Sunday, 29 March 2009

Wanting Something So Much...

There are a few movies which after watching them, had left me completely dumbfounded. One of them is an Iranian movie called 'The Bride' (released in 1990). Starring the famous Iranian actress Niki Karimi, the movie tells a story of a young man who, after much struggle and perseverance, finally managed to marry the woman of his dreams.

Sounds more like a romantic fairytale, isn’t it? But this movie has such a surprising twist it left me wondering how a common incident in life can indeed lead to tragic and unfortunate consequences.

The opening scene of the movie shows how the man was made to agree by his then future father-in-law to achieve a set of conditions before he could be allowed to marry the daughter. I can't recall exactly what these conditions were but there were difficult enough that the young man took more than two years before finally achieving them.

After the wedding, the ecstatic young man drove his bride to their honeymoon. Throughout the journey, he was in such jovial mood he boasted to his wife about how proud he was to marry her despite the trouble her father had given him. He even boasted about some illicit ventures he was involved in during the years he struggled to meet her father’s conditions. Though not entirely amused by her husband’s antics, the wife was nonetheless happy and was looking forward to their future together when SUDDENLY... old lady appeared from nowhere walking slowly to cross the street. Since the man was still preoccupied with his boasting of his 'achievement', he didn’t see the old lady until it was too late. He knocked her down unconscious, but... she was not dead.

Amazingly, the man refused to neither bring the old lady to the hospital nor report the accident to the police. Instead, he removed the body from the road and placed it inside his car trunk. Horrified by her husband's actions, she pleaded to him to do what is right and follow the course of the law. Her husband stubbornly refused and his very reason was something like: "I have struggled and sacrificed so much to marry you. If I bring the old lady to the hospital, the police will investigate the accident and I may be found guilty and be put to jail. I will be separated from you. I will NOT let that happen!"

When we want something so much, we may act in such irrational ways that betray our conscience and moral-logical principles. No doubt we will be burdened by a deep psychological tension but this can quite comfortably be neutralised by the defence mechanisms of denial and rationalisation. Desperate people think and act in desperate ways. They believe in their own perception of destiny, clouded surely by some delusions of their own invincibility.

Be-as-that-may, in the end, the truth will prevail, always...

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

"Only 19% Malays Want UMNO To Rule" Really?!

The Merdeka Centre for Opinion Research recently released the report of its survey on 'Perceptions on UMNO Party Elections 2009' (the summary of its main findings can be accessed here).

The official media publication of the Pan-Malaysia Islamic Party (PAS), Harakah; pounced on the opportunity to cite a particular finding of the survey claiming that "Hanya 19 Peratus Melayu Mahu UMNO Memerintah" ("Only 19 Percent Malays Want UMNO To Rule"). Many other pro-PAS and Pakatan Rakyat blogs and news media have since made similar claims.

19 percent is a really shocking figure. I've done some preliminary research on Malay support for UMNO and based on what I've gathered, I don't believe the number of Malays supporting UMNO could be that low. So I read through the report on the main findings to find the evidence for this remarkable claim.

Of relevance are the findings reported on pages 15 and 44. Both pages report responses to the question "As a Malaysian, what is your hope for UMNO?" Page 15 reports the responds from the overall sample (n=1031) which includes Malay, Chinese and Indian respondents. While on page 44, one will find the breakdown of responses from male and female Malay respondents (n=592).

What intrigued me is the question "As a Malaysian, what is your hope for UMNO?" My first reaction was, was this an open-ended or close-ended question? Looking at the nature of the findings, my immediate guess was it must have been an open-ended question.

I emailed Mr. Ibrahim Suffian, Director of the Merdeka Centre to seek some clarifications. I am grateful for his reply and the information he relayed to me confirms my suspicions. Firstly, it was indeed an open-ended question. And according to him, the answers given by respondents were later on recorded into similar categories of answers.

The question now is, since it was an open-ended question (and a very general question I should stress), can we make the interpretation that because only 19 percent Malay respondents indicated their hopes for UMNO to "continue lead the country", only 19 percent Malays want UMNO to rule the country? And those who 'did not express hope' for UMNO to continue lead the country, can we be certain they 'do not want UMNO to rule' the country?

I am of the opinion (and Mr. Ibrahim Suffian agrees with me) that the best way to test the claim that only a small minority of Malays want UMNO to continue rule the country, is to put forward in a survey more specific items such as: "I want UMNO to continue lead the country", and respondents respond to a Likert Scale (from 'Strongly Agree' to 'Strongly Disagree') or 'Yes/No'. If the results show only a small number of respondents (say for example only 19 percent of the sample) indicating agreeableness to the statement, only then can we confidently and responsibly claim that "only 19 percent of Malays want UMNO to rule."

Let me stress that by writing this piece, I am not in any way questioning the integrity and professionalism of the Merdeka Centre. I have great respect for Mr. Ibrahim Suffian and highly appreciate the effort he and his research team has put in to provide credible scientific data on public opinion. However, I do at times question the maturity and wisdom of those who use these numbers to fulfil their own prophecies and political opinions.

Less than two weeks ago, I attended a forum in which Mr. Ibrahim Suffian was one of the three panellists. The organiser of the event was a pro-Pakatan Rakyat Perak-ian NGO. Mr. Ibrahim Suffian was the last panellists to speak. Before he spoke, both panellists before him, and the forum moderator especially, expressed their personal views that if the Perak state election is held at any time in the near future, Pakatan Rakyat will sweep through with a landslide victory.

Clearly, speaking based more on facts and numbers rather than emotions and sentiments, Mr. Ibrahim Suffian explained that even though Pakatan Rakyat may well win a Perak state election, the margin of victory may not be very significant. Realistically, PR can only hope for an improved majority of elected members to the Perak state parliament.

Why? Because despite all its weaknesses and mistakes, UMNO still has a considerable number of loyal members and supporters who will always vote for UMNO and only for UMNO. These are mostly the more elder members of the community who have seen and can only see UMNO ruling the country. The number of these UMNO loyalists may have shrunk in the last few years, but they remain until today strong and formidable.

Allah knows how much I am sympathetic to the struggles of Pakatan Rakyat, and how much indeed I wish for the coalition to be given the chance to govern the country. To achieve that however is not that easy. There are more work to be done and much persuasion to be made. Please do not make the same mistakes UMNO and Barisan Nasional made in the runout towards last year’s general election, and that is to believe in their own spin and to be deceived by their own propaganda.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Freudian Personality Psychology

Psychoanalysis is the first formal approach in the study of personality psychology. The emphasis of this approach is on unconscious forces within an individual. Sigmund Freud is universally considered the founder of the psychoanalytic school. According to Freud, the basic elements of personality are instincts, a driving force or impulses that mediate between the mind and the body (Schultz & Schultz, 2001). In addition, Freud proposed the three levels of personality: the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious, while the structures of personality were explained by the concepts id, ego and superego.

In analysing the psychoanalytic approach to the study of personality from the Islamic perspective, one has to first consider the differences in the understanding of the concept of human nature. The psychoanalytic approach has a very pessimistic view of human nature as the ultimate goal of all human behaviours according to Freud is to reduce anxiety (Freud, 1926). In addition, on the issue of free will and determinism, Freud believed that human personality is determined by the life and death instincts, and the invincible and inaccessible unconscious forces within an individual.

Islam believes man's nature is inclined towards good since the essence of man is spiritual goodness (Ali, 1995). On free will and determinism, the emphasis is more on free will. An essential element of man's free will is imbued in the term ikhtiyar, derived from the root word khayr (good). Hence ikhtiyar is not merely about exercising choice but choosing what is good and beneficial (Al-Attas, 1990).

On the influence of unconscious forces, Ibn al-Qayyim in his book Al-Fawa'id acknowledged that all behavioural actions begin with wasawis (concealed whispers) (Badri, 200). This unconscious element however, is not viewed as the powerful deterministic force in the magnitude described by Freud. These inner fleeting thoughts, which may incline towards both good and bad behaviour, can be easily steered towards good and away from evil by an individual's deep sense of faith (iman) and religiosity.

In explaining personality development, Freud introduced the five psychosexual stages starting with the oral stage followed by the anal, phallic, latency and genital stages. Freud believed that an individual's personality is largely shaped by the experiences in the first five years of a person’s life (encompassing the first three stages of the theory).

This huge emphasis on early childhood experiences is not in harmony with the perspective of Islam. Islam's view on human nature is more optimistic where human beings are deemed to be naturally incline towards goodness and are always capable of improving. Every living individual has continuous potential for growth and self-development which can never be exhausted. The spectacular transformation in the personalities of the companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him), Umar al-Khattab and Abu Dhar al-Ghifari in particular; transformed from the greatest of bullies during the Jahiliyyah period to amongst the most pious Muslims upon conversion to Islam, are outstanding examples of how radical personality changes and improvements can occur even during adulthood.

(The above is an excerpt from an unpublished paper entitled 'Personality Psychology From An Islamic Perspective' written in 2007)