Thursday, August 27, 2009

MUST MUSLIMS ‘SIN’ THEIR WAY TO THE FRONT-PAGE OF THE SECULAR MEDIA TO TEACH EVERYBODY ABOUT ISLAM?

By Mansor Puteh




A front-page pseudo-event of a recent past has once again put the Malaysian and international media in the spotlight, and not just the original creator of the said event.

I first heard of this when I was abroad and in the company of some local English folks who knew next to nothing about why Muslims are to conduct their lives properly in public. I was therefore not surprised that some of them were surprised. I did not have to be defensive either.

Some of the international media organizations had carried the same story and highlighting it, which is good so that they can learn another facet of Islam that they did not know of before.

Islam and Muslims can only make it in the international media this way. So why can’t we give them some of that once in a while.
They can educate their readers and public better this way – better than any of the pious Muslims or ulama can.

So in a way, the Muslim woman in Malaysia who had become the focus of attention can be thankful her experience has indeed become a useful tool to educate those who are not familiar with Islam.
Will the hapless Malay woman attract enough international media attention so that she could later get offers to write books on her experience and one of which can be turned into a feature film or limited drama serial to be shown in the west, so they can show how cruel Islam is? I’m not sure.

The main theme of the imagined drama: Downing something sinful into one’s body is a far worse crime that any Muslim can commit compared to blasting one’s body with explosives!

I did not know Muslims must be lashed 80 times for consuming liquor in public before.

How could a person with such a long name which is essentially Sanskrit or Indian can be Muslim, too?
And how could a Muslim woman who was not known to be wearing the headscarf don it now? In fact, she was also not a known personality, until recently.

And I now know they can, which is good because I have become a little enlightened by what is happening to the hapless Malay woman and the Malaysia and international media. Both of them have exposed themselves their true colors with one having committed in Islam and the other for writing about it.

And how ironic, that a lot on the media can be written on this event, too, that they did not know of before, that they can indeed be used to spread Islam amongst themselves and those who did not know of this religion before.

The woman and the event have all become important and interesting tools to disseminate Islam to those who are not yet Muslims – especially those non-Muslims who have not had enough of the bottle yet to realize their folly that only a religion that forbids the consumption of such a thing can make them realize this.

They have not found a religion that forbids the consumption of liquor that they can rely on. All other religions as opposed to Islam do not try to stop their inherent from drinking and be merry.

Malaysia is short of stories by Malays and Muslims intellectuals, artists and creative creatures, so anything of this sort can be attractive for the media to highlight, because some of the media creatures may have become tired of highlighting stories of the politicians, who can only come up with the same issue.

No Malaysian politician has come up with anything interesting lately other than to be involved in the same scandals and petty disputes. Even the defamation suit by a senior Chinese party official is nothing new except for the amount that was stated which seemed to be enormous but not too preposterous for anyone to comprehend.

Aren’t politicians in Malaysia and elsewhere supposed to have thick skin? What sort of shame do they have still? I thought by getting into politics, one has lost all shame normal persons ought to have to protect their personal dignity as human beings.

So no wonder, so few dignified persons never ever considered this vocation, choosing other less-paying ones instead.

Who was the person who once said nicely that once a person enters politics, he or she loses his or her dignity? How true indeed!

That Malay politicians can only make news if they bicker with each other.
And the only person who seems to be able to do this is none other than Nik Aziz of Kelantan, who has the knack of creating headlines and front-page news most of the time and get away with it.
A Malay-Muslim woman was caught for consuming liquor in public. She admitted it and was sentenced according to Islamic law, by being lashed for which she wants to receive, like it is a badge of honor. And why not?

For a woman who did not have any public profile before, she is now in the limelight and on the front-page of the newspapers and electronic media.

How cunning for the media to ‘encourage’ such a woman to come to the fore with a brave face despite her unIslamic conduct?

And how shrewd for the same media to ‘encourage’ Muslims, women or even men to get on the act, and jump onto the bandwagon and commit sin so they can also be accorded with the same treatment and get the right attention in the media.

They do not need to engage a media consultant or publicist to organize any media conference; they can still command the right attention and get it with the representatives from the media organization flocking around her.
And if this is not enough, their parents, too, can ‘benefit’ from the sudden media attention their children have got.

There is no shame in committing sin amongst Muslims; because there are many organizations and individuals who will come to their aid, who won’t feel guilty about downplaying the sinful act that they had committed and can use the occasion to further degrade the Islamic religious institution.

It is also strange how some Muslims have to commit sin in order for the others to learn a bit more about Islam.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

MALAYSIANS DO NOT MAKE ENOUGH NEWS TO FILL A NEWSPAPER!

…OR ARE THE PUBLISHERS BUSY PROMOTING OTHER COUNTRIES?
By Mansor Puteh


(NOTE: This is a study on how Malaysian journalism has failed the country and its society. It is also a study on why Old Malaysian Journalism is bad for them, and how the KDN permits of those publications ought to be withdrawn, because they are not serving Malaysia and Malaysians, but foreign countries.

And what is needed badly for the country to develop and to reshape its psyche and those of the young and new generation is for the New Malaysian Journalism to be created, for without which there can never be a New Malaysia.

Old Malaysian Journalism and Broadcasting, for that matter, should be reshaped to support our own ideology and cultural development and not to serve foreign countries.

The editors and publishers of such publications ought to be retrained or be pensioned off for they had shown their penchant for things alien and disdain for things Malaysia. Many Malaysians have become pseudo-Americans with many Chinese and Indians (or Tamils) who seem to be still stranded in Hong Kong and Chennai and who have not actually arrived in Malaysia.

This is what happens when most editors and journalists do not have formal training in journalism with some who are not familiar with the history of the country to know who they should be serving.

MALAYSIAN JOURNALISM AND BROADCASTING TODAY ARE BAD FOR MALAYSIA, BUT GOOD FOR FOREIGN COUNTRIES!)

* * * * * *

If Malaysians suffer from an inferiority complex, this is what’s causing it because they take it from the publishers, editors and journalists who also suffer from it and who are proud of the fact that they belong elsewhere and not in this country.

It is sad, but true; that Malaysians do not seem to make enough news to fill a newspaper. And in this regard, we also do not seem to be able to produce enough programs to show on our television and in our cinema-halls that we have to bring them into the country from elsewhere.

And we ended up publishing and broadcasting anything and showing anything in the cinemas which benefit the others and not ourselves, and in the process continuing to enslave the Malaysian public in the post-colonial era.

It is like them saying, it is good to be slaves and lackeys of other countries and not be the master of our own destiny and future.

So if one were to see the English, Mandarin, Tamil and even Malay papers and magazines chances are, one would think that the publishers are foreigners, who had managed to get the KDN publishing permits to publish their publications in order to purely promote their countries.

Don’t those in the Home Ministry or Kementerian Dalam Negeri know that they have given the KDN permits to those who are bent on not serving the interests of the country, but those of the others, especially the Americans, westerners, Hong Kongers, Indians (in India; or mostly Tamil Nadu), but not Malaysia.

Haven’t those in the ministry realized that the country’s press had long been infiltrated by foreign elements that were out to promote the propaganda for these foreign countries, and right under their noses?

It is sad how some Malaysians are willing to serve the interests of such countries, unpaid and unrecognized by the leaders of those countries.

I can imagine if there is a small column in any paper in Hong Kong, Tamil Nadu or America that writes on stories on Malaysia everyday that the editors of these papers would definitely be feted by the Malaysian government and that they would have been given the honorific titles of all types.

But the probability of such a thing happening is remote. No paper outside of Malaysia, save for Singapore that wants to publish anything on Malaysia, unless if there is something negative happening.

Singapore papers normally have the ‘Across the Causeway’ column, but nothing else, where they write or publish stories on Malaysia.

News on Malaysia and Malaysians are mostly of the negative type surrounding the same small group of people who are in politics who normally say things which sound like are being repeated again and again. Yet, the editors did not find it trite or tiring to publish such comments from the same characters, who look like they are people from an earlier era, and who do not belong in today’s era.

Or is it because those who publish the newspapers and magazines and run television stations and also radios are more interested to do the bidding for the others, especially if they are Chinese and Indians who find it more fascinating for them to over-promote news and other stories and programs and even films from their Mother and Sisterlands?

This may be the case.

Worse, even the Malay and English-language papers are also doing the same by over-promoting stories from other countries, with some even have regular columns where they publish entertainment gossips from America and on characters who are not known generally by the Malaysian readers and public.

Everything American or western seems to be important to them.

Is this what Malaysian journalism has become? It is Old Malayan Journalism which had become Old Malaysian Journalism, which has no real reason for being, since we are a new nation the last 52 years.

It is also ironic when one considers how during the British administration of Malaya, the English language papers did not over-promote things British. Most of the stories were on the Malayans and locals, with only the interesting and international news on other countries.

The Malay papers even went overboard by almost ignoring foreign news, especially the entertainment news, so no wonder the Old Malayan Cinema which was then based in Singapore were able to develop almost unhindered, by getting the right support from the Malay as well as non-Malay masses, who would flock to the cinemas where new Malay films then were being shown.
They did not have any compunction to call them Malay films; yet, the non-Malays could still find them interesting.
Today, despite some Malay film producers calling their films, ‘Malaysian films’, they are still not able to draw in the non-Malay crowd, most of whom now speak and write better in Malay than their parents and grandparents who could not speak or write in the language well, not having been educated in school.

All journalists and editors, therefore, must be forced to have a master’s degree in journalism from Malaysian or foreign universities so their level of reporting and news creation is further heightened.

This requirement is necessary so as to force those who want to go into journalism will know that it is not enough for them to be able to write, but they must also show greater sincerity in what they write, which only serve our country and no others, despite them having ancestors who were originally from other countries.

Malaysia can create better quality journalists, editors and publishers as well as broadcasters and filmmakers only if we look inside of us more than we look elsewhere.

Monday, August 17, 2009

HOW HAVE CANNES, BERLIN AND VENICE DESTROYED WORLD CINEMA!

…AND THE FILM CAREERS OF AKIRA KUROSAWA, SATYAJIT RAY AND THE OTHERS WHOM THEY HAD HONORED!
By Mansor Puteh



This essay is based on the article I wrote called ‘Asian films at Cannes’ which was published in the Letters’ section in Time Magazine on 7 July, 1997. Below is the article which Time declined to publish this extended version.

* * * * * * *
ASIAN FILMS AT CANNES (Letters Section, Time Magazine, 7 July, 1997.)
Why are the same film makers from Asia getting recognition in Cannes? The answer is that they are making the types of films which are liked in Cannes. Basically there only five types of films; those that deal with, 1) poverty or illiteracy, 2) homosexuality or incest, 3) anti-government sentiments, 4) anti-colonialism and 5) historical or costume epics. Asian film-makers must make one of those types in order to win recognition at Cannes. Abbas Kiarostami, Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige etc., are making only the type of film which deals with homosexual characters or which demeans their religion or society. China and Iran, which are rich in history and tradition, must surely have other interesting stories that could be put on the screen. Cannes has destroyed the very essence of cinema and made the medium one for forcing film makers to scream propaganda for them. MANSOR BIN PUTEH Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
* * * * * * *
And what I said more than twelve years ago then, is still true today. And this is what’s so disconcerting and scary. Something has to be written and done to ensure that the three most prestigious film festivals in Europe or ‘the world’ do not go on conning anyone from being stuck in the rut and not being able to expand.
That the organizers and jury which are assembled by the festivals seem to have been stuck in time, that their film philosophy and attitude towards the world and in particular, Asia, had remained the same since the end of the Second World War. And the films of their choice are still the same type that their predecessors had liked earlier, while the whole world has changed. Asia has also changed tremendously, but sadly, this is not reflected in the films that they had hailed.
It is most shocking when one realizes how internationally recognized ‘film masters’ such as Akira Kurosawa and Satyajit Ray could succumb to temptations and to continue to seek ‘international recognition’ for their works again and again, like they had become not ‘masters’ but slaves.
When they were the ones who should be imposing, they only managed to kow-tow to the dictates of so few people who organized the three festivals. So now we know who are the real ‘masters’ and who are the ‘slaves’.
I must have angered Paolo Bertolin who seeks new films from Asia for his Venice Film Festival after he spoke at the Second Kuala Lumpur International Film Festival last October, by saying how his festival and Cannes as well as Berlin might have created the ‘master and slave’ relationship between the filmmakers and the festivals.
He was stunned that he could not react to what I have said which is a fact. That after a while, these and the other festivals must realize how they had actually destroyed the film careers of many of those whom they had earlier given honors, by offering official recognition amidst the hoopla and international media gaze. Because he probably thought he had come to conquer all those who were present at his talk, which in turn made him look silly, like he was a few hundred years too late and arriving together with Alfonso d’Albuquerque or some other Italian conquerors of old in their hopeless ‘Journey of Hope’. Did I pour sand into his spaghetti of weird ideas on the world cinema? Paolo sounded hollow in Kuala Lumpur…!But alas, so few of them who had been earlier honored, could come up with different films because they know they could not impress the same festivals if they did that.
So no wonder, Asian ‘film masters’ such as Kurosawa and Ray could only come up with different versions of their earlier works, because they knew if they came up with films which dealt with other issues and showed them in different ways or forms, chances were they would not have been selected.
Yes, these and the other directors, still crave the attention that they could get from having their films selected for these and the same festivals that had earlier selected their films, like they are still novices, when what they should be doing is to move on from Cannes, Venice and Berlin and not be stuck with them for life.
Now you realize how the same directors who produce films which are the same returning to Cannes, Venice and Berlin. They came there as ‘slaves’ who are willing to meet with the dictates of the organizers.
The directors they had hailed over the years seem to be trapped in the aura of acceptance that they had failed to see the deceptive qualities promoted indirectly by the same festivals that had hailed them earlier.
Prominent and influential filmmakers from Asia, such as Kurosawa and Ray of Japan and India, respectively, gained international prominence after being honored by Cannes, Venice and Berlin film festivals.
And they went on to encourage other filmmakers younger than they were to want to submit their films to these particular festivals, hoping that they, too, could get similar honors from them.
Unfortunately, for many of them, it is nothing but a distant dream. These three most prestigious film festivals in the world cannot offer them much. That from Asia, there are only to be two ‘film masters’ while the others have to make do with their occasional attendance at these festivals.
And more unfortunate is when they have been unconsciously forced to come up with works which are no different than the ones they had earlier made for which they had been recognized by these festivals earlier.
So no wonder, like Kurosawa and Ray, this younger generation of filmmakers has to come up with similar works.
In the end, we did not see more exciting works from Kurosawa or Ray, or the other directors.
This brings me to want to ask if Cannes, Venice and Berlin, especially were responsible for stunting the film careers of Kurosawa and Ray and the others.
We definitely did not get to see their best works, which are liked by their own countrymen other than by those festival organizers and jury members who hailed them for their own selfish reasons.
That to them Japan is still the old feudal Japan and not the super-modern country. And India is still backward. China, which is a growing economic giant, is seen in lights so bad that it is toxic. No wonder, the authorities in China often get the excuse to punish their filmmakers for having their films ‘selected’ by these festivals.
In the meanwhile, most other countries in Asia and elsewhere, outside of Europe, America and the West, are lost in the thoughts of the festival directors and members of their selection committee who come to these countries flying first class and staying in expensive hotels, but who are not often in touch with the ground to know how it is stirring.
So it is no surprise if they prefer to see films from Malaysia that look like faint copies of those that the filmmakers in Europe, America and the West have produced decades ago that had a huge dose of negative elements.
In other words, Cannes, Venice and Berlin are saying – you produce films like those and they will be selected. You produce films which you and your country and people like, and we won’t ‘select’ them.
Cannes, Venice and Berlin have done a lot of damage to stunt the growth of the Asian cinema. Malaysian Cinema, too, is suffering because the new generation of filmmakers, including those who are trained at prestigious film schools and universities abroad are confused with what they are looking for.
That their selection committee does not care with what they want to say, and they still prefer to impose their views on things like they know the society better.
Therefore, Cannes, Venice and Berlin have to do soul-searching and ask themselves, how their selfish ways have actually helped to destroy or at least stunt the growth of not only the Malaysian or Asian Cinemas, but the World Cinema, too.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

THIRTY-ONE YEARS AGO, TODAY...

SATURDAY, 13 AUGUST, 1978… AND
COLUMBIA REVISITED.
By Mansor Puteh


(I was given a Pan-American Airlines (PanAm) brochure by my brother-in-law who had few months earlier returned from America where he had lived for six months for a surgery he undertook at a hospital in Washington DC following a bad crash while driving his new sports car, he experienced earlier in 1960. He was looked after by the Malaysian ambassador, Ong Yoke Lin, who later became Omar Yoke-Lin Ong, after he reverted to Islam few years later. I saw for the first time photos of the Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building, and marveled at the sight of them. I did not know if I had wanted to go to the city where they were at but I remember wanting to go to America to study something.)

This was the day, exactly 31 years ago, when Mustapha Kamal Anwar (Mus), Salleh Kassim and I took off from Subang International Airport outside of Kuala Lumpur, one night on a Saturday, 31 years ago, to fly off to America, via London, where the two of us had planned to stop over to see the city for the first time.
Zam, Rahim, me, Mustaza, Khalid and Shahrom at Subang AirportMany of my relatives had come to Subang Airport to send me off. My former colleagues and college mates also came including Zam and Khalid Jefri. Everybody was happy to see me off, considering how I had to suffer for one year before I was given a study loan from Mara, whose officer had rejected my application a year earlier because they were shocked to find a Malay student of Mara Institute of Technology (ITM) in Shahalam could get a place to study for his Master of Fine Arts in Film Directing at a university as Columbia.
They knew what the university was, so they feared it even more, while I was totally unaware of what it was, thinking nothing of its reputation because I thought all universities were the same as what we thought of the few that we have in the country, so getting into one is as good as getting a place to study at another.
I had to work as a journalist for Utusan Melayu for exactly 13 months and 13 days to get by and it turned out to be an interesting experience, of being able to cover all sorts of stories and events while writing reviews for television dramas and getting a special column.
I had a diary for this period where I had jotting all the things I had to do and endure, and even when I was given another chance to study at the Film Division in 1978, after failing to accept the offer to register for the Fall semester of 1977, I was still in a limbo as Mara was still taking its own sweet time to finally approve the loan for me. Worse, when the School of the Arts, which issued the Form I-20 which is needed to students to apply for the visas at the US embassy was not coming, so I feared if my reapplication was not accepted. I had to write to Grafton Nunes many times before getting the form. It was barely two weeks before my flight on 13 August; and this was despite the fact that their travel agency had already issued the one-way ticket to New York City via London, with a stopover in Brussels where we had to wait for the connecting flight for eight hours.
On board Sabena Belgian AirlinesSo there was no time for me to say goodbye to. I only managed to make one return trip to Melaka to inform my parents about my going to America to study for two years. My mother came from Melaka and sent me off together with my other relatives including those who live in Kuala Lumpur, including my elder sister, Asmah who had two weeks earlier returned with her husband and their two twin sons, Adam and
Masjid in Section 14, Petaling Jaya todayNizar, from Canberra. I visited them for two weeks in June/July, 1976, during the semester break at ITM and could still remember the chilly weather in the Australian winter.
On my second last day in Malaysia, I went to the masjid (What is a mosque? This word sounds odd.) in Section 17 and got there late after almost everybody had started to perform the Friday prayers, in the middle of Ramadan. I was wearing my new pair of Adidas shoes. When the prayers were over I discovered someone had pinched them. So I took two unmatched rubber sandals which were discarded at the footsteps of the masjid and walked to the Jaya Supermarket and bought a new pair of leather shoes. I was not angry for losing the Adidas to some secondary school students who were waiting at the steps outside the masjid because I knew I could still walk further without them. To these kids, going for Friday prayers was not for praying but to prey on the shoes of those who go there to pray.
I was going to fly to America in a days’ time, I told myself. And I was willing to even walk bare-footed from the masjid to the shopping complexes. I might also be walking on air at that time with my heads sticking in the clouds as I wondered how it might feel to be flying to New York City the next day.
Each time I drive pass by this masjid which is still standing there at the junction I would turn to look at it and at the steps where I had taken off my Adidas which I had bought at the Pertama Complex in Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman for M$60, which is quite a bit by today’s standards, so no wonder I was the only person seen to be wearing them anywhere I went until I got to the masjid in Section 14. It took me back to 11 August, 1978, when I was just about to go to Columbia. The Jaya Supermarket is now a total wreck after its old block collapsed.
(Who could be the Malay student wearing blue ‘sampin’ around his waist from the nearby school, who might have stolen my Adidas track shoes? Is he, you, the now successful businessman or politician? You probably don’t remember which shoes you have stolen 31 years ago at the masjid in Section 14, because they were so many pairs of shoes that you might have stolen while in secondary school. But I can still remember someone had stolen my pair of track shoes. Or, maybe you did not want Malays to wear American-made products. I got a new pair of Adidas at a charity store in England recently for just three pounds. They are brand-new shoes. Don’t say it’s a steal; just say I got a very good bargain.)
Mus, Salleh and I were graduates of the School of Mass Communication, ITM or Mara Institute of Technology now called Universiti Teknologi Mara or Mara University of Technology (UiTM), although we were not classmates and had graduated in different years.
Mus had a friend called Lei, a Malaysian woman who had lived in the city for a few years. When I met her at Heathrow Airport the next day, she seemed to be very confident with herself living in the city and was able to find her way out of the airport to her apartment which was near the old Malaysia Hall in Brynston Square. It was a very convenient place so we could go to the Hall often and because it was also not too far away from the famous Oxford Street, we could go anywhere by foot. Sometimes, we took the ‘tube’ to go further away from there, to meet Wan Hulaimi, another Malaysian friend who had studied in London and lived there for a long period of time, until he was able to speak English in the cockney accent, if he wanted to. We put up at Lei’s apartment for a week, until Mus and Salleh flew off to go to Boston, Massachusetts and Athens, Ohio to study at the universities there.
Chamil, Rohana and me in Trafalgar SquareI then moved to another apartment rented by another Malay friend of mine called Kamarulzaman. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that this was also the room that the first and second prime ministers of Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman and Tun Razak had rented when they were studying law in London in the 1940s.
It was the fasting month then. We had fasted for only two weeks and were off to go on a trip that took us to our next phase in our lives.
I had never been away from the country this far before. The furthest I had gone to was to go to Bali, Indonesia, where I had gone to in May, 1974, a few months before I enrolled at ITM.
I enjoyed studying at ITM and living in Shahalam, which at that time was still being developed into a city, which was destined to be the new capital of Selangor, after it was moved from Kuala Lumpur that had become the country’s capital. The whole area was bare. And on the highest hill stood the newly-constructed Istana Alam Shah (Alam Shah Palace), where some friends and I would often rode in front of it because it was close to our terrace house dormitory where I had stayed at for the first two semesters in the first year at ITM. More and more of the oil palm plantations had to make way for the development of the city. But when I was there, they were only chopping down the trees and leveling the land that made the city look like a desert.
In the second and third years, I moved to live on campus which was more convenient because everything was close, and we could go to the dining hall after walking a few steps or to the library and lectures easily.
I had always wanted to study in America for my master’s degree in film directing. But at that time in the first two years I was at ITM, I did not know which university would be the best – I mean, which one would be able to accept me. I remember when I was in Form Six studying at the now defunct Malaysian Tutorial College (MTC) in Jalan Barat, Petaling Jaya, I had applied for forms from the University of Southern California (USC) and University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). I got the forms though, but I was not able to submit any application because my Higher School Certificate (HSC) results were not good enough. Besides, even if I was given a place, there was no way for me to take the offer as it was very expensive to pay for the expenses.
Anyway, I was not eager to pursue my education in film then, because I knew I could still wait and do my diploma with the hope that I could somehow get a place to study my master’s degree anywhere in America afterwards, so I need not have to spend many years there, and only two years to complete the program.
At the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in ManhattanI was also encouraged to study at ITM by an Australian who was teaching at the School of Business Studies called, Graham Card. He later reverted to Islam and was called Abdul Karim Khalid Abdullah Card, when I was in the third semester. Karim, as we called him, also taught us a course at the School of Mass Communication where I was majoring in advertising, came to the class one morning to announce this. No one asked why he had done so. He had lived in Malaysia for many years when he was working at Nestle before teaching at ITM and he mixed with everybody and also had a foster family in Alor Gajah. Karim and the head of the school, Marina Samad, were amongst those who gave me the encouragement to pursue my career for which I am eternally grateful.
When the final semester came early 1977, some friends and I at the school had started to apply for admission to study for our master’s degree in America. None of us shared our experiences and anxieties or wanted to make our intentions known by the others, except me. Everybody in my batch knew I had always wanted to study in America.
I got application forms from all the universities I had applied them. I dutifully filled all of them and sent them off from the post office in Shahalam. My sister, Asmah who was living with her husband, Mohammed Omar in Canberra, Australia where he was working on his doctorate at the Australian National University (ANU) and the they had just had their identical twin sons called Adam and Nizar, whom I had met last year in June/July, 1976 when I went to Sydney with my younger brother, Abdullah, during the semester break, often gave me some pocket money to spend on campus. But that year she gave me more so I could use it to pay for the application fees.
Most of the universities charged US$10 except for Columbia which charged twice as much. But the application procedures Columbia had was different. They only sent me what they called, the ‘pre-application’ forms. And I had to fill them in and send them out to them. I was told, only if they find that I am qualified to apply, then they would send the application forms. I was anxious because this was the only time I had to deal with this sort of procedure. I didn’t know much about Columbia other than it was in New York City.
I got a quick reply from Columbia which sent the application forms which looked similar to the ‘pre-application’ forms, except that this time I had to pay an application fee of US$20, which was M$50 at that time. (The Malaysian dollar has since then been called the Malaysian Ringgit or RM).
With some Malaysians in BostonAnd not long later, I got a shock for my life when I got a letter from Columbia which was addressed to my elder sister Azizah’s house in Taman Greenwood that my application had been accepted. I remember how I had to try and control my knees so that they did not collapse. What was more scary was that the letter which had the correct address, was given by the mailman to the next door neighbor, who did not know my name, but was kind enough to hand it to my sister, who then gave to me when I came over from Shahalam one day, out of a hunch to expect something interesting to happen.
I immediately made it known to the other members of my family and friends.
At the same time, I was still dealing with the few universities to whom I had sent applications to. All of them did not seem eager to offer me a place except for the Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Houston, Texas, which had taken me on a very long ride. Someone at SMU called James McGrath wrote again and again and even asked me to take a medical test. Even after furnishing them all the information they needed including the medical test results, which I got at the Kuala Lumpur Hospital, they finally turned me down. I was not worried with that because I already had a place at Columbia. On the contrary I was happy.
The only sad part that made me feel anguished was when Mara rejected my application for a scholarship or study loan to study. And I had to work for Utusan Melayu as a reporter for a year before I was given a loan following an appeal.
So when I finally got to Columbia, and living in the dorm called Harmony Hall, I decided to be funny and write to the same dean at SMU, and innocently asked him to send me the application forms. I did not say anything else. I only wanted him to know that despite being rejected by SMU, I could still study at Columbia. As expected he did not reply.
On the rooftop of the One Tower, 1981Something ugly happened in my second semester at the Film Division, School of the Arts of Columbia. I thought I was doing okay with school and was able to mix well with the other students who mostly thought I was Japanese. But when my hair got to be very long, many of the members of the public thought was a Native American. None ever thought I was Malay from Malaysia or a practicing Muslim. When some of my classmates wondered about my religion, and I said Islam, they were pleasant surprised, because they had not met Muslims looking like me before, someone who looked like a Japanese or Native American with very long hair, and from Malaysia, yet a Muslim. Few of the students at Columbia thought I was Buddhist because to them I was Japanese, so chances are I could be as such.
I was diagnosed as having a giant cell tumor of the upper left tibia in the second semester. Dr George Unis of the Columbia Health Service called me to say this, and said I had to be admitted at the St. Luke’s Hospital nearby for the biopsy. I was admitted for one month at this hospital where he conducted the surgery that left me on two crutches for the first time.
And I had to wait for another month before I could be admitted to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, also in Manhattan for the surgery conducted by Dr Ralph C Marcove, who scrapped the tumor and inserted plastic cement in the bone.
I decided to move to Boston to live with some Malay friends, and shared the apartment with Mus in Peterborough Street, which is near the Fenway Stadium of the Red Sox baseball team. After six months living there, I decided to return to Malaysia for a break, before I returned to New York City again to resume my studies, after taking a one-year medical break.
I lived in Astoria, Queens with some Indonesian friends and was happy to be able to commute from there to the campus and completed my studies except for my thesis film which I had to do and submit in order to graduate. I was negligent in this and did not inform the faculty about my plans and returned to Malaysia, i.e. six months after my third surgery at Memorial Sloan-Kettering. This time Dr Marcove removed the plastic cement and wanted to conduct a bone-grafting surgery so that in one and a half year’s time when my left knee became stronger, I could start to walk on my feet again. But he discovered that my left knee had developed an infection that caused the tendons to melt so in the last few weeks prior to the surgery I had in July, 1981, my left tibia was hanging from the femur and no wonder it was very painful when I tried to apply pressure on my leg when I wanted to walk on it.
I was later informed by Dr Marcove after the surgery that he had to abort the original plan for the bone-grafting surgery and inserted a Cuepar knew prosthesis in my leg instead. And I had to be on two crutches for a total of fifteen years, before I gained confidence to walk on my own again, with the prosthesis in the left leg.
But this did not stop me from traveling to thirty-three countries, attending film seminars and conferences and festivals where my first feature film was invited. I also took the opportunity to find interesting stories to write for my novels and other books.
I thought I had come a long way from studying at the St. Francis’ Institution in Melaka from Standard One to Form Five; at MTC for my Form Six where I lived in Kampung Tunku, Petaling Jaya, until I got to ITM in Shahalam. And with all my sixty books I have managed to produce, to share with the public, I feel some of my ambitions had been realized, although I would have liked it if that could have happened more than ten years earlier.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

MAKE BETTER FILMS, NOT BOMBS!


(WE NEED TO CREATE THE NEW MUSLIM CINEMA – TO PROMOTE BETTER UNDERSTANDING BETWEEN THE ENTIRE MUSLIM WORLD AND THE WEST, AND WORLD PEACE.)

By Mansor Puteh

 

 

Muslims only know how to react. We are reactionaries. And reactionaries are normally those who have idle minds and limited intellect, they only know how to follow blindly without thinking.

We don’t lead. We have nothing that we can be proud of; there is no real leadership system in the Muslim World.

We only live to support the development of the West. We support their F-1 races; we copy their beauty contests, entertainment reality shows and so on. And we feel guilty if we do not behave like them. 

We only know how to get angry for nothing without knowing why we are angry. It is energy that is wrongly channeled.

We lack the spirit of enterprise, discovery and adventure. We stick to ourselves and are not brave to face the world.

Yes, we are angry over petty issues and things. We do so because we are weak, not because they are strong, but because we are weaker.

1429 years of Islam and Muslimhood has not taught us much, for we read the Koran wrongly and interpret the Prophet’s ‘Sunnah’ to suit our fancies without understanding their essence.

We have betrayed our religion and what it stands for. We allowed the others to trample on us and belittle us on all fronts.

But how could the 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide in 57 countries and all the others can be said to be weak and almost irrelevant to the development of the modern world?

We chose to be weak. We chose not to have our own film, artistic, intellectual, academic, science and technology and media centers as well as the other centers.

The Muslim World therefore does not exist. It only exists in our mind; it is just a figment of our imagination when all else is difficult to contemplate, and it is only when the OIC leaders meet every two years to come up with useless resolutions and official communiqu├ęs.

The Muslim World is no doubt a parasite of the West, which had benefited from us for too long, from our natural resources, our expertise and especially, especially our tardiness and disunity.

How long must we allow ourselves be in such a despicable situation? Is it very difficult to break the vicious circle of despair, destitute and paralysis?

No, it is not. There is a way. The way is cheap – dirt cheap – in fact. It is to introduce the Muslim Cinema and develop the Melaka Film City.

This is a gist of the paper I presented in the First International Muslim Filmmakers’ Conference held in Tehran, Iran in February, 1994.

If the Muslim leaders want to do something useful for once, this is what it is. No point in promoting the F-1 races, inviting Celine Dion to cheer us, for it is a temporary diversion. During the races and the concerts, how many Muslims will die of starvation? Do they care?

Let’s have an open forum to discuss this issue.

 

* * * * * * *

 

Perhaps the creation of the New Muslim Cinema is what we need. It can finally be able to check the problems of the world, especially between the Muslim World and the West, and promote a more equitable and peaceful world. It may be the only means that we have at our disposal that had not been fully utilized before.

A shocker for a start? Not really.

Just consider this: Diplomacy has its limits. The politicians have proven that. Political wrangling has proven to be an effort in futility as it often muddles the problems and they get even worse the more they wrangle as issues that were previously unattached are now so.

Hundreds of millions of innocent people all over the world suffer quietly. We don’t even know where and who they are. They have become numbers. Even those who had suffered more than half a century ago are still suffering. They pass this legacy of suffering to their off-springs like it had become part of their DNA strain.

Meanwhile political leaders change and new ones appear, often with a lot of fanfare, like they had just descended from the mountains in triumph. The old ones move on to do other things before they kick the bucket, while their successors repeat their errors and statements like they are new to everyone.  

We have seen enough of political ‘shadow play’ or wayang kulit performances in the United Nations already and have gone used to them by now. They are now reruns – nothing special at all. They are just a change of cast with the same dialogue and gestures and venom.  

Meanwhile, we suffer – I mean the whole world suffers. Sadly many in America also suffer. Although they may not be physically affected by what the others suffer, but they suffer quietly and psychologically.  

So, it’s time we did something unusual and unorthodox and even if it may be too far-fetched to comprehend. The cinema may be our ultimate salvation for a world that had been so badly fractured, abused and sadly neglected. And there is light – even one that flickers at twenty-four frames per second!    

It may be a simplistic and a seemingly far-fetched idea, but one that deserves to be tried since all other attempts had failed miserably. What else can we count on now that we had not held our hopes before?

We certainly do not need to have more forums, seminars and conferences and all sorts of peace initiatives. These are all efforts that had been tried.

In fact, the problems of the Muslims and consequently the world, have become worst and this has affected their relationship with the rest of the world, particularly the West. 

But aren’t all the problems faced not only by Muslims and the others are simplistic, if one cares to look at the whole equation in the widest possible perspective and all angles, and not just listen to officials from both sides give their own accounts of them?

Some say it’s all about O-I-L. Others say its hegemony. But isn’t the world huge enough to entertain their lofty and useless ambitions? Otherwise, the outer space is there for them to partake whatever they want for their continued sustenance! 

If you do not have oil to cook food, you normally get it at the supermarket. Or you can smile and put out your hand and get your neighbor to offer some to you. But you just don’t break into your neighbor’s house and grab his stock of oil leaving him without anything to cook food for his family.

And now you are forcing him to rearrange his furniture and tell him his ways are wrong and yours are right and you want to help him improve his lot and that of his family. But he was doing okay before you wanted his oil! He may not have as much wealth as you have, but he was doing okay. And it was enough for him to get by.

May be the filmmakers and the cinema can finally neutralize everything and reverse it. Or, at least try to halt the further escalation of the problems before it continues to spread in more countries and areas in the world and turning it to pieces, and make the political leaders realize their folly.   

We have also seen how the same international political leaders from both sides of the divide have squabbled and often they returned to their respective countries not being able to do anything.

Meanwhile, those who suffer are the ordinary folks who are mostly Muslims. They might not even know if a war had caused them to suffer – or if it was really the end of the world? The two seem to be alike to many of them especially for those who live in remote areas and who do not have proper communication and do not watch television and who listen only to their tribal leaders, sages and warlords.

The Muslim World which is defined as all the 57 countries which are members of the Organization of Islamic Organization (OIC) is vast. Unfortunately it is devoid of life. And the so-called Muslim World may not even exist as an entity.

Nothing interesting is happening in it. Muslims living in it find it a drab. We do not have many things including a cinema that we can call our own. We also do not have much of a media organization to serve our special needs, without having to depend on those that had been existence all this while. Muslims generally lead a parasitic existence.

There is also a problem of image-deficit faced by Muslims and Islam. 

And the kinds of news we ‘make’ as reported by ‘them’ seem to be the kinds that made us look and seem helpless and the Muslims are constantly standing looking lost in front of somebody else’s guns or tanks.

Stories of the death of scores of Muslims do not make Muslims in other parts of our world feel agitated anymore. They are just news. Even the television stations and newspapers in most Muslim countries now prefer to give more space to films and modern Western culture than the deaths of Muslims.

As someone who is trained in film, I believe by creating a New Muslim Cinema will finally have a miraculous effect on the Entire Muslim World. And it is not going to be just a film industry which caters to the puerile tastes of the viewers, but one that has a mission. It comes with a more profound purpose – to stabilize our senses to make them more attractive to the idea of promoting peace than to be agitated by the intense desire to be engaged in a war.

It will also be the industry that is able to create creative, artistic and intellectual leaders amongst the Muslims and other non-Muslims, especially those who are also involved in its development and expansion – so they can become better recognized and influential for their intellect, creativity and ingenuity, in the country and in the Entire Muslim World.

If this does not happen, chances are some will find it expedient to turn the knowledge that they had acquired while studying at prestigious universities in America and the West for other nefarious and counterproductive purposes.  

The center for the New Muslim Cinema can be in Malaysia – a non-Arab, Asian Muslim country which can help to shift all the paradigms and stand in between the Middle East and the West. There are many other better reasons that can support such an establishment.

We can have this multi-billion-dollar film industry that can become the core industry in Entire Muslim World around which the other industries, such as banking, airline, automobile, travel, education and publication, and so on, can further develop.

Those who are the major players in these secondary industries have been drawing too much attention for themselves for too long without serving the more profound cause of promoting greater understanding amongst Muslims and between Muslims, other than to want to make more money and expand his company. So it’s time they are shown where their places are in the real context of the development of the Entire Muslim World.

It can further enhance of Islam and Muslims in the West so they are able to relate with us better – since we now do exist.

Hong Kong with a population of a mere six million produces 120 feature films each year for the World Chinese market. So surely, we as a world of 1.5 billion people can come up with hundreds and possibly a thousand interesting feature films to share amongst ourselves and with the others.  

It’s too bad that the Islamic Development Bank – IDB 1440 H Mission that was recently launched with a lot of fanfare in Kuala Lumpur is both weak and badly flawed. 

It has failed to include the need to create the New Muslim Cinema – a term I am introducing – as one of its main goals to achieve. No filmmaker had been consulted and asked to offer suggestions to include in it. They always think only politicians and economists can come up with all the brilliant ideas that serve the needs of the Muslim World.

But haven’t they all tried that before and failed? Haven’t they studied carefully all the 170 resolutions that were passed in all the sixteen OIC Conferences over the last few decades that didn’t mean anything to the Muslim World and Muslims? 

What is the Entire Muslim World? It includes Muslims who live in non-Muslim countries.

I hope the fifty-seven leaders of the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) won’t feel inferior if they get to read this as none of the 170 resolutions that the OIC has been implemented. The reason is these resolutions cannot be implemented and they know that. As such many feel the OIC resolutions are better off if they are written on used toilet paper!

Perhaps all of the OIC leaders should know that the Entire Muslim World is an incomplete entity because we do not have a cinema to call our own. We not only do not have film and television center, but also do not have a media, banking and other important centers that when connected will ultimately create a semblance of our own world.

And because of this there is no focus and the social, cultural, artistic and economic development of the Entire Muslim World cannot be gauged and for the West to relate to. We only have some activities in all fields. And they are at different levels of development, neglect or disrepair.

And for as long as we do not have these centers at different parts of the Muslim World, there is no chance for the Entire Muslim World to be developed and its people be so recognized and accepted as part of the world. We will be fractured by our differences because the differences amongst us are not taken full advantage of. In fact, we have not even attempted to take advantage of our commonalities! Worse, we will find the militants hiding in some of the fissures.

The number of these so-called Muslim militants will increase in number if the fissures become larger until they are able to create cracks that will drive the World Muslim Ummah against each other, if there is no attempt to close these fissures. I’m afraid this is what is slowly happening now.

* * * * * * *

I am afraid the many Harvard-trained economists that we have, have failed to realize that we can create a new and exciting film industry that acts and further enhances the nation’s economic, social, cultural and political development while helping to bridge the wide social, cultural, political and religious divide that exists in the country as well as between the Entire Muslim World and the West.

And it can also be a major contributing factor to the growth of the economy of the Muslim World and beyond. It can be a major source of employment that can absorb many of the unemployed graduates that we have today since to have an important film industry we need highly qualified people and not those who are not well trained or who are school dropouts.

Our historians too have failed to highlight this matter. Don’t they know that the film industry has been in existence for more than 112 years, yet they do not know how civilizations and cultures, especially Western culture was developed and expanded – by the existence of their cinema? What is America without Hollywood? America will be much like Lesotho. 

It’s too bad that even our philosophers and thinkers, too – if we have them – and our political leaders, have failed to highlight the fact. That we need to have a vibrant cinema that produces hundreds of meaningful feature films on the beauty of our religion, countries and peoples, and thousands of films of many types, including documentaries, etc, so that we can share them amongst ourselves in the Entire Muslim World. In the end we can become self-sufficient and be able to promote greater goodwill and understanding amongst ourselves and with the rest of the world.

Once we have a vibrant and productive film industry that serves the need of the Entire Muslim World, we can also recapture our television from having been taken away by the outsiders who provide us with cheap programs. These programs are brought in proudly that our stations that cannot produce sufficient shows and these programs often promoting alien values that many of our young are accepting without questioning.

And the press in Muslim countries, too, has failed to highlight this fact.

The cinema may be our only salvation to create the bridge that lasts between the Muslim World and the West for long-term benefits for all – even if the light that it creates is one that flickers at twenty-four frames per second! 

* * * * * *