October 2006


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No Bravery by James Blunt
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irrepressible_banner_07.gif Chat rooms monitored. Blogs deleted. Websites blocked. Search engines restricted. People imprisoned for simply posting and sharing information.

The Internet is a new frontier in the struggle for human rights. Governments – with the help of some of the biggest IT companies in the world – are cracking down on freedom of expression.

Amnesty International, with the support of The Observer UK newspaper, is launching a campaign to show that online or offline the human voice and human rights are impossible to repress.

In November 2006, governments and companies from all over the world will attend a UN conference to discuss the future of the Internet. You can help us send a clear message to them that people everywhere believe the Internet should be a force for political freedom, not repression.

We will present the total number at the conference. The more people who sign up, the louder our voice.

Please read and sign our pledge at: Irrepressible Info: An Amnesty International Campaign

I went through a harrowing experience on the way back from Manila. But before I begin, let me tell you something about the Filipinos.

I have been away from my country of birth for so long that dealing with the Filipino character is a culture shock. For example, corruption is second nature to Filipinos, and this I would blame Ferdinand Marcos for because he made corruption an art form. The Philippines was a prosperous Asian nation before Marcos came to power. The country is now one of the poorest, sustained only by remittances from the thousands of Filipino domestics abroad, the nation’s biggest export.

Let me say one good thing about the Filipinos. In the face of adversity, they always seem to have a positive outlook. When they have been wronged, they leave vengeance to God. Although that might not be a good thing because none of Marcos’s cronies who participated in the plunder of the Philippines have ever been prosecuted. The Filipinos are a happy-go-lucky lot, living life without a thought for the morrow. But come to think of it, I don’t think that’s a good thing either.

So I learnt another Filipino trait at the dingy and greasy Manila International Airport. The security measures there are so tight that at 6am in the morning, it can be quite annoying. After the travel-tax fee booths, there was another security check where hand-carried luggage goes through a machine. An airport personnel in a white-shirt uniform told me to take off my sandals. I looked at the disgustingly dirty floor on which I had to walk barefoot. Dreading to tread on the floor in my bare-feet and sufficiently annoyed by the long formalities, I lifted a foot and said to him in tagalog, “Look at what I’m wearing. You will not find a bomb in these.”

After my hand-carried trolley was loaded into the machine and after passing through the metal detector door-frame with my sandals on, the same man in the white-shirt uniform confronted me on the other side and accused me of having a bomb in my shoes! Airport security were summoned. From there, I was taken downstairs to the airport security office. I waited there after being informed by a member of security staff in grey uniform that the security investigator hadn’t arrived yet.

While waiting, I told the man in grey uniform who escorted me, that I was innocent and showed him my sandals. I related to him what had transpired. Judging I was innocent, he telephoned the security investigator and related what had happened. He informed him that I was innocent and recommended that I be released. After he put the phone down, he said that he had to have the version of the story from my accuser. He was summoned and related the incident as my having said that I had a bomb in my shoes! Now why would I say that? I was so dumbfounded by his accusation, I was speechless.

My security escort then conferred with him in private. He returned saying that the man “amended” his story. He had said that I was visibly annoyed and that had put him off. “Put him off?” I thought in surprise. So I had been falsely accused because the man was vexed. My security escort then informed me that they would not record this incident in their books. It was a false accusation.

Meanwhile, the American pilot of the plane I was supposed to take, refused to take me on board — perhaps in spite of the report of innocence from airport security. Yes, I know that the Americans are paranoid with fear after the events of September 11, but that is no excuse for foregoing reason and the minimum of common sense intelligence.

Be forewarned: Beware of power-tripping Filipinos. That’s what I was told the attendant was doing, and that it is a common Filipino behaviour. Now I only wish that there be some way of punishing someone who falsely accuses you.

Power Tripping: Is This a Filipino Thing?: My friend from the Philippines told me that is a common Filipino trait, where even the smallest person, if given some little form of authority, enjoys being in command. They like to make other people feel like they are in control. Sort of like showing off. Over a group of people, they wield whatever power they have, no matter how small their position is.

mask.jpg I was at a computer store in Ginza the other day, walking slowly down the aisles, studying the gadgets and the myriad of soft-wares on the shelves. Then suddenly, I looked up.

This happens to me pretty often — I would “sense” something, I don’t know what and sometimes I would ignore it. But I looked around and there it was. A portly man in dark sunglasses, and judging from the way he was dressed: blue-jeans, sneakers and the emblazoned baseball cap, he was an American.

I did not find him suspicious, wearing sunglasses indoors. What it was that I felt was a haughtiness, an arrogance, a condescending attitude that seemed to ooze from his pores. I felt an instant revulsion, and a desire to gnarl back, “Just who do you think you are?”

Well, this evening as I waited for a download on my computer, I picked up a book from the shelf, a book I bought a long time ago and hadn’t found time to read. I opened it randomly on a page, and this is what I read:

Whenever I meet people I always approach them from the standpoint of the most basic things we have in common. We each have a physical structure, a mind, emotions. We are all born in the same way, and we all die. All of us want happiness and do not want to suffer.

Looking at others from this standpoint rather than empathising secondary differences such as the fact that I am Tibetan, or a different colour, religion or cultural background, allows me to have a feeling that I’m meeting someone just the same as me. I find that relating to others on that level makes it much easier to exchange and communicate with one another.

So my revolting guy at the store is someone just the same as me: born the same way, wanting happiness and not suffering. So rather than “empathising” those secondary differences: that he’s American, white, possibly one of those evangelical Christians that swept Bush into the White House, with a culture most certainly different from mine, I should instead relate to him.

So I racked my brain, trying to find a way to do so, then I hit upon it. There’s something about his sunglasses. It didn’t say a lot of things — it said one thing: I don’t want you to know me. I am incognito.

And there it was. If you listen to the American military radio station, they advise travelling Americans to keep a low profile. They also tell listeners that they are goodwill ambassadors in a foreign land.

Poor guy, I thought. Knowing that the international community regards the American in low esteem, he wants to be a simple blip in a foreign land. Well, I can understand that. Although I’m sure he thinks that wearing sunglasses will protect him from threats of terrorism.

But I can’t seem to relate to the haughty strut and condescending stare. I find no goodwill in that.
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Quote from The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living (© 1998 HH Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, Hodder and Stoughton Publishers)

Wikipedia: Racism