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Bar Council Human Rights Debate competition

I went to my first debating competition this week – the Bar Council Human Rights Debate 2008. It was fun, I liked the challenge of having to think up an argument and a strategy in fifteen minutes (because that’s all the time you’re given between the announcement of the motion to the time the debate starts), and having to react quickly to the other debaters’ arguments once the debate starts. I had adjudicated for debates before when I was teaching at HELP University College, and since then I wanted to try debating.

The debates I saw before had two teams of three debaters – with the opening speech, second and summing up speaker; the one this week was the British Parliamentary Style debate rules, which demand a more technical debate in some ways. There are four teams of two debaters each: Opening and Closing Government, and Opening and Closing Opposition; each one is separate, so although – for example – you are the closing government, and you have to follow the basic argument of the opening government, you won’t know before they start what their definitions, context, and points will be. So you have to be ready to adapt to them, but still try to do better than them as the winning teams don’t have to be on the same side of the house.

For Monash we had two inexperienced teams, and neither of us got past the qualifying rounds (five debates) to make the cut into the quarters; but that wasn’t so surprising. I’m pleased that at least, my partner and I won one debate (i.e. came first out of the four teams) :-) It was on whether or not to have BM as the sole medium of instruction in schools; we had to argue against, which wasn’t too difficult, as I have thought about it before.

In the finals last night, two teams were from NUS, one from IIU, and another was the ‘WUPID’ team (dunno why, WUPID is the name of an international debate competition next week in KL).
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Newspeak in Zimbabwe

The [Justice] minister [Mr. Chinamasa] said Zanu-PF would not allow an opposition victory, as this would be what he described as tantamount to slavery.

Asked whether the will of the people would be subverted should Mr Mugabe lose, Mr Chinamasa said: "If people attempted to unfree themselves, moves would be made to free them." (BBC, my emphasis)

In 1984 by George Orwell (full text here), one of the slogans of the Party is " Freedom is Slavery" and in one scene Syme, a colleague in the Ministry of Truth, explains some of the concepts of Newspeak and how it is aimed at eliminating free thought:
...what justification is there for a word which is simply the opposite of some other word? A word contains its opposite in itself. Take "good", for instance. If you have a word like "good", what need is there for a word like "bad"? "Ungood" will do just as well -- better, because it's an exact opposite, which the other is not....

How could you have a slogan like "freedom is slavery" when the concept of freedom has been abolished? The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking -- not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.' (Source)

Once again, I find that George Orwell managed to define the essence of totalitarian ideology and practice. How it requires an embracing of ignorance coupled with a sophisticated intelligence that identifies enemies and manipulates thought even at the most subtle psychological levels.

Unfortunately, with the statement above by Mr. Chinamasa, we can see that the arrogance and ignorance of those who deny humanity's most intrinsic defining nature - the will to question and seek knowledge - is still alive and well in the 21st century.

Myanmar - different reality

The outside world makes the mistake of assuming that the junta is amenable to negotiation on what we regard as common values: democracy, respect for human rights, protection from the arbitrary exercise of power. This is simply not the case.

Ne Win, Burma's dictator from 1962 to 1988, had blind faith in '9' as his lucky number... The hardline suppression of the latest protests began on the same date as the 1988 crackdown, with the added bonus of a third '9': 18/9/2007 (2+7= 9).

It is unlikely that UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari's programme included consultations with the junta's astrologers, and yet these are the people who hold the key to the leader's strategy. (Article by Tom White, "UK's cultural attaché in Burma during the 1988 protests")

Frightening, but it makes sense to me. Something I realised, is that the army in Burma has been in power since 1962 - forty-five years. This means that by now the army has become a generational inheritance - those in the army now were most likely born with their father planning on them following in his path. In Burma, the army also controls much of the economy so it's a viable career that combines political and financial security.

So by now, there are the basics of a caste: hereditary social and economic position, likelihood of in-marrying (I'm guessing), and an ideology to support it (by all accounts, a mishmash of nationalism and pseudo-feudalism). Also, apparently there was a tradition of "pagoda slaves" in Burma and Thailand. This could perhaps give the army an ideological basis for their use of forced labour which is apparently quite common.

in the final stages of the 41-day uprising in 1988, democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi privately admitted that a split in the army seemed the only remaining hope of overthrowing the dictatorship.

Also, very interesting to read, is this eyewitness account by "A Buddhism student" (BBC). Some quotes:

Those who took part were from the younger generation of monks, who hadn't experienced the events of 1988 and thought that they couldn't be attacked.

The older monks were too frightened and hesitant. Those who had responsible positions in the monastery were particularly against anybody taking part in protests.

They issued orders to other monks not to take part. They were saying 'don't do anything, if you leave, you will be disassociated'.

The middle-level monks were sandwiched between the senior monks and the young ones. Many sneaked in and out.

The whole thing started as a religious movement. It was not an organised democratic movement and there was no intention whatsoever for it to be turned into one. Monks were adamant about it.

They knew that there is no point in asking the generals for freedom. They knew that they don't have guns and can't beat the army. All they wanted to do was show the world what their situation is and that they are prepared to die.

They were very hopeful about the UN envoy coming to Burma. But they were quite surprised to hear that he met Aung San Suu Kyi.

They love and respect her, but they felt that this time it is about them and that the UN envoy should be speaking to them. They felt that it's a distraction from them while they are being shot at and need protection.

This is important I think: the first quote at the top of this post, and the one about the UN meeting Aung San Suu Kyi, point to one thing: the deficiencies of an ethnocentric approach to negotiating with the Burmese regime. I wonder if the UN envoy actually tried to meet the monks; maybe he did. Maybe the regime allow him to see Aung San Suu Kyi because ultimately they know that she has less power than the monks.

Rats in their hole...

Well, following on from the previous post, here's what the BBC says regarding the motivations of the Burmese dictators:

In Burma, complete isolation means the generals have little to lose from international sanctions. Nor is there a large and powerful middle class with a lot to lose. There is only the military - the most powerful institution in the country - with its fingers in every aspect of daily life.

It suffers little from isolation, except in the increasingly narrow view of its officers.

Soldiers are taught that they are an elite class, entitled to special respect - and that anyone who opposes them is an enemy bent on returning the country to chaos and civil war.

That will almost certainly be the warped instruction given now to the troops who have shot at unarmed monks and civilians in Rangoon. (BBC News)

The Burmese protestors will never be able to beat the army at their own murderous game, so the only solution is satyagraha. Which means extreme courage and many more dead...

Or someone go in there and make a deal with some generals - appeal to their sense of self importance and greed...

Domestic Hell…

I went to the Fiesta Feminista last week – it was well worth the time and I saw a number of interesting speeches, though I was also helping out so I wasn’t able to see them all. I was also rapporteur for a National Media Monitoring Survey (organised by AWAM) workshop project that also provided gender awareness training for media practitioners.

I attended a talk about migrant workers – seemed interesting, and being a life-long immigrant myself, something I feel some resonance with, though I have always been on the privileged edge of it…

As part of the talk there was a testimony by a brave lady (whose name I didn’t get though, sorry – her talk was being translated). She has no, or very little, education, but her intelligence and integrity shone through as, choking back tears, she told how she had lived through virtual slavery for about three years, in order to provide for better education for her children.

She came to Malaysia with the promise of a job paying RM400/month; once she got here she was told it was reduced to RM370. She swallowed that, and began her gruelling work: up at 6am every day she worked until 12pm for a family of 15 people – cooking, cleaning, and washing all the clothes by hand, being forbidden from using the washing machine. In the afternoon she had to help her employer’s sister make kuih for the market. On Saturdays she had to wash the 3-5 cars the family owned, and on Sundays she had to get up at 4am so as to be able to do her usual tasks, and go to clean her employer’s mother’s house in the afternoon.

Tenaganita leaflet
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