Erenlai - 按日期過濾項目: 週一, 31 十二月 2007
週一, 31 十二月 2007 23:23

美國的暴力文化何時了?

美國標榜的民主令人也對民主的概念產生了疑問,因為在民主自由風氣的背後是一片黑暗的色情和暴力文化。

姜川 撰文 何麗霞 編輯

網絡暴力、家庭因素、心理問題、槍支文化、社會根源等各種因素導致了二○○七年在美國土地上一系列的槍擊案,而犯罪主角的低齡化更使我們不得不沉思:我們的孩子怎麽了?十九歲的羅伯特霍金斯製造的二○○七年美國最嚴重的商場槍擊案,弗吉利亞理工大學槍擊案的兇手趙成煕都是八十年代出生的青年。
毋庸置疑的是,八十年代出生的青年擁有許多社會資源和成長的優越環境,尤其在美國這樣一個經濟發達,充滿人文素質的國度,青年們的社會服務意識不斷增加,易於展示自己,充滿自信,具有主人翁意識,獨立生存能力強等,但是信仰缺失,精神沙漠化,鬱悶等也成爲他們成長的障礙。
這些新生代享受資訊帶來的便利,他們在電腦、網絡、手機、MP3等環境成長,但是在網絡背後卻是他們「騷動」的心態和浮躁的人生態度,並且養成了他們自我中心的孤傲,慢慢地缺乏同情的心理,無法與他人建立良好的關係,更注重於物質的追求和享受,而忽略了精神層面的需求。
此外,從美國社會文化來看,眾所周知,美國是公民擁有槍支最多的國家。在二○○七年四月弗吉利亞州理工大學發生趙成煕槍殺事件後,美國槍支協會作了一個調查,平均每十個美國人就擁有九支槍,槍支總量和人均比例都排名世界第一。最近十多年來美國數以萬計的暴力犯罪大部分都與槍支有關,雖然許多民間人士,尤其是許多母親,要求國會取締擁有槍支的合法性,並且制定嚴格的槍支管理方式。事實上,正是槍支的泛濫才造成暴力的苗頭,並且為青少年的暴力行爲提供了便利的工具。如同其他國家一樣,美國崇尚民主自由,弔詭的是,美國標榜的民主令人也對民主的概念產生了疑問,因為在民主和自由風氣的背後是一片黑暗的色情和暴力文化。
美國的大衆傳媒也在這個所謂民主的過程中扮演了非常消極的角色。在今天的美國社會,打開報紙,觀看電視、電影、電子遊戲或者網絡訊息,處處充斥著暴力與色情,在耳聞目睹間使年青人形成一種扭曲的價值體系。再加上美國的家庭暴力,日益增加的離婚率,毒品的泛濫,一一把青少年推向暴力的邊緣,而對於容易獲得槍支的他們,暴力的結果就會更加嚴重。
爲此,除了在槍支管制方面有待加強外,學校、家庭、父母、團體和社區都應當深入地關注青少年在成長過程的綜合發展。當這些青少年在一個良好的,充滿愛的,良好的價值體系成長過來,則會減少社會暴力的發生。另外一方面而言,現代資本主義社會強調的功利主義,俗化思潮讓人心的道德倫理漸漸淪落,而導致人心靈的扭曲和精神的變異。當一個社會缺乏良好的道德體系和情感─—最基本的人文基礎,僅有外在的法律條文是不夠的,它還要求內在的心靈皈依以及對生命的尊重。
如果美國的社會文化不能徹底剷除暴力的滋生,悲劇還會重覆上演,而且越演越烈,這不僅僅是美國人,而且也是整個世界和社會需要深刻反思的問題。在新的一年裡,讓我們一起努力建立充滿愛與和諧的世界和社會。

附加的多媒體:
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週一, 31 十二月 2007 23:20

被遺忘的高棉寶藏

儘管歷經無數變遷,這裡的佛塔從未成為空無一人的廢虛,古往今來生生不息,虔敬的佛教徒盛裝走在禮佛之途…

莫寧 文‧圖 葉姿吟 翻譯 何麗霞 編輯

久被遺忘的傳統瑰寶

強大的高棉帝國在最輝煌的時期國土曾跨越今日的柬埔寨、泰國、寮國跟越南。它在南亞地區留下了很多文化上跟建築上的傳奇。像今日的泰國就利用了這樣的遺產吸引了許多觀光客,可是相反的,在越南南部的歷史遺蹟卻是被遺忘的。

位在南越的古高棉建築大半都未受損,而當地高棉人在寺院中所信奉的高棉佛教跟越南人的佛教並不相同。目前,這個地區正逐漸成為新的觀光勝地。
位在湄公河三角洲的Long An、Tien Giang、Ving Long、Tra Vinh、Bac Lieu跟Soc Trang是最熱門的景點。風景如畫的小鎮,傳統的農耕方式跟綠油油的田野讓遊客流連忘返,而在這片翠綠色的大地上,遊客的焦點正是那些屋頂上裝點著閃耀金飾的高棉式佛塔。

Soc Trang省,也就是高棉人所熟知的Khleang省(意為倉庫)被稱為高棉傳統文化的所在,它在一九四九年被法國人割讓給越南至今,其樣貌一直都沒有改變過。現今在整個南越地區保留下大約五百座古老的高棉佛塔,而光是在Soc Trang省就有一百座。大多數的佛塔都如其原貌,沒有出現像今天柬埔寨境內那些佛塔現代化的現象。

走進嘆為觀止的佛塔建築

「在這裡有很多絕美的高棉佛塔,而最受觀光客歡迎的是Khleang寺、Serey Dejo Mohatub寺跟Sa Lon寺,以及我們的省博物館。」Soc Trang省的指導官員Thach Long小姐說。

觀光客正在逐步增加中。

她還說:「在過去幾年間,每個月最少有三百到五百個觀光客來此旅遊,他們大半都是歐洲人、美國人、日本人跟其他亞洲人。」

Soc Trang省的Khleang佛塔建於一五三三年。它一直保留著原有的建築風格跟裝飾。「這是所有佛塔中最有意思的,因為它全是木造的。」Thach Long小姐說。「令人嘆為觀止的高棉傳統雕刻跟美不勝收的壁畫都還完好如初。這麼多年了,它從未有過大規模的修復,只有過一些很小的修補。」

五十幾歲的Eang是一位曾在此地住過將近八年的出家人。他說Khleang佛塔曾有好幾世紀是整個湄光河三角洲各地前來專研佛法的高棉和尚們心目中的文化中心。

「這個佛塔所在的寺院是謹遵佛法,嚴守戒律的。」Eang說。

文化朝聖者見證活的紀念碑

而就在離Khleang佛塔不遠處有著另一座佛塔,它名為Serey Dejo Mohatub,很多人就只知道它是個蝙蝠佛塔。這座佛塔興建於一五六九年,其建築的經典之處在於它的裝飾包涵了龍、靈鳥(garuda)、神龜與鳳凰;同時,這座佛塔也是數千隻狐蝠的天堂。附近高聳的果樹,讓此處成為愛吃水果的狐蝠絕佳的居所,雖然看起來牠們並不很喜歡這些寺院樹上的水果。一九九九年,這座佛塔被越南文化新聞部認定為文化及歷史遺址。

一位德國觀光客Egbert Weiss曾花了數小時徘徊在這座蝙蝠佛塔周圍,他對這裡留下了很深刻的印象。「除了在電視上看過之外,我從未親眼見過果狐到底是長成什麼樣子,所以對我而言能如此近距離地看牠們、聽牠們的聲音,真是太有趣的經驗了。」Weiss跟他的旅行團一共在湄公河三角洲逗留了三天,他們不只探訪了佛塔,也看了農莊跟漁民。「這裡的古老木造佛塔真是太不可思議了,即使已過了五百年,它的結構還是那麼堅固。」

Weiss也對佛塔內壁畫的精緻度深表讚嘆。他說:「佛塔牆上的畫都是很驚人的藝術。雖然它們已經很古老,顏色卻還是這麼飽和。」
在距離Soc Trang市中心十二公里遠的地方,還有一個叫Sa Lon的佛塔。這個寺院與眾不同的是它的牆跟柱子都飾滿了盤、碗跟杯子,這些東西都是原來當地人供養給和尚們的。因為寺院做了越來越多的裝飾,所以和尚們就用了這些碗盤來裝點佛塔,最後竟給這座佛塔創造了一個非常獨特的風格。

頌經之聲貫通時間長河

總之,此地的佛塔比空無一人的遺址還要多,虔誠的高棉佛教徒也仍在使用這些地方,所以這些寺院都是活的紀念碑。「Kampong Mean Chey Tuek Pray佛塔位在離Soc Trang二十公里遠的Long Phu區,這裡讓我們看到了高棉佛教徒的日常生活。」
在每一個佛教的節日中,年長的婦女都會穿著白襯衫跟多彩的傳統裙子,然後緩行到寺院去,她們皺皺的雙手中抓著的是裝供品的檳榔箱,其中有香、蠟燭跟花。陪同她們的男士單獨地走著,小心翼翼地不讓碗中的米、湯、甜點跟水果掉出來。
當供品被送到Sala Thoama Saphea(開示佛法的大廳)時,信徒走到Preah Vihara(供奉寺院最大佛像的面東大廳)。在這裡,每個人根據對佛法不同的了解程度各有其位(見十戒)。修行最深的人坐在最前面,在那裡,捲長的香緩緩地燒著,煙霧絲絲迴繞著佛像。和尚們唸頌著巴利文的經文,大廳中的回聲宛如穿入酷熱的黎明。

信徒中一個瘦弱的老爺爺解釋說:「座位的區分是為了尊敬那些修行已久的人。」他又說:「高棉人對信仰是很虔誠的,不像越南人。我們根據祖先的訓示,信奉著佛教。我們光宗耀祖,並維持著我們身為高棉民族的認同感。」

Peam Boun佛塔的住持Preah Dejakun Thach Nong也同意這樣的說法。「幾乎所有高棉民族的人民都篤信小乘佛教。」住持這麼說:「他們很愛他們的信仰,他們在生活風格跟社會活動中保存住自己的文化。」即使是那些沒錢捐給佛塔的信眾也會盡其所能貢獻所有他們能給的東西,如和尚們跟佛塔所需的食物或用品。

永續文化傳承的願景


儘管貧窮,但由四十個高棉家族花了十年的時間所贊助翻修的佛塔才剛完工。「多數的翻修經費跟建材都是當地人捐的,即使他們只是農民跟漁夫。」住持Nong說。「So Trang城裡的人捐來了建材,如水泥跟鐵條。另外還有一些則是外地人捐來的。」

在湄公河三角洲的佛塔都是很容易可以到達的,它們對當地人永遠敞開大門,在一些如新年(Chol Chnam Thmey)、祈月節(Moon Prayer)、潑水節(Bon Om Tuk)跟祭祖日的節日裡,寺院都塞滿了主持儀式的人。

柬埔寨文化宗教部行政部門的主管Chhoam Chhat先生說,在柬埔寨目前一共有三千九百八十個佛塔,當中共住有五萬九千四百七十個修行的和尚。
他又說:「在過去,特別是後吳哥時期,甚至包括法國跟日本的殖民時期,佛塔都在教育界裡扮演著一個重要的角色。當然,宗教的儀式跟其他國家的慶典都是在佛塔舉行。即使到了今天,幾乎在所有的村莊中,傳統的學校也都還是在佛塔中,或是很靠近佛塔的地方。」

高棉民族古老又崇高的文化總算開始得到它應有的注目,但它的未來終究是仰賴在年輕人的身上。
【感謝2007年東南亞記者聯盟的研究贊助】

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十戒
在Kampong Meanchey Teuk Pray參加佛教儀式並不是進去找個位子坐下來那麼簡單──坐在什麼地方是照所守的戒律來決定。而這些戒律,高棉語叫Sil。一個當地的村民說:「坐在最前面的幾排是守十戒,坐中間排的是守八戒,然後坐後面的人只有五戒。」
一個住在金邊的和尚Preah Phikho Sam Sinan說,Sil分成三類。Sil 的前五戒是每一個佛教徒都應遵守的;而第八到第十條是為了更精進的佛教徒。他說,多數人都不是道行高深的修行者,所以這些戒律是針對修行的不同程度而訂,對於修行者在各個階段應遵守的戒律都有其說明。至於所謂的Sil 5就表示要謹守以下的前五戒。

Sil 1 ─ Pana-ti-pata ─ 不殺生。
Sil 2 ─ Attinea-teanea ─不偷、不毀、不貪。
Sil 3 ─ Kame Somachha-jare ─ 不出軌。
Sil 4 ─ Mussa Vieta ─ 誠實不欺。
Sil 5 ─ Sora Meryak ─ 不飲酒、不吸毒。
Sil 6 ─ Vikala Phhouchaneaha ─ 過午不食。
Sil 7 ─ Nachaky Tak Vea ─ 不歌、不舞、不狂歡。
Sil 8 ─ Mealea Kunthak ─ 不虛榮。
Sil 9 ─ Ucha Sayanak ─ 不坐或站在比自己年長或地位高者更高的地方。
Sil 10 ─ Cheat Roub Tarak ─ 不碰任何珠寶或貴重金屬。

雖然很少人遵守這十戒,但和尚Sam說有很多人都努力地達到更高境界的自律,如果所有人都能做到前五戒,這世界會是快樂、和諧,並平和的。
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附加的多媒體:
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週一, 31 十二月 2007 18:44

The lessons of Hansel and Gretel

In a recent editorial I expressed dismay at the violence I noticed when rereading some classic fairy tales. Perhaps I over reacted, because on further reflection I seem to realize that the violence was not there for glorifying violence, but only as an occasion to bring out the heroism of the victims and to illustrate how patience and courage manage to overcome adversity. In the end, goodness prevails over badness.

“Don’t be discouraged by the violence you see in the world,” the story-tellers seem to say, “but see that it is still possible to survive it.” I should have given more credit to one of my opening statements that all the evil and violence that were there did not poison my mind or turn me into a violent person. What I did learn was to keep up my hopes even when things looked hopeless and to calmly use my head to counter danger. In the end the good guys win and the bad guys fail.

So with this in mind, let me retell the Grimm Brothers Jakob and Wilhelm’s story of Hansel and Gretel with some comments of my own.

Hanzel and Gretel’s Horrendous Ordeal

Once upon a time a woodsman, who made a meager livelihood by chopping wood and making charcoal to sell, lived deep in the forest with his wife and two beautiful children, Hanzel a young boy and Gretel his little sister.

Already, even before I know what this story is all about, I have a picture in my mind that turns me off. How can anyone in his right mind choose to live in the middle of nowhere, miles from the nearest neighbor or grocery store? How difficult and uncomfortable it must be to live in a little hut, without electricity, running water, water heater, or an indoor toilet? Does the thatch roof leak or is it infested with insects? Is there glass in the windows or are they open to the elements? What kind or variety of food make up the meager diet? How hard the poor fellow has to work chopping trees; how far he has to trek to sell the charcoal and bring back groceries. How can he get along without newspaper or radio or telephone?

You wouldn’t catch me willingly living in such conditions, but still, on second thought, I guess I ought to be grateful to him, because without him I would have to chop my own wood and manufacture my own charcoal, far too strenuous and time consuming for my taste. Thank God, such labor fits someone else, because it certainly doesn’t fit me. And while I’m thinking of the muscular woodsmen enjoying his exercise, he is probably thinking of me feeling sorry for me because I have no time to enjoy the beauty of nature and the great outdoors, living cooped up in a cramped place having to contend with crowds of strangers, having to spend day and night at tasks that tire the mind, depress the spirit and neglect the pleasures of physical exertion and exercise. Well, at least I hope he is grateful I earn enough money to pay him well for his wood and charcoal!

And those poor children. They have no playmates, there is no school for them to attend and probably few if any toys to play with. They probably have to spend most of the time helping their parents instead of enjoying the freedom and pleasures that city children have. But on second thought, those two kids don’t feel any envy of rich kids or miss reading or video games, because they don’t know they exist. They are learning to do whatever they can with whatever they have. If they have loving considerate parents and grow up healthy and not afraid of hard work and full of love for what they do and consideration for others, than they have more to hand on to their own children than the pampered, educated and entertained city kids have to offer theirs.

But back to our story. Hansel and Gretel’s father loved them very much, but his wife loved only herself, bullied her husband and cruelly mistreated and overworked the children. Just like it happens sometimes around the world today, the countryside surrounding the deep thick forest in which they lived was experiencing a period of famine and poverty, so that few could afford to buy the woodman’s wood or charcoal and there was little food to buy.

The selfish mother was determined to get rid of the children to keep the last remaining supply of food for herself and her husband, so she prevailed upon her husband against his will to take the children deep into the woods and leave them there to die. One can imagine the anguish and guilt he must have felt, but he was so weak-willed and afraid of his wife, that he went along with her plan. Fortunately, the children had overheard the mother talking to their father, so the little boy Hansel sneaked out of the house during the night and filled all his pockets and knapsack with little white stones, so the next day as they were led deep into the woods, a trail of pebbles dropped by the boy every few feet led them back home again.

Father, of course was overjoyed to see them still alive, but Mother was more determined than ever to get rid of them once and for all and arranged for them to be taken so far into a strange distant part of the forest, they would never manage to find home again. This time Hansel was prevented from gathering the white pebbles because Mother had locked the door so he couldn’t go out to collect them, but being a resourceful lad, he crumbled the few little slices of bread they were given for lunch and left a trail of breadcrumbs. Unfortunately, birds ate up all the crumbs as soon as they were dropped, so the two children had no way of retracing their steps.

Little Hansel was not afraid. Taking Gretel by the hand he set out to explore the forest hoping to find someone who could rescue them. Days went by and they were barely surviving on the few berries and nuts they were able to find. Then they stumbled onto a clearing in which there was a house made of gingerbread, decorated with candies and chocolate and with windows made of transparent sugar panes. Eagerly they ran up and started eating as much as they could.

Now if it had been me, I would have been very suspicious. How is it possible that right in the middle of nowhere is not only a beautiful house, but one that is edible as well, just waiting there to be nibbled on? Besides, it’s private property. It’s not right to just go up and start eating somebody’s house. And if it is really food, honest to goodness cake and candy, how is it that there are no flies or any insects or birds or animals around consuming it. Something’s fishy, something’s wrong. Beware, Hansel and Gretel, perhaps this isn’t your lucky day. And I would have been right. It turned out quite the opposite.

Living in the house was a wicked witch who had a big appetite for roasting and eating little children. The candy house was only a ruse to lure them into her clutches. Then she would fatten them up before cooking them. So once she had invited Hansel and Gretel inside, she locked the door and imprisoned Hansel in a cage, leaving Gretel free to do the housework and bring food to her brother to fatten him up for the oven.

Even this trouble did not cause Hansel to give up. Knowing that he would not be killed until he was good and fat, he fooled the witch, who turned out to have bad eyesight, by extending a chicken bone instead of his finger every time the witch came to check on his condition.

Finally, the witch could wait no longer. Fattened or not into the oven Hansel would go. So she heated the oven with a hot fire, then opened the oven door and ordered the little girl to stick her head in to see if it was hot enough. Gretel was no fool; afraid that the witch intended to cook her first, she complained that she didn’t know how hot was hot enough and asked the witch to show her what she was supposed to do.

“You stupid girl. There’s nothing to it. Just bend down and stick your head in like this,” said the witch. Gretel saw her chance and with all her might shoved the witch, throwing her off balance and right into the oven. Before the witch had a chance to react properly, Gretel managed to slam the oven door shut and thus the witch became the roast in place of the children. It was a horrible, grizzly end of the evil crone and one might even feel a twinge of pity for the old girl, but it was just poetic justice; she got in the end at the children’s expense what she had intended the children to get at her expense.

Loaded up with a big supply of food and a pocketful of precious jewels they found in a drawer, Hansel and Gretel after walking for several days, finally found familiar landmarks and reached home at last, where their father was happy to have them back. Their mother has died (of starvation, we hope, but the authors don’t say), so they all lived happily ever after.

For years experts have been attempting to locate the forest and find evidence of the woodman’s house and witch’s cottage to verify the authenticity of the story, but to no avail. Several well documented periods of drought and famine have been pinpointed as likely time frames, but no record has been discovered of any witch who disappeared without a trace or of any widowed woodsman with two children who suddenly became prosperous and wealthy. The man might have been too ignorant to know the value of the jewels the children brought to him or he was too clever to draw attention by ostentatiously showing off his new found wealth. Or was he a contented man, happy in his station in life, who enjoyed his work and was content to live quietly as he always had. And the children growing up in the care of a hardworking gentle loving father had more to pass on to their children than the goods that money can by.

There are lessons hidden here.

No matter how difficult life might be, there is no place like home.
No matter how hard life seems to be, don’t give up. Don’t panic. If you calmly assess the situation you can possibly think of something clever.
If you have a little sister, protect her and comfort her. If you have a big brother in trouble, don’t be afraid to try to rescue him, even if it seems hopeless.
Those who depend on violence die end violently.


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週一, 31 十二月 2007 18:34

Toning down violence

When I was small I read or had read to me many famous fairy tales. In each tale the hero or heroine meets some challenge and cleverly overcomes it and lives happily ever after. It is that happily ever after that sticks out in my mind together with the lesson that if you bravely face your problem and don’t panic, then you can figure out a way to escape or some good person will intervene to save you and the bad guy will end up the loser.

But now that I am grown up and have begun to reread and reflect on those stories, I am appalled at the evil and violence that pervades them. Children are mistreated by mothers or step-mothers, their fathers gone or helpless, evil witches and wicked henchmen abound and violence is met by violence.

To cite but a few examples: Hansel and Gretel are abandoned in the woods to starve to death by their mother so she doesn’t have to share with them the scarce food she and her husband need for their own survival. Then an evil witch captures the children and fattens them up so she can eat them. They finally escape by burning the witch to death in the oven that was prepared for them. Not a very pretty story.

Cinderella is treated very cruelly by her evil stepmother and step sisters. Snow White is poisoned by her evil stepmother, Sleeping Beauty is cast into a trace by a jealous evil fairy, Little Red Riding Hood is swallowed whole by a ravenous wolf after he first ate her grandmother, but they are rescued and the wolf dies through the intervention of a huntsman who just happens be passing by. The Three Little Pigs are terrorized by a hungry wolf until one of them manages to boil it alive in a kettle at the bottom of a chimney.

But perhaps I need not be too alarmed, because all that evil and violence were there when I first heard the stories, but they did not remain in my mind or turn me into a violent person. What I did learn was to keep up my hopes even when things looked hopeless and to calmly use my head to counter danger. In the end the good guys win and the bad guys fail.

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle in his book Poetics speaks of “catharsis” by which he means that the audience to a drama, in which violence is depicted, experience a release of the strong feelings of horror or pity or anger; they are freed from their pent up emotions and leave the theater purged, without any urge to repeat similar behavior themselves.

Perhaps that is why we survived the violence of the fairy tales without turning violent, but what about our children growing up with the violence they see on television and the movies and video games? There are several considerable differences between fairy tales and what they see. The story lines of fairy tales were set in another age, in which there was magic and witches and goblins and fairy godmothers. Everything took place in another world to which we did not belong. We were just spectators of fictitious events that had no real connection with our own lives. The morals were there for us to learn, but little for us to imitate.

Whereas today, the violence our children see on TV and movies is actually happening before their eyes in the news coverage of real events. In the video games the weapons are in their own hands; they are the perpetrators of the violence and the satisfaction and rewards for success are in proportion to the deaths and destruction they wreak on the enemy. They are playacting what is actually happening around them every day, so that the violence is no longer the relic of some bygone, make believe land, but a relatively readily available tool for emulation, excitement, experimentation, revenge or greed. The opportunities and pressure to try it for real are not that far away.

Given the popularity and excitement and enjoyment that enactments of crime and punishment, violence and mayhem seem to provide, it would not seem very practical or effective to just criticize their content or attempt to suppress them. If I were in a position to produce such material, I think that I would try to design games and plots in which the bad guys were defeated not so much by skill with weapons, but by clever tactics that depended more on ingenuity and craftiness than on violence. By all means let there be the suspense, the car chases, the martial arts, the explosions, but in the long run the violence would be quelled by non-violence not just more violence. This is a lesson we all have to learn before we all end up blasting each other out of existence.

(Photo A.K.)

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週一, 31 十二月 2007 18:30

Terror won't deter terror

In many ways terrorists and non-terrorists are exactly the same: they both have ideologies to which they pay allegiance; they both have codes of conduct that govern how they act; they both have arsenals of equipment, weapons and ammunition; they both have legions of silent supporters and cadres of militant activists.

As a terrorist my intention would be to shock or punish or terrify the public as a means of forcing them to give in to my demand or take seriously my message. My primary objective would be, if possible, to commit the terror without being apprehended or killed. Should I unfortunately not escape unscathed or be apprehended, I would consider that a small price to pay for the advancement of my cause. One of the big differences between terrorists and non-terrorists is that for terrorists the message has priority over the messenger. It is perfectly acceptable for the messenger to be sacrificed or innocent people killed or property destroyed in the process.

As a non-terrorist my primary objective would also be to deliver a message, but the priority would belong to the messenger, so that everything possible would be done to deliver the message with as little injury or damage as possible. To a non-terrorist, the most terrifying thing about terrorism is its seeming disregard for human life: the survival of the cause is more important than that of its individual advocates while the lives and property of its opponents count not at all.

The only way to eliminate acts of terrorism would seem to be finding some way to disarm and deactivate the terrorists. Can this be done without doing to them what they are doing to us? Can violence be stopped non-violently? Or is violence in the cause of law and order no longer “violence” but justifiable “self-defense” and “enforcement”?

Countering terrorism requires countering the terrorists. This will entail first identifying who they are and where they are. Then it is necessary to prevent their acts of terrorism, which can be done by isolating or incarcerating them, so they cannot operate, or by destroying or removing from their hands their equipment, weapons and ammunition and cutting off their supply of financial support or resources so there is no way they can any longer engage in terrorist activities.

This is a big order and not at all easy or perhaps not even possible to accomplish completely. And even if the terrorists are disarmed and their influence contained, they will always be potential ticking bombs, so long as they persist in their ideological beliefs and evil purpose. The rest of the world can only relax if the terrorists can be persuaded to modify their views or adopt non-terrorist tactics. This can never be done by force of arms or overpowering restraint. Military defeat never converts the heart, however much it might shackle the body. It only reinforces hatred and fuels thirst for revenge. No terrorist-like response will ever scare terrorists away. The only way to get them to abandon terrorist behavior is to convince them that such activity is no longer necessary to achieve their purposes. And the only way to do that is for us to modify our present anti-terrorist behavior which is serving only to increase their hatred and justify their terrorism.

We the non-terrorist anti-terrorists must always maintain an effective intelligence network and strong deterrent military defensive force to protect ourselves and the free world, but the war will never end until terrorists are finally granted the attention and respect they are seeking. Our hands holding the guns and the shields must be accompanied by friendly hands reaching out for genuine friendship, dialogue and compromise and peaceful coexistence.

We need to pay more attention to what the terrorists are trying to say and not let our abhorance of the messenger or the envelop of the message blind us to the content of the message. I am not a diplomat or politician. I don’t speak the languages of the terrorists or understand all their demands. I cannot tell the free world the best way to proceed, because I also don’t know what that is. But I am convinced that just more of what we are doing now will not succeed. We have to insist less on doing things only our way and learn to distinguish more clearly between what is outright unacceptable and what is just different from our way of doing things.

If we dare to sit down and listen, we are sure to hear things we don’t want to hear about ourselves as well as about our adversaries, but we also are more likely to see more clearly and dispassionately that between the basic unyielding issues that anchor each side there is a vast expanse of possibilities for compromise, cooperation and peaceful co-existence in which they can maintain their identity and we can retain ours.

How nice it would be if the whole world were like what I want it to be, but that could happen only if other parts of the world were not free to be what they want the world to be. The only way that I will be free to enjoy my part of the world as I want it to be is to allow those other parts to be what they want them to be within the common boundaries of international law and human rights. The only way for both sides to go forward together is for both sides to step back.

(Photo A.K.)

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週一, 31 十二月 2007 18:23

A proposal for resolution watchers

In many cultures the New Year is regarded as a time of renewal and rebirth. Poor bent over Old Father Time leaning on his staff reappears as a vivacious child full of energy and hope. It is as though everyone were being given a second chance to repair the mistakes of the past or to improve the present and the world is filled with New Year’s resolutions.

The proud and the bold and the righteous are not afraid to proclaim their good intentions to the public, not so much from any sincere conviction in their intention to be faithful to what they promise, but to put a better face upon their reputations which have probably gathered layers of dust throughout the past year. Besides, the resolutions they make really don’t acknowledge or touch upon those parts of their proud, bold, and righteous behavior that most require amendment or reform.

The proud and bold and righteous are usually so enamored with themselves the only thing that really bothers them is not their faults which they fail to see, but whatever complaints or difficulties might mar their reputations and influence. The resolutions they make are designed for face lifting, sprucing up the image they show to the world, while just going on being their un-mended flawed selves. They are rich enough and strong enough to do as they please without fear of retaliation or so proud they are actually blind to their defects and mistakes. Sometimes they are just so bad they don’t make resolutions, only declarations of defiance and contempt for the good.

The meek and the weak and the mediocre, on the other hand, keep their resolutions to themselves, ashamed of what of they know must change and acutely aware that however much they desire to improve, it will be a bitter struggle against the bad habits and ineffective efforts which every year usually bring an early end to their resolve.

Next year for most of us, both the strong and the weak, the proud and the meek, it will be time to make the same old resolutions all over again. Why? because the resolutions we usually make are the wrong resolutions, or promise too much or too little or because we keep our resolutions to ourselves without enlisting the advice, encouragement or assistance of our friends.

Anyone who seriously wants to improve should first honestly and humbly assess his or her lifestyle, actions and goals. Is there anything that makes one’s conscience uneasy? any attitudes, habits or traits that interfere with the efficiency or outcome of one’s efforts? anything that irritates or alienates others? any change called for in the direction of one’s life or in one’s priorities or immediate or distant goals?

The first big mistake would be to skip this self-assessment altogether as too threatening or arduous or unnecessary. The second big mistake would be to list every supposed shortcoming and write a corresponding resolution for each one. This would result in a list of resolutions so long that the mere size of it would spell its doom before it was even signed. A third big mistake would be to confine one’s resolution to something so small or trifling, that even its perfect realization really changes nothing of one’s real shortcomings. A fourth mistake would be to make a resolution so detailed or demanding that its execution would exhaust all one’s energy and disrupt the rest of one’s activities. A fifth mistake would be to make resolutions that carried no time line or sanctions for their infraction and/or no safety valve or timeouts for rest or relaxation. A last big mistake would be to keep one’s resolutions to oneself, which does more than just remove the possibility of anyone knowing of your failure when the resolution fails. It also deprives one of the support, encouragement and advice of companions who could help keep the resolution on track.

There are several important compartments in our lives that deserve attention and adjustment: our moral life, that part of us that tells us what is right and wrong, leaving us in peace or nagging us with guilt; our personal repertoire of information, attitudes, prejudices, judgments and opinions; our temperament, that amalgam of emotions, reactions and behavioral quirks that colors our actions; our set of priorities that determines the hierarchy and order of our desires, plans and intentions; our thinking department that plans and analyzes; our physical plant with its equipment, intake requirements, output and maintenance; our production department that executes all our activities; our communication center that monitors, manages and is responsible for all encounters, exchanges and cooperation with others.

If anyone takes seriously the responsibilities of being the CEO of one’s own life, then he or she should make regular periodic checks of these major systems. If there are any big problems they will usually stick out and should be the focus or foci of one’s resolutions.

A good resolution needs to be concrete and explicit. “I resolve to improve” leaves out what it is that should improve. “I resolve to get better and better”, but better than what? Everyone has limits. The time will come when one’s better finally reaches one’s best and futile attempts to get better will fail.

Suppose that your major fault right now (the one you want to work on first) is lying or swearing or procrastinating or losing your temper. Now you have something very concrete and it is countable, so you can measure your progress from day to day. The first thing to do is to set up a baseline. How many times a day do you swear or lie or lose your temper or procrastinate: 5, 10, 25?

I don’t believe that the resolution “I will never lie or swear or lose my temper or procrastinate again” is very good. In the first place, a good white lie or mental reservation is often quite appropriate and there are times when strong language and a show of anger are needed and often a little timely procrastination is just what our bodies and spirits need for a little rest and relaxation. In the second place, if the usual number of our daily or weekly infractions is quite high, setting the immediate target at once to zero is almost surely to result in discouraging failure. It all depends on how strong and impulsive the bad habit is. Perhaps something like
“I resolve to cut down my swearing by 50% this year or whatever period seems feasible.” Thus, if I swear 10 times a day, then by the end of the set period of time, I should be swearing no more than 5 times a day.

So, once a day or once a week according to a plan and schedule that is written down carefully, I examine my progress, record my infractions, and reward or punish myself according to what was decided at the beginning. It is very good reinforcement for our progress to receive an award, while knowing our failure will result in some penalty is also an incentive to try harder, but the penalty should not be so severe that it drives the person to abandon the program.

Makers and keepers of resolutions can learn much from the principles and practices employed by most Weight Watchers Clubs and other such support groups. Their resolutions, commitments to lose weight and methods are concrete, explicit, goal-oriented, step by step, measurable, recorded, and rewarded or punished and maintained after the target is reached. But most of all, the weight watching programs are group-oriented. One’s weight losing resolution and goal are in the open; no hiding or cheating or quitting in secret. One is surrounded with companions who all have similar goals and are there to support and advise and to share recipes and information and tricks they have learned to make losing and/or maintaining weight both successful and enjoyable.

Perhaps what each of us needs every year is to enlist a small circle of friends into a Resolution Watcher’s Club to share our resolutions and support one another through the arduous steps that will lead to the fulfillment of our goals for ourselves.

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週一, 31 十二月 2007 18:22

Bali, a spiritual island of beauty

We decided to go to Bali on holidays, after my girlfriend who happens to be an islander from Taiwan had praised the Indonesian island as a little paradise on earth. She had repeatedly told me about the beauty of the white sandy beaches, the luxurious nature, or the great variety of the culture and the gentleness and “softness” of the Balinese people, all of which convinced me to go and have a look. We consequently arrived in the capital Denpasar on the 1st of December, where a minibus (the call it Bemo) from the hotel we had booked was waiting for us. While driving through the hectic and polluted streets of Denpasar, crowded with cars, minibuses and loads of motorcycles, I didn’t quite get the feeling yet, of being in one of the most beautiful places in this part of the world! We arrived late at night in Nusa Dua, an enclave and planned resort with a seemingly sense of artificiality, that would also happen to host, just a few days away, the United Nations Climate Change Conference starting from the 3 to 14th December. The next two days were spent lazily lying down on the beach, swimming in the pool, enjoying the local food, especially a late dinner with a treat of seafood, right on the beach at Jimbaran, and spoiling ourselves with oil massage. Even though all this was very nice and relaxing, something told me that, this was not what Bali Island was really about, or at least, it was not what I was looking for.
After Nusa Dua, we decided to head to Ubud, considered as the cultural center of Bali, located in the highlands toward the center of the island. We started our journey toward Ubud, passing through some small villages, noticing temples in almost every corner, mostly small ones in front of each house, but also bigger ones with amazingly intricate and beautifully stone-carved doors and walls. Temples are present literally everywhere in Bali and therefore, one can feel a certain “religious atmosphere” in the air. It is nearly impossible to overstate the importance of religion in Bali. Every morning and evening all across Bali, the women and girls of the family make and place, each with a brief ceremony, dozens of small offerings to the gods. Religion is the basis for most daily life. The majority of Balinese (90%) practice a form of the Hindu religion which they call Agama Hindu Dharma (Religion of the Hindu Doctrine), it represents a unique amalgam of Hindu and Buddhist elements that were grafted onto a base of pre-existing animist beliefs and customs. It is rather difficult to determine in Bali exactly where religion stops and other social and cultural forms – entertainment, agricultural planning, work, childbirth, rites of passages – begin.
In almost every small village we stopped by, on our way to Ubud, we met friendly and smiling people, even though some of them were obviously enduring hardships and a rather tough life. Just before arriving in Ubud, we saw some magnificent wet-rice terraces, surrounded by palm trees and coconut trees, the whole picture very green, amazing!
While in Ubud, we were able to experience quite some cultural entertainment and performing arts, ranging from Traditional music played by Gamelan orchestra, to the Barong dance performance, which is one of Bali’s most famous and popular dances, usually described as a contest between good and evil, the good Barong and the evil witch Rangda.
While riding a motorcycle and heading toward the east cost, we also randomly stopped in a small village in the countryside to listen and watch a Gamelan and dance performance that was played and danced by kids, one of the highlights of our trip, because of the very special atmosphere, and the great smiles of all these people. We finally reached a place called Candidasa on the east coast where the sand was almost black or at least very dark and it started raining very heavily, so we found a shelter under the tent of a coconut vendor, with whom we had a lot of fun, using almost only body language to communicate.
Our trip in Bali ended back down on the south coast in Seminyak, another popular and developed “beach & surf” location, although the way it has been developed still respects the harmony of the surrounding nature. Bali is definitely a spiritual island of beauty.

(Photos M. Conforto-Galli)

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