Friday, 24 April 2009

Discomfort in the bookshop

I hope you do not mind me troubling you. I know you are in the depth of intense study and you do not need distractions – so please do not feel any obligation to respond unless you really want to.
I am going to start being quite busy soon – and at last. I am going to Kuala Lumpur again to get (I hope) another visa which will give me a bit more freedom to work.
One of the great benefits of modern technology is the podcast – so I can listen to various programmes at home and in the car. There was a discussion I was listening to yesterday where a speaker was condemning the use of the idea of ‘progress’[1]. He said that people often misapply the idea of scientific or technological acquisition of knowledge or techniques with progress in a sociological context. It is true that the theories of Einstein or Dirac or the inventions of the microprocessor or fusion bomb cannot be unlearned. The same is not true of freedom from oppression.
I heartily agree. Freedom is something that is always under threat and cannot be taken for granted. The mythology of the great leader or the golden age of the past is always there to erode rational thought and tempt people into repeating the horrors that we forget all too soon. We are too comfortable with the idea that we have learned the lessons of history and will not repeat them – that humanity progresses beyond barbarity and will eventually defeat it for once and for all.
Another podcast I was listening to yesterday was the, we thought, irrepressible Desmond Tutu sounding somewhat repressed. Throughout the struggle against Apartheid he remained cheerful and spoke out and fought with his wonderful chuckle and hope and faith in the future victory of freedom for all the people of South Africa. We heard a clip reminding us of the exhilaration of the address of the new President Nelson Mandela welcoming the new age of his rainbow nation.
Bishop Tutu was saddened and disillusioned – although voicing his chuckle, perhaps to reassure and cheer himself rather than his listeners. The promises of the rainbow nation had been eroded by corruption and he was fearful that the presidency of Jacob Zuma would not lead to the dream that he held.
A couple of days ago I went to the bookshop with a friend and as we passed the shelves marked ‘Sosial & Politik’ I glimpsed an Indonesian translation of The International Jew by (or not by) Henry Ford – one of Hitler's few US heroes and inspirer of his Volkswagen idea. I felt sick – as I always feel sick when I see such things.
I was so disheartened when, a couple of weeks ago in a visit to see someone in hospital in Bandung I saw someone with a swastika arm-band in the reception area. I often think of Indonesia as a sort of time machine – a place where cigarettes are hugely promoted and so many other things we thought we had seen the last of (like typewriters) still exist. It is when I see the open signs of Nazism that I truly think of myself as living in the heart of darkness. I don’t want to go back in time to that.
The First World War was supposed to be the ‘war to end wars’ and after the horror of the trenches people said, ‘Never again’.
And yet we plunged into the ghastly era of Nazism with the death camps and the immense inhumanity of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
At the end of that we had the hope of the United Nations and its Universal Declaration of Human Rights which, few thought anyone could argue with.
And yet we have the Organisation of the Islamic Conference indeed arguing with it and setting out their own much modified and qualified declaration of highly limited rights.
My erstwhile colleague, M, came to visit yesterday and talked about one of the guest houses used by new teachers at his so-called English school. It was not popular because it was often used for filming horror movies and their tranquillity would be disturbed by blood curding screams at unexpected hours. Much of Indonesian television and film is taken up by screaming and hysterics. They seem to like that sort of thing, M remarked. They would have a juicy graphic shot of someone's head being cut off and no one would blink an eyelid. But if the protagonists should get anywhere near to kissing each other, then everyone would get jumpy and the scene would be cut out.
Hilary Clinton and the Pentagon are rattling sabres at Pakistan now for letting the Taliban get out of control. Pakistan has been a lawless and barbarous nation ever since Zia-ul-Haq and it seems the Yanks are just beginning to notice. The trouble is that they and India have firecrackers. In the aftermath of the Mumbai massacre The Guardian commented that if, in the next thirty years, there is going to be any nuclear exchange then it will be between those two.
I think it is time that the world stopped making cultural excuses and realised what a terrible danger it is in from the so-called Muslim world. Fascism is alive and well and resurgent.