Saturday, August 21, 2010

I Write: Loving Relationships

So recently the video by Rihanna and Eminem went big and caused a lot of discussion all over the blogosphere, but browmfemipower's post is the most compelling and is the one I would highly recommend anyone to read. It's challenging to read, because it doesn't speak to me. It's painful to read, because in a way, I'm one of the people she's pushing back against. But these are reasons why it is absolutely necessary I and everybody else have to read it. She doesn't want people linking to it because she gets shit from people who just can't grok with what she writes, because if you want an alternative perspective, she will give it to you, and it will be shoved into your mouth without benefit of the silver spoon that you're probably used to.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

To Comfort the Disturbed, and Vice Versa

This is my third guest post at Jeff Vandermeer's Ecstatic Days. Which was supposed to be my second but it took a long time to write it. Original post here.

A few years ago, when I was a wee one in the social justice blogosphere (ok, who am I kidding, I still am), I read a quote that went, “Read six disturbing things a day.” A little after this, I ran across a saying, a kind of motto, that ran thusly: “Comfort the disturbed, disturb the comfortable.” 

The motto is a modified version of a longer saying about newspapers, “Th newspaper does ivrything f’r us. It runs th’ polis foorce an’ th’ banks, commands th’ milishy, controls th’ ligislachure, baptizes th’ young, marries th’ foolish, comforts th’ afflicted, afflicts th’ comfortable, buries th’ dead an’ roasts thim aftherward” credited to one Finley Peter Dunne.

What I really like about fiction in general is that it does both. The SF/F genre has even more potential for comforting and disturbing, because of the slightly-beyond-reality elements the genre has to offer.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

On Enthusiastic Consent

This was originally written for Jeff Vandermeer's Ecstatic Days. I can't remember what the impetus was, but I'm pretty sure it had something to do with Feministe. It's been linked all over - Jim Hines linked to it too! Original post here.

Sometime back my brother went for holiday in Phuket (not so extraordinary, I’m afraid, since Thailand’s right next door to Malaysia), and he told me he was hoping to put the moves on a woman he found attractive.

“You got condoms?” I asked.


“Don’t forget to get consent.”

“Of course!” said he, indignant that I could think otherwise.

“Enthusiastic consent.”

“Oh yes yes yes,” he replied eagerly.

“Actually, one-up that: enthusiastic participation.”

“Hmmmm…” he turned thoughtful, as if it was a whole new level. Which it is, and a step further from what I want to talk about today.

(I got the concept of enthusiastic participation from Hugo Schwyzer a few years back.) The concept of enthusiastic consent has also been expounded at length in the wonderful anthology Yes Means Yes!, conversations from which are continued at the Yes Means Yes! Blog.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Quick Introduction to Malaysian SF/F

This post was originally posted at Jeff Vandermeer's blog, Ecstatic Days, at which he very kindly asked me to guestblog for a bit! See the original post plus comments here.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

We Are A Sick Sick World

Okay. Kek sei. Seems like every time I want to wind down in preparation for something stressful, something pops up that I just cannot ignore.

Recently, Hiroshima held its annual memorial ceremony to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the Hiroshima bomb, and for the first time, the U.S.A. sent a delegation to the ceremony. But Japan is angry! Because U.S.A. has offered no apology for the bombing. Over 250,000 people, civilians, died as a result, from the bombing itself, or from the radiation aftereffects. 

There are some people who actually believe that just because Japan committed many war crimes itself during WWII, that Japan deserves no apology for the heinous death toll inflicted upon its civilians[1]. Still others believe that because Japan refuses to acknowledge its warcrimes, such as the Rape of Nanking and the Bataan Death March, because there is no outrage over this silence from Japan, that there is no reason to honour Japan's dead. 

OK look. 

Japan has fucking issues. I have issues with Japan's fucking issues. LOTS of people who pay the least bit of attention to Japan's role in WWII have issues with Japan's fucking issues. Namely, the fact that the Japanese government refuses to acknowledge these war crimes, refuses to even teach young Japanese about Japan's heinous massacres, refuses to apologize for abusing women kidnapped and forced into military brothels, refuses to apologize to other countries and crimes perpetrated on civilians in other countries during Japanese occupation -- the list goes on. JAPAN HAS ERASED ITS OWN HISTORY. From what I understand, Japan's history books portray Japan as a victim that was dragged into WWII. Even Japanese people have issues with Japan's fucking issues. Japanese activist Tamaki Matsuoka recently released a film documentary interviewing Japanese war veterans admitting their role in the Nanjing Massacre, despite harassment from fringe groups who deny the war crimes. 

I have so much damn fucking outrage towards Japan, that when I researched more on what happened during WWII, I hated Japan for a while. I hated not only Japan, but I hated Japanophiles around me who thought Japan was so fucking cool and awesome.

However, Japan's devastation of so many lives during WWII in no way justifies the devastation inflicted on hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians by the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.

There is talk about how, if U.S.A. hadn't set Japan up the bombs, the war would had dragged on for much longer than it did. There is talk about how, until the U.S. became part of the war there was no end in sight. There is talk about how Japan would have invaded U.S.A. if nothing had been done. These are lies that serve to maintain the nobility of American intervention in WWII.

Let me tell you about what I know about Japanese Occupation in Malaya at the time. I know that the Japanese soldiers treated Chinese people very badly (although I cannot remember who told me). I know that sometimes our countrymen, the Malays and Indians and aboriginals, tried to help, but many times, they did not, and indeed, what could they have done? We Chinese diasporans were targeted specifically for our blood links to the mainland. I know that when the Japanese came, the British could do nothing, and we Malayans learnt, bitterly, that the colonial masters were not as powerful as they claimed to be, that they would not do their all to protect us as part of their Empire as it looked like they would (social contract and all), that we as Asians had the power to rule over ourselves, that white was not as mighty as had been driven into our bones. I like to say that Thailand sold us out, lent the Japanese a backdoor into Malaya in exchange for not being occupied. When I think of the Japanese during World War II, I don't think about the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; I think instead of the invasion force arriving past the Thai/Malaya on bicycles, in full uniform with rifles on their backs. I know some of our women were forced into the ranks of comfort women. My older relatives don't speak much about the war, and I have no doubt I lost family then that I could have known today.

I know all this, and I still say: nothing justifies the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. 

To say that Japan's war crimes erases our responsibility towards its civilians is a banal and hateful thing to say. Innocent people never deserve death because of what their governments do. Just as 9/11 victims didn't deserve what happened to them without an apology. 

Nothing justifies war and nothing justifies the kind of mass-murder of civilians like all participants of WWII inflicted on each other. There are some of us who have personal stakes in Japan's culpability during WWII, me included. But refusing to apologize won't bring back the dead. It won't make the pain go away. 

I said it in aqrima's, and I'll say it again here: It is so so sad to see how violence has poisoned our minds that we cannot see beyond the hurt done to us to see that these wars hurt other people too. That this is a race of righteousness, that there's a competition here on who had gotten it right, who was on the side of good and who was on the side of evil and needed punishing.

It was war. When you join in any kind of fight and hurt innocent people for it, you bear responsibility for your own actions. You don't say that just because others have also hurt innocent people you have no obligation to show some respect to the people you have hurt. It's hateful, brutal, unkind, and inhuman to refuse to acknowledge other people's pain, because you are hurting. You're not the only one hurting. And the fault doesn't lie in the civilians who died at Ground Zero of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, so why did they deserve to die? To maintain American sovereignty? Don't make me fucking laugh - America was already powerful then, powerful enough to ignore the rest of the world if it had wanted. 

Yeah, okay, Pearl Harbour. And then what? America retaliated on its own Japanese-American citizens, that's what. Don't think the rest of the world is so stupid that we cannot see that USA, too, has its hands covered with the blood of innocents. Don't think that by quoting the numbers of civilians dead at Japanese hands and guns, you could possibly justify the numbers of civilians dead by American bombs. DEAD. IS. DEAD. These are human beings we're talking about, no matter which side they were on, no matter what country, no matter who did what to whom. Each of these lives were and still are precious to someone else, someone who is not us, who is just as innocent of these war crimes as we who were uninvolved are. None of us are in any position to downplay the horror these people had to live through. 

Yes, Japan has war crimes it has to apologize for. There are victims and survivors still alive, like the Japanese government is waiting for them to die so it never has to give them justice. But so what? Like this justifies the mass-murder of hundreds of thousands of Japanese people? Is this really justice? No, it's not. Refusing to give Japanese people an apology, some closure, some justice, for the heinous crime perpetrated upon them by U.S. America is NOT going to make up for the fact that Japan refuses to give Chinese, Filipino, Malayan peoples apologies, closure, and justice. The lack of graciousness displayed by a country so powerful it can afford, and should model, such a gesture is appalling. 

It is the height of obnoxious privilege to state that Japan shouldn't want apologies for Nagasaki and Hiroshima because of what it has done to other countries. Speaking as a person coming from a country that the Japanese occupied and that is also affected by U.S. imperialism, this sentiment is frankly insulting. Actually, speaking as just a human being, this sentiment is frankly insulting, and it is sickening to know that I share a living breathing world with sick people who think that killing other human beings is in any way justifiable.

Time and time again it has been proven that when we devalue other people's histories, when we claim that one story is more important than another, when we refuse to acknowledge other people's pain - that is when we are at our worst. Wars don't come about because we are at our best; they came about because certain person in power are at their worst and have full capability and desire to inflict pain on other human beings, and the people they lead condone their violence towards others. Today, these damages done to each other is done through corporations, but the underlying principle is the same: the refusal to acknowledge social responsibility towards each other.

Refusing to apologize is condoning the violence perpetrated on innocent people. Not just on the Japanese, but on ALL victims of World War II. 

You want to talk about how America triumphed over evil when Truman decided to drop the N-bombs? How American won the war and saved the rest of the world from a longer war? Fucking excuse me, but the rest of the world already fucking lost when the World Wars started in the first place. And we still lose, because now we know the horror that can be inflicted by nuclear bombs, so kyrios being what they are, U.S. America lives in paranoia of other people's bombs and rags on everybody else who it thinks might have their own bombs. 

Yeah, we are a sick sick world, because we believe that atrocities will end wars. And instead of reeling at our inhumanity, we applaud and defend it, because clearly it worked... for members of that one over-privileged oppressor group that continues to profit and live off the backs of everyone else who suffered and continue to do so. 

Friday, August 6, 2010

A Brief Response to Recent Insensitivities

I already said my piece over in the offending LJ but I can't let this go. This bothers me so much. For the longest while, I was just all ":O IDE" but I've been sitting on this, just getting more and more angry, so if I don't get it out, I think I might burst.

Writing a book is in no way anything like a deathmarch. If you think writing a book is anything like a horrible event in which actual people have been forced to suffer and still feel the historical ramifications of, you may want to check your ego.

And if someone tells you that the term is deeply loaded with haunting histories and shouldn't be trivialized to describe something like writing a book of fiction, maybe you should just say sorry and never use the word ever again, instead of defending the use with ridiculous excuses like "mythologizing language".

I know it is incredibly difficult to drop certain words entrenched in our vocabularies (I still sometimes substitute Judeo-Christian exclamations as expletives, but I try hard to find other ways of expressing myself) but seriously it is not that fucking impossible. Especially if you claim to be a writer. Whose job kind of entails looking for new ways to express yourself.

Oh, and while we are talking about "mythologizing language" let's have a look at what we're talking about. We're talking about the use of the word "deathmarch", which calls up memories of persecution and pain and anguish and death. Of real people.

I do not understand why this, or any other terrible event, should be allowed to become "banal and mundane". Or how, if we don't trivialize them, we allow the people who perpetrated them to win (I don't even understand how anybody, particularly a writer who identifies with a minority group with training as an anthropologist, can even say this with no hint of irony). It seems to me that these events were perpetrated in the first place because the death of and murdering other people was seen as banal and mundane. So if we rendered these horrifying events as banal and mundane, we'd be no better than the people who killed and murdered.

Let's also talk about mythologizing, okay? Mythologizing generally means "to render something into myth". This is not a dictionary definition, but I think most of us will agree that's what the term means. Myths are stories of folks of dubious historical status to provide us with narratives that help us make sense of the world. Like Greek gods. Or the Monkey King. Or comicbook superheroes. Myths, from my own limited understanding, help us reconcile to the world - that the world is like this, and not that, for a reason.

If we refuse to allow historical tragedies that destroyed real people to lose the meaning and power that they have - if we refuse to forget them - if we refuse to allow their erasure - this is not rendering them into myth: this is giving power to remembering the history that shapes identities today. To disallow us from remembrance because it weighs us down is to belittle what little freedom we have. Dominant powers already enforce and encourage a cultural amnesia on formerly colonized spaces to maintain an illusion of independence and peace. So many of us pretend that a history free of bloodshed will produce futures without bloodshed, when in fact, these histories reverberate in our bones and the bloodshed manifests in the little cruelties we inflict on each other on a daily basis.

It strikes me as ridiculous, sickening, privileged and dismissive when anyone would want to conflate historical tragedies that destroyed real people with writing a book. I understand the fiction writers are given to over-exaggeration and fanciful imagination, but after discussion on discussion on discussion last year about erasure, history, patterns of privilege, and harm reduction, it isn't fucking disingenuous anymore to claim that intention matters. It's downright willful ignorance.

If you are interested in context, check my LJ.

Monday, August 2, 2010

On Spaces for Kids

While I was taking in my mom's blanket from the clothesrack outside, I noticed the kids playing on the porch of the semi-detached house on the corner of the street diagonally across from my family's house. It'd been so long since I saw children playing there, I was a bit startled in the back of my mind. The first owner had been Encik Kamaruddin, who I remember most because he owned rabbits (back then, the brick wall was a wire fence, so we could peer across the drain at the rabbit enclosure). The house has always been owned by Malays, although for a while, it was rented out to factory workers. 

Subang Jaya, old Subang Jaya especially, was built for raising families. Most of the houses here are built to suit lower-to-rising middle-class families, and growing up, I knew a lot of nuclear families.