1. “Religion and politics should be avoided in daily conversations, especially first acquaintance.” It’s a rule of thumb for basic communication I suppose people all know, intellectually and intuitively. Even for those who think asking about income, weight and age is fine, like my mother, it doesn’t sound right to talk about these two topics. But why?
Because religion and politics have to do with what a person considers right and wrong. They are the core values that organize and orient the whole world view of an individual. But they are subjective and can’t be argued. Apart from a small number of scientific facts, the rest of what people normally think about as “truth” is not objective and can’t be proved simply because they are based on different grounds. These personal, culturally diverse, constantly changing and varied across time and space values are what make human human.
Religion and politics, as the two umbrellas whose shades cover the most fundamental values of a human life, indeed can’t be separated, if you can broaden their meanings. By religion here I don’t mean specific belief in certain figures, and by politics I don’t mean a firm conviction in one and only one party. Religion is a way of life, it governs how you live. Politics is a matter of moral conviction, it governs how you think. You can’t “know” this god is real, but you “believe”. The same idea applies to politics. You think you “know” the good? Well, you have plenty of time to think again.
There is no neutrality when it comes to these two realms. It may not occur to you that you are choosing a position, but you are. Every time I write “Not applicable” and “Prefer not to tell” under “religion” and “politics” sections, I can’t help but wondering “is it really true I don’t have any religious and political beliefs?” To not know about, and not care about Allah, for example, makes me not an Islam. Isn’t it a position already? To withhold my support to any side in a war tellingly expresses my reluctance to put my trust in either of them. Resistance and struggle speak a lot, but a middle position reveals a point of view also.
There are times you must make a choice, like in a war. There is no way out. There is no refusal. You can fight with one side or the other. You can flee. You can seek refuge in a third party. Whatever you do or not do is a decision.
2. I have always been concerned with the lack of interest in politics among Vietnamese youth. Im not an exception, for I don’t know and don’t care to remember who is the current Prime Minister, the Secretary of the Party, and a bunch of other positions I can’t quite tell their roles and duties. I have never voted, because I don’t believe in it. But I do maintain a genuine interest in the country’s history and politics.
When I bring myself to face with the question of Vietnam’s history, often I feel like standing in front of a thick fog. I try to see through but too many things, events, people have been buried by time, wars, efforts to erase and reconstruct the course of history by the winners, all in all, matters both from both conscious humans and indifferent nature. Of course I am aware that no such thing as transparent and honest history exists, for whenever history is presented, it is clouded by personal viewpoint and prejudice, regardless of how forceful the presenter tries to be neutral. All I wish for is access to a rich and clear range of views from various perspectives. Unfortunately, this humble wish has never been fulfilled.
What is Vietnam exactly? All the images associated with these two words I can draw from my mind now associated with the Kinh people. There is very little place for other 53 ethnic minority groups to contribute their voices. What have the Vietnamese done to the Champa civilization? What about the border war with the Chinese in the 80s? Not to mention the whole American war, the fight between Communism and Democracy, or whatever it is. How has the French colonialism changed our perception? There is a strong effort to not touch on these matters, to name a few, let alone openly discuss them in the mainstream. People avoid them, not only because they have been taught to stay away from politics, but also because they are sensitive, they can bring troubles. Under the regime, people have learnt to not only to avoid talking, but also to avoid thinking about politics. I want to think, but struggle with a meager resource. I want to understand, but can’t possibly form my view without taking into account conflicting matters.
3. For the past few days, Vietnamese have been discussing the two islands and Chinese violation of with increasing heat. The thing about politics is you can’t prove, and each side firmly believe they are right. I once talked with a Tibetan man and listened to him described how the Chinese have maltreated his countrymen and how his family has suffered, together with many others. They are vicious. I then talked to a Chinese friend, a young and promising man, and he, as many Chinese, just sincerely cared about the Tibetan as a whole as a stray-away brother, who have wandered too far from the family and now should be summoned so that the big brother can help his little one develop and grow. Resistance is very unnecessary and regretful, but as a good big brother, the Chinese will do what they must to fulfill their duty to the stubborn little one who doesn’t know what is good for himself.
Another time, I listened to my professor; a great intellectual Indian man described how Cambodia and Laos are just like India, could be and should be just another province of India. Likewise, American voted in a survey, the majority of them agreed that Canada should be another state, it will be much better for both than the current condition. Of course Canadians were outraged. Within Canada, the Quebecois once almost gained independence and tore themselves out of the country. Australia thinks New Zealand is nothing but their extension. The latter hate it. This conflict is nothing new.
The situation is old. But I just hope it’s time to for us to think politics, to make a choice, to choose a stand.
As for me, I still admire the Chinese culture. I want to dig deep into it. And I can’t help but hearing the repeating rhythm of this verse in my mind: “Things come and go. This existence is evanescent.” I guess it’s my religious philosophy. And it is interfering with my attempt to involve in politic matters.