Friday, 12 August 2011

’Tis the season for delusions

Brave New World (The Star)
11 August 2011

There’s a whole bunch of us here in this happy place of delusion and madness, but while my insanity is fairly benign, my fellow inhabitants’ are not so harmless.


I LIKE to think of myself as a reasonable person. A person who would think logically most of the time and make decisions based on said logic.
But, around this time of the year, something happens to me and my usual level-headed self is replaced by a blithering idiot who mouths off such inane stupidities that people around me back away with fear in their eyes.
No, this state of being is not the result of low sugar levels brought about by fasting; I become like this because the English Premier League starts this weekend. And this year, like every year for as long as I can remember, the beginning of the season fills me with hope so high that I make Don Quixote look like the patron saint of sceptics.
I was chatting to a friend recently – well, I was babbling, really – about the new season and how excited I was. He dismissed me by saying there can be no thrill in a league where only two teams keep winning.
I agreed, but – and here my madness becomes apparent – “this year will be different,” I declared. “This year, Spurs will be champions.”
Every year, for a space of about two weeks I become like this. Then the season starts and I am flung out of Cloud Cuckoo Land to crash with a resounding thump in a reality where Manchester Bleeding United wins the damned thing again.
This year, however, I am not alone in Cloud Cuckoo Land. There’s a whole bunch of us here in this happy place of delusion and madness. The difference, however, is that while my insanity is fairly benign, my fellow inhabitants’ are not so harmless.
You see, I have delusions that Spurs are actually league winners, but these other chaps around me are under the impression that there is a massive Christian plot to grab unsuspecting Muslims and turn them to the way of Christ.
They go around with a red mist in their eyes and they see Christian conspiracies everywhere.
A fundraiser for HIV patients? No, no, it is a function where Christians are corrupting and converting Muslims. Lack of evidence that such proselytising is occurring puts no damper on their fervour. Who needs facts when you have conviction?
My friends in Cloud Cuckoo Land froth in the mouth as they make police reports against the wicked Christians, their bile dripping on the floors of police stations country wide. And they howl for new laws to make it a crime to proselytise.
Not once do they show any shred of proof to back their claims. Not once do they look inward and ask the question: if Muslims are leaving the religion, what is it that we are doing wrong?
Oh no, proof is for wimps, and introspection for those who don’t have a convenient scapegoat at hand.
As I sit here in Cloud Cuckoo Land, looking at their infantile antics and listening to their obtuse rants, I am grateful that the season is starting so soon and a happy distraction will be available every week.
On Saturday, I will watch with bated breath and hope that we beat Everton in our first game. And if we do, perhaps we can go on and win the title for the first time in half a century.
Yes, I admit, I am being delusional and not a little stupid, but at least my delusion and stupidity hurts no one.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Haunted by the Fanged King

Brave New World (The Star)
28 July 2011

There is a sense of social justice to be found in our myths. But in the real world there will not be magical heroes. There will only be the constant vigilance and small acts of courage of ordinary folk.


WHEN I was a little boy, there was one particular traditional story that freaked me out. This was the tale of Raja Bersiong (the Fanged King).
If I am not mistaken, it is set in Kedah. Anyway, for those of you not familiar with this Malay legend, let me tell you the tale.
Long ago there was a very cruel Raja.
He treated his subjects viciously and was feared and hated.
It is said that he had fangs instead of teeth.
One day, his cook was preparing his lunch when she cut her fingers and bled into his vegetables. Because she was pressed for time, she just went on cooking the meal, rather than face the wrath of the Raja for being late.
When the food was served, the Raja exclaimed that this was the best spinach he had ever eaten.
He called the cook and asked her what she did differently.
Out of fear, she admitted that the only difference to the dish was the addition of blood.
The Raja then ordered that blood be put into all his meals.
Eventually, his appetite for blood grew and grew, and soon people were being slaughtered just to sate his appetite.
The cruel reign of the Raja degenerated into one of abject terror.
Naturally, a hero appeared and he fought the Raja.
The hero had magical powers and he used it to turn himself into a tiger which then devoured the evil ruler.
The story ends, therefore, with a touch of irony; the fanged king met his doom at a pair of fangs.
I tell you, this story scared the heck out of me.
When I was seven I cut my lip and I bled into my mouth.
Inadvertently, I swallowed some of the blood.
I lived in terror that I was going to become Raja Bersiong.
Sure enough, a day or so later, I felt a pain in my neck.
Oh no, I thought, this is it.
My fangs are starting to grow.
It turned out that I had mumps.
Anyway, the point of these ramblings is that unlike some assertions that our culture demands subservience and sheep-like behaviour, our legends say otherwise.
There is a sense of social justice to be found in our myths, which means it is within our collective psyche to stand up against injustice and cruelty.
The legend of Raja Bersiong is about how the abuse of power will eventually lead to one’s downfall.
Of course, in the real world, there are no fairy tale demonic kings.
The forces of oppression take different, more understated forms.
It happens through the usurping of control in public institutions meant to serve the greater good. And just as there are no demonic villains, neither are there magical heroes.
A single hero can’t battle such subtle widespread tools of oppression.
In the real world, it is up to the people to take that responsibility.
In the real world, there will not be a battle royale between a brave tiger and an evil Raja to make the world a better place, there will only be the constant vigilance and small acts of courage of ordinary folk.
Without it, we will forever be haunted by our own Rajas Bersiong.