tyrants but women must be as timid as mice.

The story is set in the recently liberated Kabul from the iron-fist clutch of Taliban. Sultan Khan is a businessman, first, before he is a husband to both wives or the father to his many children. Even though I frown upon polygamy, my heart softens when the author describes how much ‘in love’ Khan is with his collection of books; how he endangered his life during the Taliban era by printing illegal materials. However, all materials are illegal in Taliban’s eyes. Even pictures of living object are deemed as ‘sin’.

Khan’s books were raped, torn apart and dismembered, first by the communist and later by the ruthless Taliban. No history or literature can be preserved in Afghanistan.

In the tradition of Afghan, the first, second and third generation, usually roofed together in a small apartment leaving no room for privacy to the family members.

On a side-note, dust is apparently a curse to the Afghans as the Cinderella of the family sweeps the floor many times in a day. Family member’s personal belongings are stored in a trunk thus dispensing the need of cupboards and organised storage.

The author paints the picture of Afghanistan, post Taliban era, when music resumes and the previous soccer stadium – used as execution field by the Taliban where the accused was shot dead in front of hundreds of jeering Taliban supporters – is put to good use again.

Still, in Afghan’s culture, feelings were blatantly repressed and courting is doomed as the ultimate betrayal to family honour reducing young Afghans (including one of Khan’s family member) to resorts into buying sexual pleasure from underage, poverty stricken girl.

It must be a difficult task to tell a story or write a semi-memoir of one family from a 3rd party’s point of view. Not to mention the fact that, if I were Sultan Khan, I would never want to see Åsne Seierstad again in my life let alone grace a spot for the book in the shelves of his bookstore for the kind of story she depicts.

However, what the author lacks in writing this book is to inject the “soul” element into the storyline, the way Sonia Nazario did in Enrique’s Journey. Alas, comparison is never a good.

Note: I refrain from detailing the plots in this book for fear that I could not write it with fair perspective as the story is rather long.

Title: The Book Seller of Kabul
Local Price: RM55.90 (Times Bookstore, Pavilion)
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Biography/Non-Fiction
ISBN: 978-0-8129-7178-1

RTM Blog Program

Library
12 Midnight

Dearest Phantom,

It has been quiet a while since we last wrote to each other, so much so that my pencil grew blunt, my acid-free moleskine paper turned yellowish with the passing of time.

However, I must tell you news of great importance and I do hope that the postman will deliver this snail mail on time.

I have been invited to be a guest on RTM’s Blog Program, which would be aired live on RTM 1 this Sunday, 23 November 2008, at 8.40 p.m.

A little humming bird has informed me that the host will want to talk to me about my blog and current affairs. Honestly Phantom, what do I know about current affairs?

All said and done, I shall try not to disappoint you and to look my best this Sunday night.

Until then, my dearest friend.

Yours Sincerely,
Write Away

Switch to English Medium

(Published in the Star on November 19, 2008)

I refer to Wong Chun Wai’s column on November 16, whereby I feel compelled to voice out my opinion in tandem with the issues raised by the Star Group Chief Editor.

I could not agree more with Wong’s apt observation about our students fairing badly in entrance examinations in the UK and US. On the other hand, our graduates also perform poorly at job interviews. It is disheartening to learn that these two issues plague the very fabric of our growing nation.

The quality of students and graduates – produced by our local schools and higher learning institutions – depends largely on the education system of our country. If our students, who scored string of distinctions in their Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia, but performed badly in the college entrance exams, it is time for us to realise that our education system fails to nurture its students to gain entry at prestigious institutions in the UK and US.

I am of the view that one of the cogent reasons behind this plight is the medium of language used in our schools. I struggled beyond comprehension during the switch of medium from a local boarding school – where every subject except English, was taught in Bahasa Melayu – to A-Level Program where everything was taught in English.

It is hardly about the student’s ability to stomach the contents of the syllabus in college entrance exams; it is simply the language transition. It halts the student’s speed of comprehension thus slowing his or her progress in coping with the syllabus. The result, more often than not, would be catastrophic.

The laudable effort by the Education Ministry to teach Science and Mathematics in English needs a dose of reality check. By mixing the two languages, we end up having students who are not proficient in neither Bahasa Melayu nor English. In addition thereto, the teachers are also not predisposed to teach the two dreary subjects in English.

Therefore, I recommend the education ministry to consider teaching all subjects – with the exception of Bahasa Melayu – in English. After your SPM, there is hardly a reference book in Bahasa Melayu for everything is written in English. English is your window to the world. Being fluent in English does not mean disrespect to Bahasa Melayu. I also urge all quarters to stop politicising the use of English at our schools for the sake of our children’s future. Prior to switching the medium to English, the Education Ministry must first train to the teachers to be fluent in English to avoid possible frustration and rejection.

Education Ministry must also ensure the quality of the teachers assigned to grow young Malaysians. Dedication and interest alone will not be sufficient to motivate the teachers. Higher remuneration and perks, too, play an integral role to motivate the teachers and to entice graduates to enter the teaching force.

Our high-achievers could not browse through the classical work of Shakespeare and understand the poetry world of Robert Frost with ease, if Bahasa Malaysia is your first language. Bahasa Melayu is a young and developing language, a progress of which could be deeply enriched, if our aspiring poets and writers could gain a pointer or two from English literature.

Even in our courtroom, there is a signage which reads, “Sila Guna Bahasa Kebangsaan,” displayed right across the bench. To me, it is a blatant disregard to the signage, when in reality, most of the senior counsels and judges converse only in English. But who could blame them when all law reports, references and judgments are written in English? It is ridiculous to translate everything just for the sake of using Bahasa Kebangsaan.

The strength of our economic pillar relies heavily on human capital. In short, the kind of graduate our education system produces would – from all different perspectives – adversely or positively affects the economic progress of our nation. Sadly now, as pointed out by the columnist, 60,000 unmarketable graduates remain unemployed due to their lack of fluency in English and social skills.

It is time to go back to English for the sake of our future.

Qalam Malam

Membaca dan menulis itu acara sunyi
Natijahnya tidak pernah pasti
Jalan yang tidak selalu dirintis.

Seorang pembaca dan penulis perlu bersendirian
Tenggelam dalam dunia pinjaman
Sempurna hanya seketika
Kerana beliau perlu kembali ke dunia nyata
Seperti yang difitrahkan alam pada manusia
Untuk berkata, bertemu dan bercerita.

Hakikatnya?

Aku tak perlu semua itu
Bising, hingar-bingar, desas-desus suara
Aku cuma perlu keheningan yang berdengung
Sebatang pensil
Sehelai kertas.

p/s: Sorry about this, I am a bit distracted. Will be right back.

Raja Petra released

Blogging live from Shah Alam High Court:

Raja Petra Kamaruddin was released ten minutes ago after Malik Imtiaz Sarwar and his team of lawyers won the hearing of Harbeas Corpus Writ.

I spotted Zorro and Haris Ibrahim outside the courtroom hugging each other amidst a loud cheer and clap from spectators.

Malaysiakini has the report:

Court orders Raja Petra’s release
Hafiz Yatim | Nov 7, 08 9:46am

The Shah Alam High Court this morning ruled that the detention of well-known blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin under the ISA was illegal and ordered his immediate release.
MCPX

Judge Syed Ahmad Helmy Syed Ahmad said that Raja Petra’s detention was unconstitutional.

He said the Home Minister had not followed proper procedure under Section 8 of the ISA to issue the detention order against Raja Petra.

The judge also ordered that Raja Petra, editor of the popular Malaysia Today website, be produced in court by 4pm today after which he should be immediately released.

Raja Petra is being held at the Kamunting detention camp in Perak.