Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Terrorism should be made a monopoly for the Muslim only

A few days ago I attended a hearing in The International Criminal Court in Den Haag and happened to sit in the same room with 25 lawyers and judges from Iran. As the discussion went about the terrorist act of the suspect, we shared a great deal of similar opinions.

According to Europol's 2010 data (PDF), attacks by separatist/ nationalist group far outnumber attacks by extreme Islamists (only 3 out of 249 cases in the whole Europe). Violence in Europe is very often associated with secular nationalism and not much about theological disputes along the sectarian lines (look at the conflict in Ireland).  Taking this perspective to look at the turmoil elsewhere, it is quite obvious that Hamas, Taliban, or Pakistan-backed radicals in and around Kashmir, or the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka are operated on ethnic nationalism. However, "in the name of religion" is of course a good cause for any communal and collective acts, and should be seen as sincere.

Thus, it may be true that no one can deny that there have been a lot of terrorist acts perpetrated by Muslims in the name of Islam. However, even though this number is much smaller than non-Muslim attacks, the difference is that if a Muslim does it, the deed is immediately attributed to his faith. When a non-Muslim does it, no religious connection is ever mentioned.

The bombing of a government building in Oklahoma (1995) was first seen immediately as a Muslim terrorist act. When it turned out to be a non-Muslim who did it, the fact that the bomber was a Christian was ignored. The bombing and killing between two different Christian sects in North Ireland have never been named Catholic or Protestant terrorism. The ethnic cleaning of ten thousands of Muslim in Bosnia-Herzegovina was not seen as Christian terrorism. And the anti-Muslim maniac who killed more than 80 people in the Norway massacre has never been  once called a Christian extremist.

That's it! A Muslim terrorist act is a Muslim terrorist act. The rest are NON-muslim terrorist acts. Maybe we should change the name to fit the current mentality: It is either Muslim terrorism or NON-muslim conflict. Terrorism should be made a monopoly for the Muslim only. Because (quoting a Norwegian citizen), how come a white Christian man can be a terrorist, isn't it true that only Muslim do that? 

THAT is how far off the track we have been derailed. 

Monday, 26 September 2011

Saving the nature: Carbon Tax, Science or Religion?

Đức tin tôn giáo sẽ là giải pháp cho vấn đề Môi trường?

I've just came back from Australia where at least 10 minutes of each evening's news program was devoted to a heated discussion on carbon tax. It was hard for me to understand the critics, partly because The Netherlands where I live, and most of the Scandinavian countries, have been the first to apply this tax since 1990. However, there is in deed a growing discussion supporting the argument that a carbon tax does not work, that the most polluting countries still maintain or even produce even more carbon emission. New Jersey just pulled out of their Cap and Trade scheme because they see this tax as no more than a tax on residents and businesses with no discernible effect on the environment.

Will science and technology then play the major role in our environmental problems? I have always found this somewhat uncomfortable since science has been so detached from Nature. Science does not see Nature as mother Earth but purely as a de-soul complex of quantities and motions.

Yesterday I bumped into a brilliant speech delivered by Prince Charles addressing Islam and the environment. He clearly emphasized that more and better science and technology would not help to solve our problems. It is faith, the commonly shared belief among many religions that human beings are part of nature, the divine quest that mankind has to protect God's creation will be the answer for our environmental crisis. At the very root of the problem, it is in fact the inner crisis of the soul, the crisis in our relationship with Nature. Mankind is not the landlord, mankind is just a tenant with illusion.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed reading his speech, I clearly recognized how Prince Charles was still under the spell of his religion as he said great faiths share in the idea that mankind should protect God's creation. Using this word, he contradicted himself and kept seeing Nature as an object to save. From my perspective, in term of Man-Nature relationship, it is not much different from seeing Nature as a source to exploit.

The crisis that we have with Nature is in deed the crisis of relationship. Using Nature or Protecting Nature means having a superior role above Nature, being the master of Nature. This perspective is strong in Western countries and religions (including UK) where nature is deeply perceived as being created by God for  the man. This belief is missing in some Eastern religions where the creation of mankind is not of equal importance. And by combining Prince Charles's perspective and the philosophy of Eastern religions, we may then suggest that it is neither exploiting Nature nor protecting Nature, it is living in harmony with Nature that should be the appropriate approach we take to solve our inner crisis in relationship with Nature.

Prince Charles's speech

Kỳ nghỉ của tôi ở Úc tối nào cũng được điểm tâm bằng ít nhất 10 phút tranh luận chói tai trên TV về thuế carbon. Mặc dù Hà Lan đã đánh thuế này từ hơn 20 năm trước, nhiều người đã phải thừa nhận rằng thuế carbon không hẳn là giải pháp hữu hiệu để giải quyết vấn đề môi trường.

Liệu khoa học công nghệ sẽ là cứu cánh chăng? Tôi luôn cảm thấy có điều gì đó bất ổn, có lẽ là vì khoa học đã quá xa rời khái niệm thiên nhiên, coi thiên nhiên như một đối tượng nghiên cứu vô hồn.

Gần đây tôi có đọc được một bài phát biểu rất hay của Thái tử Charles trong hội nghị về môi trường với các học giả Hồi Giáo. Ông nhấn mạnh rằng không phải KHCN mà là đức tin tôn giáo sẽ đóng vai trò quyết định trong việc bảo vệ môi trường. Các đức tin lớn trên thế giới đều quy tụ tại một điểm là Chúa tạo ra thiên nhiên vạn vật và chúng ta cần bảo vệ những gì Chúa đã kiến tạo nên.

Mặc dù rất ủng hộ quan điểm của Thái tử,  bằng cách dùng từ Bảo Vệ thiên nhiên, tôi nhận thấy rằng ông vẫn bị kìm tỏa mạnh mẽ bởi chính tôn giáo của mình. Tự cho mình quyền Bóc lột hay bảo vệ Thiên nhiên đều có thể coi là tự đặt mình lên trên thiên nhiên, tự cho mình quyền phán quyết số phận thiên nhiên. Điều này có thể giả thích một phần bởi trường phái độc thần Abrahamic của phương Tây (Thiên Chúa, Do Thái, Hồi Giáo) cho rằng Chúa tạo ra vạn vật để ban cho con người, vì thế nên con người có quyền sinh sát với Thiên Nhiên.

Một số tôn giáo phương Đông không đề cao đấng tạo hóa mà đề cao sự đồng sinh của thiên nhiên và con người.  Để kết luận, tôi cho rằng một sự kết hợp giữa quan điểm của Thái tử và quan điểm của tôn giáo phương Đông sẽ hợp lý hơn cả. Con người không được phép dùng KHCN để bóc lột thiên nhiên, cũng không có quyền bảo vệ thiên nhiên. Sống hòa thuận với thiên nhiên, đó mới là cách đặt vấn đề đúng đắn công bằng nhất để giải quyết cơn khủng hoảng môi trường.

Phương-Mai Nguyen

(Bản quyền của CultureMove.com. Nếu các cơ quan báo chí muốn đăng lại, xin vui lòng liên hệ với tác giả)

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Why men have female features?

This is to share with you part of the discussion and debate my students had the other day on the issue of gender equality.

Student A: "Gender inequality is emphasized not only by competitive economical societies that favour masculine traits but also deepened by biblical text that says Adam was created first and Eva was made from his rib"

Student B: "...which is scientifically not true because of course men and women are created equally!"

Student C: "That is also not true. Everyone who has been through fifth grade knows that the basic template for human body and brain is female. We all start out as girls with our mother's X chromosome. Then if you get a Y, you will be born as a boy XY. If you get an X, you will be born as a girl XX. And listen: Even if you do NOT get that X from your stingy father, you will of course still be born as a girl XO. That is why men have female features such as nipples and mammary glands"

The whole class was silent for a good few seconds. Then came the triumph of some girls who all of a sudden found a great reason to cheerfully shout out: "Boys, face it! Forget the rib-story. You might have been created from our finger nail"

Sunday, 4 September 2011

No signs of increasing support for Extremism after 10 years

No Signs of Growth in Alienation or Support for Extremism

Washington, D.C. — As the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks approaches, a comprehensive public opinion survey by the Pew Research Center finds no indication of increased alienation or anger among Muslim Americans in response to concerns about home-grown Islamic terrorists, controversies about the building of mosques and other pressures on this high-profile minority group in recent years. Nor does the new polling provide any evidence of rising support for Islamic extremism among Muslim Americans.

Nevertheless,while nearly a quarter of the public (24%) thinks that Muslim support for extremism is increasing, just 4% of Muslims agree.

Very few Muslim Americans – just 1% – say that suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilian targets are often justified to defend Islam from its enemies; Fully 81% say that suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilians are never justified.

Since 2007, Muslim American views of U.S. efforts to combat terrorism have improved. Currently, opinion is divided – 43% say U.S. efforts are a sincere attempt to reduce terrorism while 41% do not. Four years ago, during the Bush administration, more than twice as many viewed U.S. anti-terrorism efforts as insincere rather than sincere (55% to 26%).

However, concerns about Islamic extremism coexist with the view that life for U.S. Muslims in post-9/11 America is difficult in a number of ways. Significant numbers report being looked at with suspicion (28%), and being called offensive names (22%). And while 21% report being singled out by airport security, 13% say they have been singled out by other law enforcement.
Overall Satisfaction: Strikingly, Muslim Americans are far more satisfied with the way things are going in the U.S. (56%) than is the general public (23%).

Muslim or American: Asked to choose, nearly half of Muslims in the U.S. (49%) say they think of themselves first as a Muslim, 26% say they think of themselves first as an American, and 18% say they are both. Among U.S. Christians, 46% say they identify as Christian first, while the same number identify as American first.

Full report @ Muslim Americans: No Signs of Growth in Alienation or Support for Extremism


10 năm sau sự kiện 9/11, người Hồi ở Mỹ không có xu hướng tăng cường ủng hộ Chủ nghĩa cực đoan

Mười năm sau sự kiện 9/11, thái độ của cộng đồng người Hồi giáo ở Mỹ khá khả quan. Tuy nhiên, điều này lại không được ghi nhận đầy đủ. 24% ý kiến xã hội cho rằng có sự gia tăng ủng hộ chủ nghĩa cực đoan trong khi chỉ có 4% người Hôi đồng ý.

Chỉ duy nhất 1% người Hồi cho rằng đánh bom cảm tử là hợp với đạo lý trong khi 81% kiên quyết bác bỏ va cho rằng Hồi giáo không chấp nhận đánh bom cảm tử.

Cuộc sống cũng trở nên khó khăn hơn với người Hồi. 28% bị nhìn với ánh mắt nghi kị, 22% bị la ó, sỉ nhục, 21% bị an ninh sân bay kiểm tra riêng, 13% cho rằng họ bị luật pháp phân biệt đối xử.

Tuy nhiên, 56% người Hồi cảm thấy hài lòng với cuộc sống trong khi chỉ có 23% người Mỹ có cùng ý kiến. 49% người Hồi muốn được nhìn nhận trước tiên là người Hồi Giáo, sau đó mới đến là người Mỹ. 46% dân Mỹ muốn nhìn nhận trước tiên là người Thiên Chúa, sau đó mới đến là người Mỹ.


Tuesday, 5 July 2011

There is no such thing as Islamic culture, only cultures that adopted Islam in different ways

I'm planning to go away, again. This time into the deep, diverse, complex patterns of 20 different Islamic cultures. 

In one of my recent workshops at the university, when asked to provide word associated with “Islam”, ALL my students gave “terrorism” among their first three entries.

Ignorance is the breeding ground of suspicion and distrust. A great amount of issues and problems that are automatically connected with Islam are not essentially Islamic: Female genital cutting is mainly in Christian Ethiopia and Africa, Honour Killing is popular among Hindus and Sikhs, even some Christian Mediterranean countries; and Corporal Punishment is severe in Singapore. Indonesian Islam is greatly different from Iranian or Somalian Islam. Many practice and even terrorist acts are NOT in the name of Islam or are being done DESPITE of Islam. 

However, Islam has become a quick fast food explanation that can easily appeal to people. Don't know how to explain certain thing? Say it's just because it's a Muslim thing, and people will give you that "Now I understand!" look. 

Thus, I have planned for a year-long field trip in 2012 dedicated to a journey of understanding, taking myself as a living element within Islam’s living texture. My journey will start in Mecca where Islam began; follow its footstep of expansion through Arabian Peninsula, westward to Africa and eastward to Asia, completing the Pan-Islamic that used to be the vision of a strong united state. 
My profile is neutral: I come form the East, live in the West and try understand the Middle. And with this balance, I will travel slowly and locally, picking up the community threads and identifying cultural cues that international media overlook in portraying news or bolstering stereotypes: Meet thought-leaders, engaging with society through teaching, learning, voluntary work and observation. All activities are designed to unearth the real that lies hidden behind the apparent.

This project encourages people to utilize their freedom, to take a proactive approach and go beyond the ready fast-food that is often spoon-fed by media, especially amid the current turmoil in Egypt, Middle East and Libya. It challenges stereotypes and pre-assumptions, both about Islam and about its viewers. On the one hand, it helps to make clear that there is not one Islam in the world, nor is there a typical Muslim. On the other hand, it shows that a young, female, unmarried non-Muslim woman with no particular power can embark on a world trip with deep involvement within the Islamic life in search for ultimate understanding. Goodwill will invite goodness and negative pre-assumption may turn the bearer themselves into victims.

I hope we have some common interest in this project, and I hope to have your support. Looking forward to sharing my travel stories with you in this blog. Please subscribe your Email to get New Posts, share them on your face book and network, and follow my twits. Suggestions, advice, contacts, supports and cooperation are very welcome! 

Hope you can be part of this journey!

Thursday, 23 June 2011

A person’s terrorist is someone else’s freedom fighter

Yesterday I watched a documentary on the Maoist, revolutionary force in the forest of India who is considered by the government to be terrorists. Do you know that Nelson Mandela was on The US Terror Watch List until 2008?  

A terrorist creates terror and fear with violence, hence, all solders and warriors in theory are terrorists no matter which side they take. And naturally we all need army since waging war is considered one of the two most fundamental instincts, along side reproduction. However, we are not destined to endless violence and we are absolutely capable of choosing to be a fighter or a negotiator. The Swedes have not fought a war for almost two hundred years, yet they are descended from the Vikings, who are best known for fearsome violence, rape and pillage.  

Evolution must have figured out a way how to maintain a stable strategy of balancing fighters and negotiators. A society with 100% warriors or 100% negotiators would perish surely as the result of homogeneity in gene pool.  I found a famous biologist called John Maynard Smith who used game theory to model the evolution of animal behavior. He named two basic behaviors as fighting Hawk and peace loving Dove and came to a conclusion that a mixture of 58 % Hawk and 42 % Dove is an evolutionary stable strategy. It is too simple to say that one person can be born and raised entirely Hawk and enjoy standing ovation around the boxing ring, or be shaped as entirely Dove and become John Lennon. The fact is most of us do not have to stick to the same identity as you can choose to be Hawk one day and Dove the next.  Everything will just work out fine in the long run if the strategy we use, be it as a person, nation, or the whole human population, is roughly at 58/42.

There is a quote I really like from Nelson Mandela’s biography “Long walk to freedom”:
“At a certain point, one can only fight fire with fire"

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Reality VS Perception

Nope, I'm not gonna get into THAT discussion of "if there is reality or reality is created by perception", I just wanna give one example that falls into the grey area between the two, supposedly they do exist.

I'm Vietnamese, no doubt. But when I travelled in Africa I was called nzungu (a white person). I tried my hardest to tell them my skin is light brown but they said it was because I stupidly want sun tan. According to many, there are only 3 races: black, white, and Chinese. If I'm not Chinese, I must be white.

However, an African friend later told me the truth. I was called nzungu because I dress like a white backpacker, I stay with the white, eat food so ridiculously expensive that only white travellers can afford. I followed my friend's advice to dress up like a local the day after. The effect was different. No one followed me, no finger pointing, no nzungu, no ...marrige proposal (!) neither.

One of my African student once told me with irritation: "Obama is not black, he is half white or half black. But to suit the situation, let's call him black".

Friday, 13 May 2011

Education as Soft Weapon to reshape other countries

Mark Ashwill just sent me his article commenting on a leaked document from US embassy in Vietnam. The memo (http://www.viet-studies.info/us_vn_education_memo.htm  clearly indicates that American educational exchange programs can influence Vietnamese students, make them return to Vietnam as friends of the US government (read. brain-washed) and thus help to shape the future of Vietnam the way the US wants (quote: like South Korea and not China).  

Yes, it is true that Education has always been a tool to shape the cultural behavioural as well as cognitive thinking, but NOT the cultural values of its people. The same as globalization with the death knell of disappearing national cultures now being considered as false alarm, using education as weapon to impose certain ideologies is only possible when these ideologies are resonant with the values held dear in that society. 

Further,please dont forget that many of the Chinese oversea students are returning to China with firm belief that China needs a DIFFERENT kind of democracy that they have seen abroad. In a similar mode, many of my African students in Europe told me that they have figured out that at this moment, democracy the American way only destroys Africa. 

Thanks Mark for an interesting read. For those who want to know another story of how some other American are using education in Pakistan as a way to fight extremist Madrassa, please read: "three cups of tea".

Link to Mark's article:

Thursday, 14 April 2011

The nonsense of relativism

I've always  had troubles with this big word: Relativism. To me it is more like a tool or a mechanism to either liberate or manipulate people, depending on the audience's level of intellect.
Those in power may use this to make sure that big mouths have to shut up, especially voice from those who are concerned with morality, ethics and human right. "Respecting other culture" is a nice politically correct term that can be used and overused quite safely these days. However, to a certain extent, it stops people from truly care for others. I posted here the link to a great article written by Jacoby. If you see a 17 year old girl being in trouble with an arranged marriage, should you practice "relativism" by  respecting her culture and let her be, or should you choose to tell her that she has other choices?
I chose the later. Because I agree with Jacoby, I cannot accept a multiculturalism/relativism that tends to excuse, under the rubric of “tolerance,” religious and cultural practices that violate universal human rights.
Not a big fan of the Pope myself, but I like his quote:  
We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as definitive and has as its highest value one's own ego and one's own desires.

Link to Jacoby's article on BIG QUESTION ONLINE

Monday, 4 April 2011

The right to judge?

It is part of human nature that we are capable of judging, in order to survive. For instance, passing a dark alley alone  is not very wise, or touching a steamy substance can be hurtful. We do it with information provided, and this can lead to either likely correct generalization or less likely correct assumption which we conveniently call Stereotype. From this point of view, stereotype is necessary evil, existing as a survival value but can easily lead up to discrimination.

Having accepted this, we may learn how to avoid pre-assumption and stereotypes by CONSCIOUSLY gathering as much information as possible before giving judgement. It is impossible NOT to give judgement, but Intercultural Awareness can help us to slow down the judgement process and aim at a more reliable and accurate evaluation.