Saturday, January 16, 2010

Holocaust We Will Not See

Avatar half-tells a story we would all prefer to forget

By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 11th January 2010

Avatar, James Cameron’s blockbusting 3-D film, is both profoundly silly and profound. It’s profound because, like most films about aliens, it is a metaphor for contact between different human cultures. But in this case the metaphor is conscious and precise: this is the story of European engagement with the native peoples of the Americas. It’s profoundly silly because engineering a happy ending demands a plot so stupid and predictable that it rips the heart out of the film. The fate of the native Americans is much closer to the story told in another new film, The Road, in which a remnant population flees in terror as it is hunted to extinction.

But this is a story no one wants to hear, because of the challenge it presents to the way we choose to see ourselves. Europe was massively enriched by the genocides in the Americas; the American nations were founded on them. This is a history we cannot accept.

In his book American Holocaust, the US scholar David Stannard documents the greatest acts of genocide the world has ever experienced(1). In 1492, some 100m native peoples lived in the Americas. By the end of the 19th Century almost all of them had been exterminated. Many died as a result of disease. But the mass extinction was also engineered.

When the Spanish arrived in the Americas, they described a world which could scarcely have been more different from their own. Europe was ravaged by war, oppression, slavery, fanaticism, disease and starvation. The populations they encountered were healthy, well-nourished and mostly (with exceptions like the Aztecs and Incas) peacable, democratic and egalitarian. Throughout the Americas the earliest explorers, including Columbus, remarked on the natives’ extraordinary hospitality. The conquistadores marvelled at the amazing roads, canals, buildings and art they found, which in some cases outstripped anything they had seen at home. None of this stopped them from destroying everything and everyone they encountered.

The butchery began with Columbus. He slaughtered the native people of Hispaniola (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic) by unimaginably brutal means. His soldiers tore babies from their mothers and dashed their heads against rocks. They fed their dogs on living children. On one occasion they hung 13 Indians in honour of Christ and the 12 disciples, on a gibbet just low enough for their toes to touch the ground, then disembowelled them and burnt them alive. Columbus ordered all the native people to deliver a certain amount of gold every three months; anyone who failed had his hands cut off. By 1535 the native population of Hispaniola had fallen from 8m to zero: partly as a result of disease, partly as a result of murder, overwork and starvation.

The conquistadores spread this civilising mission across central and south America. When they failed to reveal where their mythical treasures were hidden, the indigenous people were flogged, hanged, drowned, dismembered, ripped apart by dogs, buried alive or burnt. The soldiers cut off women’s breasts, sent people back to their villages with their severed hands and noses hung round their necks and hunted Indians with their dogs for sport. But most were killed by enslavement and disease. The Spanish discovered that it was cheaper to work Indians to death and replace them than to keep them alive: the life expectancy in their mines and plantations was three to four months. Within a century of their arrival, around 95% of the population of South and Central America had been destroyed.

In California during the 18th Century the Spanish systematised this extermination. A Franciscan missionary called Junipero Serra set up a series of “missions”: in reality concentration camps using slave labour. The native people were herded in under force of arms and made to work in the fields on one fifth of the calories fed to African-American slaves in the 19th century. They died from overwork, starvation and disease at astonishing rates, and were continually replaced, wiping out the indigenous populations. Junipero Serra, the Eichmann of California, was beatified by the Vatican in 1988. He now requires one more miracle to be pronounced a saint(2).

While the Spanish were mostly driven by the lust for gold, the British who colonised North America wanted land. In New England they surrounded the villages of the native Americans and murdered them as they slept. As genocide spread westwards, it was endorsed at the highest levels. George Washington ordered the total destruction of the homes and land of the Iroquois. Thomas Jefferson declared that his nation’s wars with the Indians should be pursued until each tribe “is exterminated or is driven beyond the Mississippi”. During the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864, troops in Colorado slaughtered unarmed people gathered under a flag of peace, killing children and babies, mutilating all the corpses and keeping their victims’ genitals to use as tobacco pouches or to wear on their hats. Theodore Roosevelt called this event “as rightful and beneficial a deed as ever took place on the frontier.”

The butchery hasn’t yet ended: last month the Guardian reported that Brazilian ranchers in the western Amazon, having slaughtered all the rest, tried to kill the last surviving member of a forest tribe(3). Yet the greatest acts of genocide in history scarcely ruffle our collective conscience. Perhaps this is what would have happened had the Nazis won the second world war: the Holocaust would have been denied, excused or minimised in the same way, even as it continued. The people of the nations responsible – Spain, Britain, the US and others – will tolerate no comparisons, but the final solutions pursued in the Americas were far more successful. Those who commissioned or endorsed them remain national or religious heroes. Those who seek to prompt our memories are ignored or condemned.

This is why the right hates Avatar. In the neocon Weekly Standard, John Podhoretz complains that the film resembles a “revisionist western” in which “the Indians became the good guys and the Americans the bad guys.”(4) He says it asks the audience “to root for the defeat of American soldiers at the hands of an insurgency.” Insurgency is an interesting word for an attempt to resist invasion: insurgent, like savage, is what you call someone who has something you want. L’Osservatore Romano, the official newspaper of the Vatican, condemned the film as “just … an anti-imperialistic, anti-militaristic parable”(5).

But at least the right knows what it is attacking. In the New York Times the liberal critic Adam Cohen praises Avatar for championing the need to see clearly(6). It reveals, he says, “a well-known principle of totalitarianism and genocide - that it is easiest to oppress those we cannot see”. But in a marvellous unconscious irony, he bypasses the crashingly obvious metaphor and talks instead about the light it casts on Nazi and Soviet atrocities. We have all become skilled in the art of not seeing.

I agree with its rightwing critics that Avatar is crass, mawkish and cliched. But it speaks of a truth more important - and more dangerous - than those contained in a thousand arthouse movies.


1. David E Stannard, 1992. American Holocaust. Oxford University Press. Unless stated otherwise, all the historical events mentioned in this column are sourced to the same book.






Wednesday, January 06, 2010


Keputusan Muzakarah Jawatankuasa Fatwa Majlis Kebangsaan Bagi Hal Ehwal Ugama Islam Malaysia Mengenai Isu Tuntutan Penganut Kristian Terhadap Penggunaan Kalimah Allah

Bil. Muzakarah : Kali Ke-82

Tarikh : 5 Hingga 7 Mei 2008

Tempat : Holiday Villa Hotel & Suites, Alor Star, Kedah

1) Ulasan/Hujah

  1. Perkataan Allah yang digunakan oleh umat Islam adalah merujuk kepada Allah Yang Maha Esa dan lafaz Allah yang telah digunakan oleh orang-orang Kristian adalah merujuk kepada ‘Tuhan Bapa’ iaitu salah satu oknum daripada akidah triniti. Ia berbeza sama sekali dengan apa yang dimaksudkan oleh Reverend Datuk Murphy Pakiam, Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur bahawa perkataan Allah telah lama digunakan oleh orang-orang Kristian sejak sebelum kedatangan Rasulullah s.a.w. Selain daripada itu, lafaz Allah juga tidak pernah disebut di dalam teks bahasa Greek yang merupakan bahasa asal penulisan Bible. Ini adalah kerana perkataan Tuhan di dalam bahasa Greek adalah ‘Theos’ bukannya Allah.
  2. Perkataan Allah juga tidak pernah terdapat di dalam bahasa asal Perjanjian Lama yang dikenali sebagai Taurat dan Perjanjian Baru yang dikenali sebagai Bible. Ini adalah kerana Perjanjian Lama ditulis dalam bahasa Hebrew manakala Perjanjian Baru ditulis dalam bahasa Greek. Perkataan Hebrew yang membawa maksud Tuhan ialah El, Eloh, Elohim dan juga Yhwh.
  3. Kalimah Allah Lafz al-Jalalah adalah khusus dan mutlak untuk agama Islam dan mafhumnya berbeza dengan mafhum Allah yang digunakan oleh agama lain seperti Kristian.
  4. Perintah mahkamah yang dipohon oleh Catholic Herald Weekly untuk mengisytiharkan bahawa larangan penggunaan kalimah Allah yang telah dikeluarkan oleh Kementerian Dalam Negeri adalah bercanggah dengan Perlembagaan Persekutuan dan bukan eksklusif kepada agama Islam boleh memberi kesan yang besar kepada kedudukan agama Islam sekiranya orang Islam sendiri tidak peka dan perhatian yang sewajarnya tidak diberikan oleh pihak berkuasa agama di negara ini.
  5. Walaupun dari segi sejarah kalimah Allah telah digunakan sejak sebelum kedatangan Islam lagi, namun penggunaannya adalah berbeza dan perlu dilihat dari segi substancenya. Kalimah Allah yang digunakan oleh Kristian adalah bersifat Taslis dan syirik, sedangkan bagi Islam ia bersifat tauhid.
  6. Kalimah Allah merupakan lafaz suci yang perlu dijaga dan berkait dengan akidah. Umat Islam perlu peka dan bertanggungjawab dalam isu ini. Sikap membenarkan sesiapa sahaja menggunakan kalimah tersebut semata-mata untuk menunjukkan bahawa Islam meraikan agama lain hanya akan mendatangkan mudharat yang lebih besar kepada agama dan umat Islam.
  7. Umat Islam perlu tegas dalam menjaga kesucian dan identiti agama kerana bersikap terlalu terbuka sehingga membenarkan perkara-perkara yang menjadi hak Islam disalahgunakan oleh agama lain adalah amat merbahaya kerana matlamat utama Kristian menggunakan kalimah Allah adalah untuk mengelirukan umat Islam dan menyatakan bahawa semua agama adalah sama.
  8. Kalimah Allah sebenarnya tidak ada di dalam Bible, yang digunakan ialah perkataan God. Tetapi di dalam Bible yang diterjemahkan ke bahasa Melayu, perkataan God diterjemahkan sebagai Allah.
  9. Isu penggunaan kalimah Allah oleh agama bukan Islam ini melibatkan isu berkaitan Siasah Syar’iyyah dan Kerajaan wajib menjaga kesucian agama dan umat Islam. Fatwa perlu dikeluarkan oleh Jawatankuasa Fatwa Negeri supaya kesucian agama dan akidah umat Islam dapat dipertahankan.
  10. Pertimbangan Jawatankuasa dalam melarang penggunaan kalimah Allah oleh agama bukan Islam bukan hanya dilihat dari aspek keselamatan, tetapi faktor utama adalah berasaskan kepada akidah dan kesucian agama Islam.
  11. Dalam keadaan di mana agama dan umat Islam dihimpit dengan pelbagai gerakan yang cuba menghakis kedaulatan Islam sebagai agama rasmi negara, umat Islam perlu bersatu dan menunjukkan ketegasan dalam menjaga maruah agama.
  12. Larangan terhadap penggunaan kalimah Allah ini telah diputuskan oleh Jemaah Menteri pada 16 Mei 1986 yang memutuskan empat (4) perkataan khusus iaitu Allah, Solat, Kaabah dan Baitullah tidak dibenarkan penggunaannya oleh bukan Islam. Pada masa ini terdapat 10 buah negeri telah memperuntukan larangan penggunaan kalimah Allah dalam Jadual kepada Enakmen Kawalan Dan Sekatan Pengembangan Agama Bukan Islam Kepada Orang Islam kecuali Sabah, Sarawak, Pulau Pinang dan Wilayah Persekutuan yang masih dalam proses menggubal Enakmen ini.

2) Keputusan

  1. Setelah meneliti keterangan, hujah-hujah dan pandangan yang dikemukakan, Muzakarah bersetuju memutuskan bahawa Lafaz Allah merupakan kalimah suci yang khusus bagi agama dan umat Islam dan ia tidak boleh digunakan atau disamakan dengan agama-agama bukan Islam yang lain.
  2. Oleh itu, wajib bagi umat Islam menjaganya dengan cara yang terbaik dan sekiranya terdapat unsur-unsur penghinaan atau penyalahgunaan terhadap kalimah tersebut, maka ia perlu disekat mengikut peruntukan undang-undang yang telah termaktub dalam Perlembagaan Persekutuan.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Fantastic New Year 'Gift' For Muslims

The Star

KUALA LUMPUR: The Catholic weekly Herald is now free to use the word “Allah” in its publication after the High Court quashed the Home Minister’s prohibition against it using the word, declaring the order as “illegal, null and void.”

In her decision, Justice Lau Bee Lan also declared that under Article 3(1) of the Federal Constitution, applicant Titular Roman Catholic Archbishop Tan Sri Murphy Pakiam had the constitutional right to use “Allah” in the Herald in the exercise of his right that religions other than Islam might be practised in peace and harmony in the country.

She further ruled that the Constitution, which states Islam as the country’s religion, did not empower the minister to make such a prohibition.

“In pursuant to Article 10, the applicant also has the right to use the word ‘Allah’ in the Herald in the exercise of his right to freedom of speech and expression,” she said in her oral judgment yesterday to a packed courtroom.

Justice Lau ruled as grounds for her judgement that both the respondents – the minister and the Malaysian government – had failed throughout the trial to prove how the use of the word “Allah” could threaten national security.

On Jan 7 last year, the Home Ministry had approved the Herald’s publication permit on condition that the usage of the word “Allah” was prohibited and the word “Limited” (Terhad) be endorsed on its front page to mean that it must be circulated only among Christians.

The minister had prohibited the usage on grounds of national security and to avoid misunderstanding and confusion among Muslims.

The Archbishop, as Herald’s publisher, had filed an application on Feb 16 for a judicial review to seek a declaration that the minister’s decision for the prohibition was illegal and that the word “Allah” was not exclusive to Islam.

Representing the Archbishop were counsels Porres P. Royan and S. Selvarajah while senior federal counsel Datuk Kamaludin Md Said stood for the respondents.

Following the ruling, Kamaludin sought a clarification for the decla­ration to be only confined for the permit in question, which was for the period from Jan 1 to Dec 31 last year, and not future permits.

“It does not relate to an order or decision relating to future permits,” he said, adding that future permits would require a fresh application.

However, Royan argued that the permit for the period between Jan 1 and Dec 31 this year had already been issued, subjected to the same condition pending the court’s determination on the matter.

“The order speaks for itself. I believe the minister will be bound by the words he has used and that he will respect the court’s decision.

“Of course, they have other remedies. The court has granted declarations to allow the use of the word “Allah” that must bind the parties,” he said.

Kamaludin then said he would seek direction from the minister on whether they would file a stay of execution application or an appeal.

In an immediate reaction, Herald’s editor Father Andrew Lawrence told the press that this was a “long-awaited” decision, hailing it as a “landmark case for our nation”.

Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said they would appeal the decision.