My poem ‘Of the Indian I am not’ was read by Anne Fine at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, Scotland at Amnesty International’s annual Imprisoned Writers’ series on August 24th, 2009. The poem was written twenty years ago when I was at Hampshire College, Amherst, Mass as an undergraduate. I wrote it and put it aside because there was no interested public forum beyond the requirements of my study on Education/Creative Writing. I don’t think anyone wanted to know about either subject -indian/minorities or women in Malaysia. When Amnesty International, U.K selected this poem to be read at the festival, I read it once again with renewed interest. Things for minorities and women have not changed in Malaysia, though courageous Malaysians are rising up to address the issues I write about. These Malaysians are addressing the issues within the country in practical, peaceful and political ways. My poem was originally published in MalaysiaKini.com, Malaysia’s only independent non-government press giving voice to the voiceless or silenced.
As a woman writer writing in English across cultures, I find myself in troubled waters, often. What pertains as a thought, a concern, a valid issue in one country and culture, is a non-issue in another. There is much literature about radical Islam in America for example, and many books and speakers on the subject, but what we need to be doing is to begin to address the human rights struggles instead of generating literature and thoughts of terror. We are living in a multi-faith world community and as Christians, must study the truth and live by it. In Emerson’s words, “For all men live by truth, and stand in need of expression. In love, art, in avarice, in politics, in labor, in games, we study to utter our painful secret. The man is only half himself, the other half is his expression.”
For this reason, I am in favor of the Obama administration’s approach to Education and quite averse to keeping children at home from school so their hearts and minds are not engaged with the issues of the day. This strikes me as a curiously archaic approach to Education in a free country. My son is exposed daily to a lifestyle and culture I do not agree with, yet I do not keep him home from school. Education is a process of opening one’s eyes and ears not shutting it like one of those proverbial three monkeys, hearing, speaking and seeing no evil. When we are surrounded by evil, we need to develop the skills of soul and conscience to overcome evil with good.
We all know that 2 % of any population can destroy the image of the rest of the population. This is what the Al Qaida, Taliban and UMNO in Malaysia have done with the Muslim community.
Although I am a Christian in America, I am have grown somewhat disillusioned as I find that here as well, the elements of false religion. In their sermons some pastors and politicians have learned to exploit the radical elements of Islam and the more ‘exotic’ elements of other faiths and cultures, while ignoring the significant and pressing social problems before them, right here in the United States. Take child marriage for example – while the circumstances of marriage in other countries include force, the US has the highest rate of teen pregnancies of the industrialized nations.
Education about human rights issues and addressing this as matters of grave concern is more biblical I believe than all the rant about religion. Jesus is concerned with the poor, the needy, the alien and the oppressed. I have read the Bible, and continue to read the Bible, meditating on His words. I do not find Him devoting much energies to setting up a political system, reviling another or praying political/religious prayers.
Instead Jesus (and the prophets in the Bible) met needs, pray, do miracles and certainly do not exploit the poor, the needy, the alien and the oppressed for personal or public gain, profit, glory and selfish ambition.