Friday, 26 June 2009

... which isn't, of course, to say that I agree with everything Nik Aziz says

Just because I wrote a nice review of his book two days ago, I am not one of those who think that any politician is ever maksum (without sin); on the contrary, politicians -- who are ever-conscious of playing to the gallery -- are, as a species, guiltier than most of us when it comes to dodgy statements. 

The fact that Nik Aziz himself has 10 pages in the combined volumes of Malaysian Politicians Say the Darndest Things proves that he is not, and should never be, exempt from the scrutiny we devote to the rest of his tribe. 

I concur with the statement by Parti Sosialis Malaysia below. I should also add that PAS itself, especially in the 1960s, had 'socialist' tendencies or at least sympathies too. I recommend Chapter 2 of Islam Embedded for further reading.

With all due respect to the PAS spiritual leader Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, PSM condemns his statement likening UMNO has a socialist party because it rejects Islam. The spiritual leader should know better about socialism before making such a comment. Unfortunately Nik Aziz too has fallen into the same trap of the Barisan Nasional government to demonise socialism. The ruling government has successfully condemned socialism and labelled it as anti religion for a long time.

Socialism does not propagate anti religion or violence. Socialism is the only ideology and economic model that challenges capitalism. The capitalist BN government realises this fact , and thus will go all out to bad mouth socialism in an attempt to shield away the genuine principles of socialism from the rakyat.

In brief socialism stands for a classless society where there will be no oppressor and oppresed. The resources of nation should be shared with the rakyat and not controlled by a few capitalists. Socialism stresses on workers struggle so that the production wealth of the nation benefits the rakyat .Workers should be  paid decent wages, and their rights be taken care of escpecially during economic crisis.
Socialism is against privatisation of public facilities such as water, electricity, health and education. The current problems with Barisan Nasional-led neoliberal policies since the reign of Tun Mahathir has left the rakyat paying for his privatisation policies.
Enough of demonising socialism! The wise PAS spiritual leader should understand this and refrain from accusing socialism of  being anti religion if he does not understand the true principles of  socialism.

A. Sivarajan
National Treasurer  
Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM)

Thursday, 25 June 2009


I am so happy that I published Taxi Tales on a Crooked Bridge. It has shifted 2,000 units and is selling 5 copies in Singapore for every 4 copies here, so I guess this counts as our first 'international book!' (Alas, 'international bestseller' would be more than a mite presumptuous). 

It's the sort of thing that I set up Matahari Books to take on: creative non-fiction that is not composed of microwaved articles from a newspaper column. I am glad that a young Singaporean filmmaker was so inspired by the book that he plans to make a documentary about his own conversations with taxi drivers. If this comes to light, I hope we can share it here.

There have been suggestions to do a Malaysian version, but honestly, how can you write about Malaysian taxis without covering the whole page in unbecoming expletives? More appropriate would be a book on taking the LRT, or even hanging out in different shopping malls. Any takers?

In the meantime, heeeere's Charlene:

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Tomyam and theocracy

TELAGA BUDI by Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, edited by Annual Bakri Haron (Anbakri, 2009, 218 pages)

I recently attended a ‘live’ talk by Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, even though there was no by-election in sight. It was on a Kota Bahru street on a Friday morning. He spoke for almost an hour but thousands of people stayed put.

It’s a weekly ritual known as sekolah atas tembok, which in this context translates to mean ‘school on the street’ rather than ‘school on a concrete wall’. He didn’t have to raise his voice; the 78-year old is a skilled orator who makes people want to stay quieter in case they miss something. He made them laugh, make them nod and kept them keen. 

I initially thought this book was a collection of speeches by the PAS Spiritual Adviser and Kelantan Chief Minister, but it’s rather different. His actual words consist mainly of 29 things that he has said. Each saying is then placed at the beginning of each chapter as an aphorism; a well of wisdom, as it were, which the editor then draws upon. Some of the homely wit then becomes dissipated in favour of literal explication.

His gift is his ability to talk about politics and religion (and he belongs firmly in the camp of those who do not ostensibly separate between the two) in images that are rooted in everyday lived experience. Take this: “When our wife cooks tomyam, she didn’t create the salt, carrot, chicken, or water; she merely arranges these existing ingredients into a pot.”

This isn’t some sexist attempt to discredit the poor woman’s cooking. It relates to how people must always be conscious that everything around us is on loan from the Creator. And so tomyam gets placed in its theocratic context.

There are few politicians who’ve had not only his staying power but enduring appeal. (Take a look at the upper echelons of, say, the MIC, to see that ‘staying power’ and ‘enduring appeal’ don’t always go together). Although he might shun such a comparison to a Shiite leader, the prevalence of his pictures in Kelantan shops and houses can only be compared to how Khomeini was once used as an emblem of resistance.

The only quote from him that doesn’t get extra explication here starts with: “I am scared of worldly titles like Yang Amat Berhormat (Most Honourable), because in the Afterlife it might become the reverse.” Another example is Yang Amat Arif  (The Most Learned) becoming Yang Amat Bebal (The Most Stupid).

Speaking of ‘worldly titles’: his humble lifestyle is a big reason for his popularity, but there’s something more. Anyone who has been to a boarding school can see how Kelantan Malay guys would always band together and create almost an autonomous entity. It’s not for nothing that the only local film title of recent years to actually reference a State happens to be Budak Kelantan – and this is a state with no cinemas!

This desire to be seen as different also extends to politics. Be that as it may, an interesting creative tension emerges when you realise that, in his speeches and this book, he rejects the idea of communal separation on the basis of ethnicity or locality. Ketuanan Melayu (Malay supremacy), for example, is an assabiyah (tribalist) concept, and contemptible because of that.

What I mean by creative tension is that this universality is consciously articulated in a vernacular that is local (Kelantanese) and proudly so. This isn’t hypocrisy but what the sociologists among us would call ‘local genius.’ More than any other PAS leader at present (the only contender would have been the late Fadzil Noor and, further back in its illustrious past, the more towering figure of Burhanuddin al-Helmy) he has never seemed to be a mere politician, but the embodiment of a certain hope, a certain dignity.

That’s why politicians from the other side of the fence who go and promise to bless the State with ‘development’ seem hilariously off the mark. People there already feel quite blessed, thank you very much!

(Malay Mail, 24 June) 

Monday, 22 June 2009

I am presenting one of my fave movies on July 6, talaga!

Not that I have ever done such a thing, but if I were to compile a list of, say, my 20 favourite films of all time, I betcha at least 3 of them will be Filipino. There's Lino Brocka's Insiang. There's Lav Diaz's Batang West Side. And then (this is where you can come in), there's ...


Selected and introduced by Amir Muhammad

Film Screening

Mon 6 July, 8pm

Presented by The Annexe Gallery

Admission Free, bring your own snacks

Monday Night Movie is a new series of monthly film screenings at The Annexe Gallery, with titles chosen and introduced by guest curators. 

Our first title, chosen by filmmaker/writer/publisher Amir Muhammad, is Himala (“Miracle”, 1982) an award-winning Filipino film directed by the late Philippine National Artist Ishmael Bernal. Based on a 1967 incident and news report, Himala tells the story of Elsa, a barrio lass whose visions of the Virgin Mary changes her life and causes hysteria in a poor, isolated village. The film is centered on the issues of religious faith and faithlessness. The film stars Philippine superstar Nora Aunor in the leading role.

The movie premiered at the 1982 Metro Manila Film Festival, and in 1983, became the first – and so far the only – Filipino film to be included in the "Competition Section" of the prestigious Berlin International Film Festival. Since then, Himala has been exhibited in a number of film festivals around the world. In 2008, Himala won the 2008 CNN Asia Pacific Screen Awards Viewers Choice Award for Best Asia-Pacific Film of all Time. 

You can confirm on Facebook :-)

Friday, 19 June 2009

New Malaysian Essays 2: details, launch, pre-order

Title: New Malaysian Essays 2
Editor: Amir Muhammad
Publisher: Matahari Books
ISBN: 9789834359683
Pages: 288
Price: RM36 (Malaysia) / US$24 (Amazon)

Synopsis: NME2 is bigger and maybe more badass than the first. Shanon Shah squarely faces the politics of religion and Mohamad Tajuddin Mohamad Rasdi critiques 'power architecture', a subject Ridhwan Saidi also handles with witty immediacy. We then take in Amir Sharipuddin's journal of National Service, Yusuf Martin's amusing rant on the Americanisation (or is that Americanization?) of popular culture, Amir Muhammad's views on royalty, Ann Lee's secret history of leprosy, and Danny Lim's photo-essay on our newly-regained love for public demonstrations. As night falls, Andrew Ng and Jac sm Kee play twin tributes to the female undead that not only scare us but help define us.


Launch Date: The 4th of July! Those of you who will read Yusuf Martin's essay will appreciate the irony of the date.

We are having a barbecue house party to celebrate the arrival of this book. It's at 22 Lorong Rahim Kajai 13, Taman Tun Dr. Ismail. (This is the side of TTDI that is closer to the primary school than to the Pizza Hut). It starts at 8pm and ends at 11pm and the date once again is the 4th of July, which is a Saturday.

Simultaneously launching will be Elarti:ga, the latest publication by Stormkitchen. Come early to get the best cuts of meat! (If you're vegetarian, come whenever).

You can confirm on Facebook.


If you can't make it to the launch party but wanna get autographed copies, you can pre-order now! Email me at . The books will be signed by the writers at the launch and posted on 6 July.


It will start reaching bookshops the weekend of 18/19 July, though some will take longer.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

10 pages from NME2

New Malaysian Essays 2 has ten writers, up from six for the first book. Average length of each essay is 26 pages. Full kudos to Liza Manshoor of Eclectic Design for the layout!

From The Khutbah Diaries by Shanon Shah:

From The Architecture of Putrajaya by Mohamad Tajuddin Mohamad Rasdi:

Daripada: Hari-Hari Terakhir Seorang Flâneur oleh Ridhwan Saidi:

From Aku, Hang & Demo by Danny Lim:

From Of Jackfruit and Kings by Amir Muhammad:

From The Theme Park of Pulau Jerejak by Ann Lee:

From Blue, Black & White: How I Survived National Service by Amir Sharipuddin:

From Colourful Language by Yusuf Martin:

From A Cultural History of the Pontianak Films by Andrew Ng:

From Boundary Monsters in a Time of Magic by Jac sm Kee:

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Why you so like that ah?

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MALAYSIANS AND SINGAPOREANS by Ravi Veloo & Cheng Puay Koon (Media Campus, 2002, 98 pages)

Back in the late 90s, I worked for a few months in Singapore. One of the things that I remember startling me was a billboard, visible from my HDB flat, created out of the winning artwork of a kindergarten-level competition. It showed a bunch of shiny, happy people, but it came with the multicoloured crayon tagline “Low crime doesn’t mean no crime!”

Heavens! Is this what Singaporean children had on their minds? Although there was much to enjoy in the republic, I knew that I had been staying too long when, in the middle of the night, I found myself waiting patiently for the red light to change before crossing the road. There were no cars in sight, but I somehow knew I was being watched, and I so wanted to be a good resident!  I never would have been so vigilant in dear, dirty KL.

But listen to me prattle on; I am sure you have your own anecdotes. In the decades since Separation, many sly digs have flown across the Causeway and Second Link. Singaporeans are supposed to be regimented, humourless, materialistic, while we are, well, I am sure you can figure those out for yourselves! We each had one now-octogenarian patriarch, and we weren’t afraid to use them.

The Difference Between Malaysians and Singaporeans, by a Singaporean man and a Malaysian woman, doesn’t offer much that’s new, but offers a few comfortable chortles. Each illustrated spread operates on the principle of juxtaposition: on the left page, we have what “Malaysians” do, and on the right side what “Singaporeans” do.

To say that it trades in stereotypes would be like tearing open a box of chocolates to complain it doesn’t contain cabbage. But the stereotypes are sometimes inverted: for example, “Singaporeans’ favourite dish” is chicken rice, while “Malaysians’ favourite dish” is ASTRO. Then the next spread returns to the expected: “What Malaysians think chicken looks like” is an actual thing with feathers, while the Singaporean equivalent is a box of chicken stock.

I wonder if that sort of competitive but grudging camaraderie is starting to break up. Each country now has more and more citizens who weren’t born on these shores – Singapore recruits foreign talent to stay cutting-edge, while we haul in new citizens, especially in Sabah, to help with election prospects. (That’s an amusing new juxtaposition right there).

So maybe the shared vocabulary (kiasu, chewing gum, ethnic quotas, water, and so on) is no longer as, well, shared as it used to be. We might start just thinking of one another as shopping destinations, without the contextual baggage of a common, and sometimes mildly acrimonious, history.  (Of course it has been mild. It wasn’t Singapore, but another neighbouring country, that once sent in the troops!)

The fun is mostly slapstick but often pointed. The very last couplet contrasts the ethnic discrimination in both countries. It would have been easy (the book is printed in Singapore) to say that the republic is race-blind, but there’s instead an acknowledgment that some pigs, I mean people, are more equal than others. Which isn’t, of course, to say that two wrongs make a right.

I will end with yet another personal anecdote (I can’t get enough!) My latest documentary Malaysian Gods was passed by our own Censorship Board but with the bizarre condition that it “cannot be screened in cinemas or TV.” While the Singaporeans passed it, allowed one screening, but insisted on a police permit for me to talk there. So if  I were asked, “Is the Malaysian system illogical, while the Singapore system uptight?”  I would say, “Sure! Now let’s enjoy the rest of our lives.”

The book is now sadly out-of-print. Perhaps an expanded edition taking into account the changes since 2002 would be in order. For starters, the PAS that is painted here (“radical and extremist…firebrand”) isn’t really as frightening to Malaysians now. To explain why would require another book, with or without cartoons. And that’s what we will do next week.

(Malay Mail, 17 June)

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Index for NME2

As was the case with NME1, we had a lot of fun creating the Index for New Malaysian Essays 2. Just looking at all these names and titles, and how they rub up against one another, is enough to spark off all sorts of imaginative tangents. 


2000AD (comic book) 209


Abdul Hadi Awang 52, 59

Abdul Razak Hussein 185

Abu Huraira 20, 24

Abul A’la Maududi 59

Abu Sa’id al-Khudri 26

Adam (first man) 23, 270

Adorno, Theodore 137

Adventures of Superman, The (TV series) 206

Ahmad ibn Hanbal 22

Aku Cinta Padamu (song) 118

Alice (hot babe) 173, 184, 186, 188

Allah 16, 19, 20, 21, 24, 26, 27, 29, 34, 38

Amina Wadud 37, 39

Anak Pontianak (film) 215, 218, 221, 222, 225228, 254

An-Nasa’i 23, 26

Anwar Ibrahim 57, 59, 127

Anwar Ridhwan 9

A. Samad Ismail 11


Barks, Carl 205

Baudelaire, Charles 9

BBC (TV channel) 275

Berita Harian (newspaper) 251

Bible, The (book) 24, 139

Bin Jidan 75

Bohsia: Jangan Pilih Jalan Hitam (film) 123

Bourgeois, Louise 151

Bukhari 21,22,23,24

Burchill, Julie 10

Bürger, Gottfried August 255

Burgess, Anthony 123

Bush, George W. 250


Cameron, Mike 209

Carroll, Lewis 9

Che Det (blog) 119

Chin Peng 124

Chow Kon Yeow 158

Cindai (song) 118

Cool Hand Luke (film) 200

Corbusier, Le 49


Dang Anum 120

Dendam Pontianak (film) 218, 254

Derrida, Jacques 202

Dewa (not the band) 75, 77

Dewi Murni (film) 120

Diana Naim 118

Discovery Science (TV Channel) 275

Disneyland 134, 135, 150, 157, 158

Dracula (book) 255, 257


Eastern Time (newspaper) 256

Economist, The (magazine) 278


Facebook (website) 38, 196

Farish A. Noor 136

Few Good Men, A (film) 199

Fountain of Youth, The (TV series) 205

Full Metal Jacket (film) 180


Gibran, Khalil 78

Gibson, Mel 205

God 8, 18, 23, 34, 120, 127, 128, 129, 148242, 254

Godfather, The (film) 204

Gone with the Wind (film) 211

Google (website) 128, 196, 252

Grudge, The (film) 264


Hafiz (Mat Rempit) 164, 166, 171

Hamid Bond 230, 232

Hang Jebat 125, 135

Hang Jebat (film) 125

Hang Nadim 122

Hang Tuah 135

Hansen, GA 138, 142

Hawa (first woman) 270

Hemingway, Ernest 7

Heston, Charlton 205

Horn, Roni 151

Hussein Haniff 125


Independent, The (newspaper) 129

Interview with a Vampire (book) 255

Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The (film) 205

Ismail Talib 238, 239


Jalaluddin Hassan 240

Jesus Christ 34, 36

Jimmy 75, 77

Jins Shamsuddin 215, 221

Jolie, Angelina 130

Jonas Brothers 193

Joshua-Raghavar, A 150


Kang Kang (bully victim) 179, 180, 187

Kassim Ahmad 125

Khalid Abu Bakar 26

Khir Toyo 269

Khoo Gaik Cheng 237

Khoo Kay Kim 136

Kimberly (lord) 142

Kit, Sivin 34, 38

Konsep Perbandaran Islam: Suatu Gagasan Alternatif (book) 51

Ku Milikmu (song) 118


Lat 195

Layar Lara (film) 242

Lenore (book) 255

Little House on the Prairie (TV show) 31

Lloyd Wright, Frank 49, 50

Lots of Lat (book) 195


Mahathir Mohamad, Dr. 52, 56, 57, 119

Malayan Trilogy, The (book) 123

Malay Magic (book) 215, 254

Malay Mail (newspaper) 131, 282

Malaysian Book of the Undead, The (book) 10

Malik ibn Anas 21

Maltese Falcon, The (film) 207

Mandela, Nelson 155

Manohara Odelia Pinot 119

Maria Menado 232, 233, 254

Marx, Groucho 79

Mastika (magazine) 255

Matinya Seorang Pahlawan (play) 125

Mawi 118, 123

McDonald, Ronald (imperialist clown) 207

Mohamad Tajuddin Mohamad Rasdi 71

Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin 40

Muhammad (prophet) 20212528

Muhammad Haji Salleh 196, 198, 199, 200

Munslow, Alan 137

Musa Hassan 25

Muslim 21, 22, 26

Mussolini, Benito 8

MySpace (website) 196


Najib Razak 10

National Geographic (TV channel) 255

Negaraku (song) 170

Nelson, Horatio 184

Network (film) 195

New Straits Times (NST) (newspaper) 134157, 281

New York Times, The (newspaper) 119

New York World (newspaper) 205

Nilam (film) 120

NTV7 (TV channel) 275

Nurul Izzah Anwar 126


Ong, Aihwa 236

Onn Jaafar 123

On the Waterfront (film) 211


Pak Lah (Abdullah Ahmad Badawi) 185

Pan Jit Huan 142

Pontianak (lost1957 film) 218

Pontianak (lame 1975 film) 228

Pontianak Gua Musang (film) 218, 223, 224225, 226, 254

Pontianak Harum Sundal Malam (film) 216, 218234, 235, 236, 238, 242, 255, 261, 268

Pontianak Harum Sundal Malam II (film) 218242

Pontianak Kembali (film) 218, 254

Pontianak Menjerit (film) 218, 240, 241

P. Ramlee 195

Presley, Elvis 195

Prophet, The (book) 78

Pulitzer, Joseph 205

Pusaka Pontianak (film) 218, 226, 240, 254

Puteri Gunung Ledang (film) 121


Quran, Al (book) 21, 24, 28, 34, 41, 129233, 264


Raja Bersiong (film) 122, 128

Rajagopalan. Dr. K 150

Raja Petra Kamarudin 96

Ramdan (dog) 76, 77

Reeves, George 206

Rice, Anne 255

Ricoeur, Paul 202

Ring, The (film) 253, 264, 279

Rosdan Abdul Manan 51

Rowing Down Two Rivers (book) 198, 200

RTM 16, 254

Rustam A. Sani 11


Safwan bin Salim 24

Samy Vellu, S. 126

Santayana, George 137

Saw, Patrick 9

Schwarzenegger, Arnold 193

Sejarah Malaysia (book) 278

Selubung (film) 242

Seyyed Hossein Nasr 28

Shabery Cheek 271

Shahrum Yub 151

Sheikh Ali Gomaa 39

Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, Dr. 267

Shuhaimi Baba 255, 261

Shuster, Joe 206

Siegel, Jerry 206

Siti Nurhaliza 118, 119

Skeat, William Walter 215, 254

Spong, John Shelby 38, 40

Star Spangled Banner, The (song) 205

Star, The (newspaper) 163, 164, 251, 281, 283

Star Wars (film) 203

Steinbeck, John 162

Stoker, Bram 255

Suharto 126

Sumpah Pontianak (film) 218, 219, 221222, 254

Sun, The (newspaper) 7, 282

Susuk (film) 118

Sweet Valley High (books) 247

Syarif Abdurrahman Al-Qadri 256

Syed Hussein Alatas 203, 204


Tan Hoon Cheng 96

Taxi Driver (film) 196

Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor 252

Terminator 2: Judgement Day (film) 210

Tukar Tiub (blog) 76

Tunku Abdul Rahman 52, 54, 122

Tunku Halim 216

Twitter (website) 8


Umar al-Khattab 59

Uthayakumar, P. 111


V for Vendetta (film) 30

Viz (comic book) 208


Walrus and the Carpenter, The (poem) 9

Wazir Jahan Karim 236

Welles, Orson 205

White Heat (film) 211

Wikipedia (website) 248, 278

Wilkinson, RJ 121

Wizard of Oz, The (film) 193

Wong Chin Huat 130


Yap, Brian 7

Yeoh, Tricia 32

Youtube (website) 76, 274


Zahid Hamidi 25

Zaitun (Toni) Kasim 11, 40