Politics of the Temporary: An Ethnography of Migrant Life in Urban Malaysia by Parthiban Muniandy

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Politics of the Temporary is a collection of ethnographic essays about various the transient migrants of Kuala Lumpur and was divided into three parts: ‘Restaurants, Cafe, Culture and Identity’, ‘Race, Ethnicity and Street Politics’ and ‘Quiet Encroachments and Tortured Smiles”. Within each parts of the books was stories that ranged from simple observation of known streets of Kuala Lumpur, to discussions between people of different background and nationalities and the author’s own narrative on the situation faced by the most visible people in our society who are also the most unrepresented.

The book was written in academical style as it was a dissertation on urban anthropology. Frankly, social studies dissertations is far more pleasant to read than the scientific dissertations that I used to read. The narrative style was refreshing, honest and critical without being judgmental (which are more commonly seen in any articles by general media on issues relating on migrants or everything really…)

It was interesting that the author manage to give me fresh perspectives on the issues and highlighting many more issues relating to the growth of migrant populations from Burma (The author’s own preference use throughout the book. Interesting.) to the issues relating on people taking advantage on migrant’s labor into a form of indentured servitude to the deculturalization of certain areas of the cities to xenophobia and persistent issues regarding immigrants and sex trafficking including among minors . Even more interesting was the authorities’s attitude on these communities themselves, corruptions and exploitation that they suffered in the name of development and capitalism.

I’m still digesting the book and analyzing the content. For most part, I was familiar with the subject matter from my years living in Kuala Lumpur as an undergraduate in which I do a lot of people watching for someone learning to be lab scientist and partly due to my recent endeavour with UnRepresented KL in which I played at being an amateur ethnographer but it does help me a lot with my writing and my views on diversity in literature (which is still a hot topic in my general writing groups). The book does gave me a lot of things to think about especially on people around me and whenever I walk outside.

The content can be distressing but also illuminating. For most part, it was hardly anything new to me but it gave me new perspectives on how these transient migrants see about us. How we Malaysians are known to take things for granted. How for most of us like to see everything through tinted gaze from our windscreen or from the comforts of our home. How we distract ourselves with menial issues that blinded us from the atrocities commited around us. How we’re coddled to ignore their existence as human beings and how we allow the rot to set and fester. How one sided it was the narrative that we’re being feed daily about these people. How we often complain to ourselves about how disadvantage we are as we blind ourselves to the people around us.

Yes, Malaysia is hell to a lot of the people inside this book. Malaysians are demons and monsters to a lot of people inside this book. Does that idea sit well with you? How desensitize can we be? While this review isn’t a self-flagellation session but it was discomforting nonetheless.

The review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nassar

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I never would have thought a book on a real life person to be more interesting than the fictitious movie the book had inspired. It was amazing and so painfully cited that although it was an unofficial rendition of the life John Forbes Nash, Jr, it was in fact, more real than ever. Made you really wonder that it wasn’t even for someone with a brilliant mind, it was a difficult life and a difficult time.

It wasn’t always that the truth can be as more puzzling as the reality. “A Beautiful Mind” is just like that. It detailed some of the events in Nash’s life although seemingly at a distance, almost surgical, but the amount of the content the author had obtained made the movie somehow romanticize the man into a mythical math hero and made his life a film noir.

It is a math book. Most of the time it does filled itself with literal theories without equations and numbers, but it was enough to provide concise explanation around Nash’s academical life and his significance in the world of economics. For me, that was the most interesting part of the book while the second act, where he became to regress in his personal life was the one that made his story epic and surreal. Although some parts of the book was deeply personal and it felt invasive knowing about his marriage life and his life with his family, it didn’t let go of the basic human story this book carry.

What the book reveal to its audience was that this man who suffered manic depression, despite his gifts in logical and problem solving and impressive academic career, is still as human as us. With limitations and constraint, with problems and fault, strange and alien as he was with the rest of us, he wasn’t flawless but his mind was much more than that and even in his suffering, everything made the man more than the rest of us.

Oh, I caught a Doctor Who reference in the book. Find them.

Allah, Liberty and Love: The Courage to Reconcile Faith and Freedom by Irshad Manji

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I’ve been curious about reading this book for a while ever since all the hype about the book being banned and someone was arrested for selling it and another for publishing it and people of all sort being trying to demonize the book that I decided to pick this one up and see what was all the fuss about. Will I get in trouble for reading this? Well, they didn’t exactly ban the English version so I probably will escape scot-free and since I am not a distributor, no one can legally stop me from reading and unreading it anyway. Will I get in trouble with people for reading this since its being banned in the first place? I’m not even sure why was that a problem anyway since people who don’t read this book have a more louder opinion than those who did. Which explain the saddening state of the situation in the first place.

Why would you care to be held in high regard by any Muslim who won’t have a rational discussion with you about your questions of Islam? If he or she won’t make the effort to hear your views in the spirit in which you intend them, then what renders that person’s judgment of you worth your while?

Allah, Liberty and Love: The Courage to Reconcile Faith and Freedom is a sort of autobiography and a supplement to Irshad Manji’s Trouble with Islam Today. It is readable on its own and is largely divided by several chapters discussing : Some Things Are More Important Than Fear / Identity Can Trap You, But Integrity Will Set You Free / Culture Is Not Sacred / You Define Your Honor / Offense Is The Price Of Diversity / In Times Of Moral Crisis, Moderation Is A Cop-Out / Lack Of Meaning Is The Real Death Threat.

If Muslims are more outraged by an unarmed dissident like me than by an extravagant murderer like bin Laden, doesn’t that tell you something already?

However, the content of the book varied and often out of topic by chapters since it is accompanied with emails she received and her replies which is disorganized in some ways. But the language is easy enough to read and understand though I had a feeling that I did lose myself between some of the references with her previous books particularly on the death threat part. The content is simple enough and isn’t that shocking for me since there are some contents that resonates with me and I did understand her confusion and frustration and most of the time I pitied that she was being targeted for just talking out loud about something she believe in. In a way, I did admire her courage or in her words “moral courage” and her fight for critical thinking and her push to the need to find a freedom to of expression and respect of other differing opinions. As in her words, “Offense is the price of diversity”.

Understanding is served by analyzing, not sanitizing. Bringing Islam into the analysis should be entirely legitimate to religious people because it’s not the Divine that’s being interrogated, it’s mortal interpretation and human judgment that’s being questioned.

But as for content, most of the things I like most about the book came from her citing from someone else. This book is also a sort of compilation of the readings she did and she did base her opinions on the journals and articles and there were a lot of times she explain situations derive from her readings more than her experience (which seem to center around her conversation with her mother or from her tours with other people). If you want more from the book, she did provide a lot of recommended readings along with the book and in her website.

Countercultural voices unmask the faces of moral courage within Islam: Muslims who own their community’s dysfunction rather than reflexively blaming the United States, Israel, Christianity, materialism, MTV, KFC and those perpetually kosher piñatas, “the Jews.”

What puzzled me the most was these emails she received and most of it was worded very harsh and juvenile and often, laughably trollish while the ones that threaten bodily harm on her seem to lack any form of rationality by the sender’s part.  In a way, this book is a reaction piece and also proof that cyberbullying happen in more way than not and its hard being Irshad Manji’s inbox. But it took a good amount of guts and opinions to incite this kind of response so whatever she did, even if she did poke into the hornet nests, at least she did get her words out and was received accordingly. 

What also scares me is when I hear Muslims (or any other religious people) tell me that I don’t have the authority to discuss religion. When a person tells that to another person, it creates an even bigger gap between cultures because the person who is trying to understand is suddenly not able to express questions. It is also giving the authority to a certain group of people who have the power to explain and interpret religious books the way they want. Slowly, Muslims become THEM and we are the group called US. History has shown that THEM is the cause of all troubles, and has to be eliminated by US. We need more people brave enough to ask real questions. We don’t need answers immediately, but questions are a necessity!

But one thing I notice was Irshad’s tendency to group herself and others with labels such as moderate, islamists, reformist, secularist, feminist etc. I don’t really find myself conforming into much of her ideals nor did I agree with the people who view her negatively but some of her concerns are reasonable and I do empathise with that. Maybe because some parts of her are more alike with me than I let on but there are some parts which she did stretch herself thinly like the matter of hijab and her own ways of practicing which I won’t egg about. But for all of this book’s worth, it does make a good reading if you didn’t antagonize yourself with everything the drama surrounding it.

“You cannot get reform without discussion, and you cannot have discussion without freedom of speech.”

The irony is, to ask for a ban on a book which detailed about how dangerous indifference can be in the name of protecting one’s sensitivity, it does seem counterproductive in this nation of multiculturalism where intolerance and segregation are actively being sought about, preach about and censored upon. On the scale of “gugat keimanan”, I find that the religious department does went a bit too far and overreacted with this book. There are more titles in local bookstore that stretch religious horror fantasy fiction as fact and there are even more ridiculous conspiracy theorist book that do more harm which wasn’t being scrutinize and they just have to pick this one up.

Every problem contains opportunities for understanding ourselves. By understanding ourselves, we understand why our Creator has faith in each of His creatures to lift up another.