A reluctant radical?

Recently, broadcaster CNN interviewed Mira Nair about the film she produced for the Venice Film Festival based on the book called The Reluctant Fundamentalist; a novel by Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid published in 2007.

CNN wrote: “The timing couldn’t be any better, or worse, for Mira Nair’s film of Mohsin Hamid’s novel, a sympathetic portrait of a gifted, intelligent young Pakistani whose love affair with the American dream ends in disenchantment, mistrust and violence.”

The novel uses the technique of a frame story, which takes place during the course of a single evening in an outdoor Lahore cafe, where a bearded Pakistani man called Changez (the Urdu name for Genghis) tells a nervous American stranger about his love affair with an American woman, and his eventual abandonment of America. A short story adapted from the novel called Focus on the Fundamentals appeared in the fall 2006 issue of The Paris Review.

The interview made me wonder if in fact I, too, am a radical in some fundamental form; therefore, this question of ponder.

Fundamentalism and radicalism

Wikipedia, my friendly encyclopaedia, at fingertips access defines:

Fundamentalism is the demand for a strict adherence to specific theological doctrines usually understood as a reaction against Modernist theology, primarily to promote continuity and accuracy.

The term “fundamentalism” was originally coined by its supporters to describe a specific package of theological beliefs that developed into a movement within the Protestant community of the United States in the early part of the 20th century, and that had its roots in the Fundamentalist–Modernist Controversy of that time.

The term usually has a religious connotation indicating unwavering attachment to a set of irreducible beliefs. “Fundamentalism” is sometimes used as a pejorative term, particularly when combined with other epithets (as in the phrase “right-wing fundamentalists”).

The term political radicalism (or simply, in political science, radicalism) denotes political principles focused on altering social structures through revolutionary means and changing value systems in fundamental ways. Derived from the Latin radix (root), the denotation of radical has changed since its eighteenth-century coinage to comprehend the entire political spectrum – yet retains the “change at the root” connotation fundamental to revolutionary societal change.

Historically, radicalism has referred exclusively to the “radical left”, under the single category of far-left politics, rarely incorporating far-right politics though these may have revolutionary elements; the prominent exception is in the United States where some consider radicalism to include both political extremes of the radical left and the “radical right”. In traditional labels of the spectrum of political thought, the opposite of radical on the “right” of the political spectrum is termed reactionary.

My consequential question to myself is: am I really a leftist radical especially when I do not believe in “any kind of the overthrow of elected governments” defined by the older political theory which has been adequately discredited by the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Political philosopher professor Glenn Tinder, who was with the University of Massachusetts, therefore wrote about such political thinking:

“Perhaps too much is said in universities about how “exciting” it is to think. Thinking undoubtedly has its excitements and satisfactions, but these feelings do not disclose its general character, and there is something very much wrong with the idea they should. We do not think in order to have fun but because life is troubling and problematic.

“We think because we are compelled to. And while thinking occasionally brings exciting discoveries, the periods in between these discoveries are likely to place heavy demands not only on the thinker’s energies but on his patience as well.

“When thinking, we should not need to tell ourselves that it is an exhilarating experience; it should be enough to realise that we are behaving with the seriousness, the rationality, and the self-discipline that the human situation requires of us.”

In my journey with life issues focused upon both teaching and learning as an integral process of asking the right questions and seeking the right answers, I had to resource Tinder’s work, The political meaning of Christianity, and especially to address the issues related to the so-called leftist and radical liberation theology.

Therefore through my critical questioning and subsequent learning, I am and have become more radical in the sense that I am an anarchist of sorts. I am anti-hierarchical of all systems, or all authority-based hierarchies, especially those that refuse to use logic and reason as their mediating platform, as opposed to blind faith.

Again Wikipedia defines the end state of such anarchism as:

Anarchism is often defined as a political philosophy which holds the state to be undesirable, unnecessary, or harmful. However, others argue that while anti-statism is central, it is inadequate to define anarchism.

Therefore, they argue instead that anarchism entails opposing authority or hierarchical organisation in the conduct of human relations, including, but not limited to, the state system. Proponents of anarchism, known as “anarchists”, advocate stateless societies based on non-hierarchical free associations.

I do not believe in any such ism; because they are ends in themselves and creates a closed loop way of thinking and being.

Therefore, the only remaining question for me is: Am I actually more of a reluctant radical, much like the reluctant fundamentalist, or merely a reactionary?

Malaysia’s way forward

Malaysia’s way forward lies not in blind faith, even of the Dumno-kind. Their proposition is still too hierarchical and uses “royalty, Malay culture and traditions as ends in themselves,” often hiding behind a false definition of what it means to be “Malay”.

Malaysians can only move forward when all Malaysians can read and reread AB Sulaiman’s book: Sensitive Truths in Malaysia: a critical appraisal of the Malay problem. I do not think anyone can be more Malay than AB Sulaiman, but surely, if we can all read and understand his heartbeat; we can and will reach the rationalism in political thinking that he is negotiating for. May the Good Lord grant us that wish after the 13th general elections.


KJ JOHN was in public service for 29 years. The views expressed here are his personal views and not those of any institution he is involved with.

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Posted by on May 8 2013. Filed under Opinions. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

1 Comment for “A reluctant radical?”

  1. keris

    FINALLY MALAYSIA UNDER BN. WE ARE SAVE FROM PR THE REAL DEVIL AND CULPRIT.

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