Despondency Inc.

“The first ten million years were the worst,” said Marvin, “and the second ten million years, they were the worst too. The third ten million years I didn’t enjoy at all. After that I went into a bit of a decline.”

Marvin, the paranoid android in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams

Scrolling through the various social media platforms, in particular Facebook and Twitter, Walski has observed a heightened level of despondency in today’s Malaysia.

And this feeling seems rooted in two areas: politics and religion. Also economics, but in Walski’s opinion the root cause in politics. More specifically, the obsession among our politicians to further politics over policy.

If once upon a time there was a push for Malaysia, Inc., the reality we’ve arrived at today is Despondency, Inc. And it honestly doesn’t look like it’s going to get any better anytime soon.

What the Malaysia, Inc. initiative – basically a situation of cooperation between public and private sectors for the advancement of the nation – turned out to become consolidation of wealth for the oligarchs in this country, and the creation of a GLC-controlled economy.

The 1980/90 period saw the start of a quasi-Thatcheresque privatization of government services, but with the government still very much involved in business. It was those with ties to the parties within government that benefited most (and continue to).

The other side effect of mega GLCs: crowding out of the market, creating barriers for ground-up businesses to flourish, and because of lopsided “policies” (to use the term loosely), those that really wanted to grow could only do so by relocating elsewhere. The most recent case: Grab, that relocated down south and is now a Singapore-based company.

Back in January this year, The Edge ran a story analyzing why Grab left, and what has made Singapore a better environment for tech startups. Walski won’t comment much on the article – go read it for yourself. But the question is this: if Malaysia has no shortage of Venture Capitalist (VC) organizations, what is it we lack preventing ambitious corporations like Grab to grow regionally or even be a global brand?

The complete answer, like all answers to simple question, is undoubtedly complex, and would require several posts to answer in sufficient detail. But for Walski, the bottom line is three things: lack of vision, lack of agile policy, and the fact Malaysia continues to be mired in identity politics.

And all three, at the end of the day, boils down to politics.

Perhaps an oversimplification and pretty crude, but it wouldn’t be unfathomable if one of the root-cause factors leading to Grab’s relocation is that the owners are of the “wrong demographic“.

Closely tied to the quagmire of Malaysian politics is religion, a source of political power for the major players in our political environment, which by and large still believes religious/ethnocentric concerns are the key priority. In the meantime, the rest of the world moves according to REALITY. Even those political parties whose existence isn’t grounded in this antiquated notion ultimately get dragged down into the bottomless shithole pit.

Because if they don’t play ball, the big political players and their legion of fucked up retard minions will start their campaign of mudslinging. Islam Über Alles… that sort of thing. Fascist? You betcha!

Today, race and religion have become all too intertwined. Religion has become the new “race”, and religion has become a blunt tool to exert perceived social and moral superiority. It’s a convenient tool to demand compliance of those with the audacity to think rationally and question when there’s a need to.

And if all else fails, invoke Article 3 of the Federal Constitution, regardless of how irrelevant it is to the argument. Or police reports, the favorite pastime of these mofo minions.

Religious authorities are regarded as sacrosanct, beyond reproach, and any criticism will be met with vociferous ire and blood-curdling threats of retaliation. Regardless of the sometimes overreaching and unreasonable these so-called religious institutions have become, these are the new sacred cows that can never be questioned. And who comes to the rescue when there is valid criticism voiced out?

The same damned mudslingers, and other minions of the countless religious NGOs that have mushroomed over the last decade, like fauna on fresh rain-watered dung. If there is one thing that will sink this nation down to the deepest pits of Hell on Earth, it will be our increasingly incessant obsession with invoking religion at every damned turn, and forcing it to be relevant over the most minute of concerns.

So if you wonder why Walski senses great despondency within the social media sphere, these are the two root-cause reasons. From his perspective, and his alone, naturally. And yes, he too is despondent. Very much so.

Oh, and by the way, Selamat Hari Raya Aidil Fitri.

For all it’s worth…

Photo credit

The feature image used for this post is a screenshot from a video short called Suicidal Clown, via Alexandru Cotoc on YouTube (full image below).

The title pretty much describes what Walski thinks about Malaysia today: idiotically clownish, and just waiting to implode and self-destruct. But hey, as long as we’re “moral” and performatively pious, right?

Would a cesspool by any other name smell just as pungent?

Cesspool failures

The clergy, by getting themselves established by law and in-grafted into the machine of government, have been a very formidable engine against the civil and religious rights of man.

Thomas Jefferson

Islam in Malaysia has oftentimes been equated to be like Hotel California, based on that one line in Eagles’ most overplayed song – you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. And it’s worse if you were born in Hotel California.

There currently is one court case where an individual who was born into a Muslim family is trying to leave the religion, and said individual is currently seeking permission to have her judicial review heard in the civil court system, as reported in The Malay Mail this week.

You can read the background of the case, summarized quite comprehensively in that report. The applicant had already gone through all kinds of hoops and legal hoopla, as is the case with the Shariah Court system in cases such as this, only to have her application to leave Islam rejected by the Shariah Court of Appeal.

If you’ve read lawyer Fahri Azzat’s piece some months back, you’ll know that this is not surprising at all. Not by a single iota.

But what’s interesting is part of the court’s reasoning why the applicant’s request was rejected (emphasis by Walski):

Shariah High Court had — in rejecting A’s bid to be known as no longer a Muslim — ruled that the right to freedom of religion in Article 11(1) of the Federal Constitution is not applicable to Muslims.

The Malay Mail, Wednesday, 27 April 2020

A few perplexing things are happening here. One, does the Shariah High Court even have the right to rule on constitutional matters in the first place? Ask most lawyers, and the answer you’ll get in most instances is NO. But never mind that for the moment.

Let’s digress for a sec so we can do a quick recap of exactly how Article 11(1) of the Malaysian Federal Constitution is worded: Every person has the right to profess and practise his religion and, subject to Clause (4), to propagate it.

Every person – so, if EVERY PERSON has freedom of religion as a basic right, but this basic right is not applicable to Muslims, does that mean that in Malaysia Muslims are not even regarded as proper “persons”? If the answer is YES, then that goes a long way to explain the prevalence of herd mentality among many Malay/Muslims…

But all kidding aside, by making the ruling, the Shariah High Court has pretty much declared Malaysia to be a RELIGIOUS APARTHEID. At least that’s how Walski sees it.

Many a rational person would have to wonder: what’s the big deal if everyone – every person, to be specific – could exercise the fundamental right accorded by Article 11(1)?

Try to even broach this question, and the earth will undoubtedly start to shudder with the collective wrath of the “faithful”; HOW CAN YOU EVEN ASK SUCH A QUESTION!!! DOOMSDAY WILL COME IF THAT HAPPENS! THE EARTH WILL OPEN UP AND SWALLOW THE TWIN TOWERS, KL TOWER, AND MENARA 118!!!

Persist with the question, and you’ll probably find a gazillion police reports filed against you for the crime of intelligent enquiry…

But that’s the reality of this cesspool we’ve become. The entrenched status quo must never be questioned, even if the questions are reasonable ones. And why we’ve become the cesspool we are today has a lot to do with that quote by Thomas Jefferson.

And the root cause: political expediency; of trying to out-Islam the Islamists. Fast forward three decades plus change, the entire nation is the worse for it. We’ve become a religious apartheid, and as these things go, once Stockholm Syndrome sets in any attempt at change and rectification will be messy. And Malaysia doesn’t possess the political will to clean up anything that’s messy.

Regardless, the court challenge Walski mentioned above will be an interesting one to follow. Essentially, submissions to challenge have been made, and a decision on whether the challenge may be heard will be known come June 15. Well and good if leave is given, but if it is rejected then another round of questions will emerge. Either way, let’s hope the legal arguments presented are sound ones.

It is fortunate that the plaintiff’s legal team, the prosecution, and the court have unanimously agreed that withholding the applicants identity (the Islamists won’t be pleased, but screw ’em) is in the best interest of everyone involved. Because what will undoubtedly happen is harassment by the “faithful”, and maybe even threats to her life.

In the meantime, there is a sense of calm in this cesspool. For now, at least. Let’s just hope that calm isn’t the kind that precedes a ferocious shitstorm…

Freedom of Religion… and the Malaysian reality

What does religious freedom mean if we would use it as a cover for hate and privilege?

DaShanne Stokes

Before Walski continues with what’s on his mind, he asks your indulgence to take this simple poll:

So, you might be wondering: what is it that got under Walski’s skin to write about this?

Well, unless you’ve been living under a rock these past few weeks, you will probably have heard about the plight of one Loh Siew Hong. Her husband, who converted to Islam, took their three children, left them at a charity home where they were converted to Islam, with only the husband’s consent.

Granted that the High Court has ordered the release of the three children into her custody, Madam Loh’s ordeal is not over. Pretty much the entire Malaysian Islamic Bureaucracy, and the countless NGOs of the Islamic vein, are pressuring to ensure the three kids remain Muslims.

Now, bear this in mind: at the time of conversion the twin girls would have been around 11 years old, while their younger brother around 7. Now, would anyone that young appreciate or understand their “decision” (assuming there was no coercion involved) would be binding for the rest of their lives? Walski contends that the answer is NO. For pretty much the same reasons why driver’s licenses are NEVER issued to 7 or 11 year olds.

The now question is whether or not the Malaysian Islamic Bureaucracy, and the NGOs that prop them, will leave Madam Loh to raise her kids in the best of her ability and conscience, OR will they continue to force their way into the family’s lives?

So yeah, that’s what’s gotten under Walski’s skin.

Back to the question the poll asks: is there freedom of religion in Malaysia? Walski will leave the poll up until the end of February, after which we’ll look at the results and discuss. If you were following the earlier myAsylum blog or know Walski first-hand, you’ll probably be able to guess his answer to the question. So as to not prejudice the poll results, we’ll leave this as it is for now.

But before Walski concludes this post, consider what the Federal Constitution says about freedom of religion:

Clause (1) in Article 11 of the Federal Constitution states thusly:

(1) Every person has the right to profess and practise his religion and, subject to Clause (4), to propagate it.

Clause (4), which is a qualifier, states: State law and in respect of the Federal territories of Kuala Lumpur, Labuan and putrajaya, federal law may control or restrict the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among persons professing the religion of Islam.

So effectively, freedom of religion is, in theory, enshrined in the Federal Constitution. But does freedom of religion, in practice and in reality, exist in Malaysia?

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

The Journey Spiritual in a Dogmatic World

The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion

Albert Camus

Every human is born a free spirit, and it is the experience of life that shapes who we eventually become. And although we have “become“, possibilities and opportunities will always present themselves to enable us to redefine ourselves.

But only if we want to.

Just so you don’t read the rest of this post confused, allow Walski to elucidate why he’s writing this. Some weeks back, he completed reading an important book by author, journalist and thinker Mustafa Akyol, “Reopening Muslim Minds“. To say it’s an important book would be an understatement. Walski believes everyone – Muslims in particular – should read it. And for selfish reasons, Muslims in Malaysia especially.

(Disclaimer: Walski is a Malaysian, hence the slight selfishness)

One of the things he thought of doing was to write an unsolicited review on the book, and why Walski thinks it’s important, especially for Malaysia currently. But before that, he thought it only fitting that Walski share a little bit about his own spiritual journey, so that the review might have some foundational context as to where Walski comes from.

And so, with that out of the way, let’s begin our journey. Well, Walski’s journey…

Let’s start at the beginning. Or, as close to the beginning as practical.

Walski grew up in a middle class family, both parents in the civil service, as were his granddads on both sides of the maternal/paternal divide. He was born in the mid-60s, and grew up during a time Malay/Muslims weren’t so obsessed with performative piety as they are today. A lot less uptight, too, about… well, just about everything, really.

Sure, Islam was observed in the family then. 5-times a day prayers, fasting in Ramadhan, etc. But apart from that, by and large Islam wasn’t something every damned thing revolved around like it is in Malaysia today. Yes, the state did have some level of control, but by and large it was a personal belief matter. And in the 70s and early 80s, no one talked about religious rehabilitation.

Fast-forward to 1990, when Walski returned to Malaysia after spending 8 years abroad, doing his tertiary education and briefly working after that. By then, Malaysia was already in the early stages of metamorphosis, religion starting its creep into the public sphere. Later in that decade the now infamous Lina Joy case made it clear that government departments were bound by what religious authorities dictate. Religion – specifically Islam – was no longer something between an individual and God, but between an individual and state dictates. And what the state dictates shall be what “Islam” is in Malaysia.

So if the state dictates a particular school of thought is the only permissible school of thought, then that’s that. Personal conscience? Doesn’t exist in Malaysia; at least not among anyone unfortunate enough to be born into a Muslim family, or decided to embrace the religion.

What changed Walski, looking back, was probably the Black Metal police raid that happened on New Year’s eve 2006 in KL, and before that, another in December 2005 (in Seremban). These two police raids, it would appear, were the direct result of moral outrage caused by religious councils about the evils of Black Metal, which later morphed into fantastical articles in Mastika (yes, that literary giant), and which eventually drove PDRM to act. Later in 2006 the National Fatwa Council made it “officially” haram.

Ok, first off, Walski is not a big fan of Death Metal. And the real point is not this specific genre being banned, but how the opinion of religious bodies (a fatwa, by definition, is an opinion) could drive enforcement apparatus of the state to act. Which leads to another question: do religious authorities have the power to shape legislation, and the actual people responsible to create legislation (Parliament and the respective State houses) have no choice but to comply?

Sadly, as we have slowly discovered since then, the answer is yes. Whether or not this power of sway is based on actual laws or not is irrelevant – what they say, goes. Or else, the legion of Islamic NGOs creep out of the woodworks to shout loudly. And this government, which has historically relied on the Muslim vote to remain in power, kneejerks into action. The question of legality doesn’t even arise – the religionists speak, and therefore MUST BE OBEYED.

Also interesting was this popular notion going around during the Lina Joy trial – she had abandoned Islam (and did it publicly), therefore must be eliminated. Killed. Wait, what? Isn’t Islam a religion of compassion and peace? Or, at least, that’s what Walski had been brought up to believe.

And then there was also this thing about certain words that are exclusive to Muslims in Malaysia, and no one else may use them. Huh? How and when did Islam become so exclusivist?

There are other things that popped up in addition to these two, but suffice it to say Walski had to find out more. And thus, in 2006 his spiritual journey began. The year he turned 42. Which, coincidentally, is also the ultimate answer; the answer to life, the universe, and everything.

But just like in Douglas Adams’ series of HItchhiker books, the quest became to seek what questions to ask. And the questions were many.

And it was also at this point that Walski (finally) took the trouble to read the Quran. Not merely recite it while not knowing what it says, but really read it. And understand it (or try, at least). Back in 2006 there wasn’t the abundance of tafseer (or “translation”, loosely translated) to be found on the Internet like there is today. But there were enough resources, that said.

And what Walski found out was actually in the Quran? Eye-opening and enlightening, to say the least. More importantly, a lot of what today constitutes Islamic practice and belief is not in the Quran at all. Like, for instance, that apostates and blasphemers may no longer live. Sure, there’s damnation and all, but no worldly punishment. Similarly, the punishment of stoning to death – nowhere in the Quran.

Also eye-opening was the much-repeated appeal for us to use our intellect and reason. And not at all like what most religionists today demand, that we must accept their truth as the only truth, and most of all, never question.

So what happened to Islam between the time the Quran was revealed, as the seal of revelaion and God’s final word to mankind, and the present day? In a nutshell, a lot. Put it this way: if the very basis of this nation being secular in nature can be altered, challenged and re-interpreted 60-some years after 1957, what more a faith that’s been around for over 1,400 years?

Which brings us to back to Mustafa Akyol’s book, “Reopening Muslim Minds“. Its subtitle, by the way: A Return to Reason, Freedom and Tolerance. Not ‘opening’ but Reopening. Not ‘Towards’ but A Return to. Think about the title and their implications.

And when Walski gets around to writing the review, we’ll discuss this more.

So that’s the journey Walski embarked on in 2006, and which continues till this day. A journey of asking questions, and seeking answers. It’s a journey that will continue until his last breath, in all likelihood. There have been more questions than answers, but that’s okay.

Such is the nature of spiritual journeys, it would seem.