Friday, October 28, 2005

Dangerous talk

From the day that Israel as a nation was reconstituted in 1948, its surrounding countries, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, etc. have vowed to destroy it. Over time and after many wars, some have made peace (such as Egypt, through the great statesman, Anwar al-Sadat) and now, Palestine is a duly constituted autonomous region which will, given that good faith and sensible minds prevail, one day take its place in the United Nations as a fully independent nation.

However, some things never change. Iran's President Ahmadinejad is now on record as calling for Israel to be wiped off the map. Nothing has been learnt in the last half a century. After 57 years, we still have an Arab leader who continues to espouse violence and destruction to solve a 'problem' - if in fact there is a problem. It seems that no amount of peace overtures and olive-branches will make any difference to some people. So long as we have people that think and behave like Ahmadinejad, the Middle East is doomed to wars and violence.

Now, Iran has always claimed that its suspect nuclear research is for peaceful purposes. The world cannot be sure anymore. Can you blame the US and Europe for taking a hawkish stance all this while with respect to Iran's nuclear ambitions?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

A leopard has changed its spots?

Ayman Al Zawahiri, the erstwhile no. 2 in the Al Qaeda organisation has finally issued a plea to the worldwide Muslim community to contribute to the relief effort already underway in Pakistan for the last two weeks. This was broadcast on Al Jazeera TV on 23rd October 2005

You would wonder why it took him all of two weeks to respond to the work of SAVING lives when Turkey and the US offered their help right from the start. Perhaps Al Qaeda is so used to killing and destroying things that, when faced with a natural disaster that has taken away the lives of so many fellow Muslims (last count was over 79,000 dead, and counting) and threatens the survival of many more, they do not know exactly what the human thing to do is.

To its credit, the US, although facing disasters in its own back yard, has come swiftly to Pakistan's aid, just as they came swiftly to the aid of the Acehnese in Indonesia at the beginning of this year during the South Asia Tsunami disaster. The reality is that the beneficiaries in both cases were mainly Muslims.

How much longer will Al Qaeda continue to mislead the worldwide Muslim community about the truth? What is the truth? There is a Chinese saying, "In misfortune, you see your real brothers" (Huan nan jian zhen qing). I think actions speak louder than words.

Belatedly, Al Qaeda now realises that saving lives is more important, or is it saving Muslims is more important? Or is it saving the reputation of Al Qaeda? It doesn't matter. The Pakistanis need all the help they can get. Better late than never.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Are you In or Out?

I am happy that a fellow blogger has taken the effort and time to refute my viewpoints on political freedoms in Singapore (refer to my earlier entry Warwick: Freedom of what, from what, for what?) by citing a number examples of how people have been hounded down and, for some, out of Singapore. I do not hope that the Singapore government will come knocking on my humble blog for a 'take-down' order. Nor do I hope to face a judge one day regarding maintaining a 'seditious' blog, for none is intended. To the extent that I harbour any political views, it centres on my family and my children's continued well-being.

Many of these examples of the alleged lack of freedoms in taking a particular stand, especially those against government policies and actions, have been reported in the local press and overseas as well. Having traveled somewhat, I can see the stark difference the same episode is reported in the local and overseas media. But this is a good thing because it forces people to look at all sides of a story. This will surely be an unseen consequence of the government encouraging its citizens, now especially students, to venture overseas to learn. Yes, local reporting tends to be sanitized, and for many, un-exciting. But at the end of the day, I hope that our objective in updating ourselves of the news is to be informed of the truth. If our objective is to twist words to suit our particular orientation to the 'truth', then that 'truth' is suspect.

Every strongly-held opinion or view of the country and the world needs to be defended robustly. It must withstand criticism, or otherwise be withdrawn. If it cannot be defended truthfully and honestly, then it does not deserve to live a day longer. Voltaire famously suggested that, "I may disagree with what you have to say, but I shall defend, to the death, your right to say it". I disagree. When what is being said is a lie, then it cannot, and should not, be defended, much more with your own life.

But I am not suggesting that everything is perfect on this island state. The Buangkok (White Elephant) MRT is perhaps symptomatic of the problem with the system that has been in place for so many years. Referring to that elephant incident, a former Permanent Secretary commented in private that the government lacks a sense of humour when it found fit to have the police haul people up for questioning. But to the police, they cannot not investigate as the prevailing system is one of due process, logic, fairness and most important of all, transparency. To some, this is yet another example, albeit a light-hearted one, of the probable lack of political or social expression in Singapore bound by a system that a majority has subscribed to (through the ballot box).

Going in or getting out?My point is that, ultimately, it is more effective, and more sincere, to effect change from the inside rather than from the outside. When you stand by your words with your future grounded to the country, then you can be taken seriously. This is the stance taken by the powers that be, and I am not ashamed to agree with them. That is why I admire people like Nelson Mandela, who, in spite of the unjustness of the then dominant peoples, never quit the country.

Before we ask for more freedoms, do we have the courage of our convictions, or do we quit the country at the slightest threat?

Monday, October 24, 2005

A sailing we will go?

So, back to the subject of vacation. Many countries in South-east and East Asia, naming Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, China and Taiwan have reported incidences of bird flu. Now, several Easter European countries such as Croatia, Romania and Russia are reporting occurrences of the flu.

I am having a headache deciding where to take my vacation at the end of the year. There is now a natural tendency to avoid places 'contaminated' with bird flu, but this leaves a lot less interesting, yet economic, places to go to from Singapore. As of now, nothing has been decided. If land-based tours are relatively risky nowadays, what about sailing - i.e. taking a cruise, either to nowhere, or to call a one or two ports for a couple of hours and getting back to the ship as soon as possible? Seems to me to be the best thing to do right now...

Which reminds me. Britain celebrated Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson's victory in Trafalgar three days ago, and the French weren't too enthusiastic about it. Why would they be, seeing as they were the great losers 200 years ago to the day. Maybe it is time to sail to commemorate that famous sea victory. For celebrations of this event, see:

Trafalgar 200
Royal Navy Trafalgar 200
BBC celebrates Trafalgar 200
Trafalgar Festival
Trafalgar 200th - A Tribute to Nelson's Navy

The excellent book, "Nelson - A dream of glory, 1758 - 1797", by John Sugden recently, is reviewed in my writing blog.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Birds of a feather

These are stressful times indeed. Its the year-end and everybody is thinking of a vacation to de-stress before a new year with new challenges dawn upon us. But our feather 'friends' are putting a damper on all the planning. I say 'friends' because, like human flu, bird flu is not to be blamed on birds - they are just the carriers. The problem with birds is that they migrate from one place to another at great distances apart fairly regularly according to the climatic conditions, thereby easily spreading whatever virus they made be carrying. So far, the instrument to tackle this problem has been fairly blunt, which is to cull (or kill) all the birds in the flock so long as ONE of them is found with the flu. But there is no other better way, so far. So I can understand if farmers do not report their sick fowls for fear that their entire livelihood will, literally, be buried. This is the dilemma - not to report means that more than their animals' lives will be at stake, eventually.

How is modern man going to solve this problem, which is widening in geographical scope? Surely, flu pills can only go so far. Herein lies the most serious challenge yet to the survival of many - and I am not referring to our feathered friends.