Category Archives: directing

Being detained in a war zone… what do you do?


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As a journalist, one of the things that I do worry about is being detained or kidnapped while in a conflict zone. With all the beheadings that have been happening online… all the courage in the world woudn’t make me feel courageous! I have actually been detained and interrogated once. It was by the military in Lebanon right when I was about to cross the border out of the country. It was 2007 and at that time, they were going through the Nahr Al-Bared conflict. But it was only for a few hour and they let me go after they deleted some photos I had taken of their checkpoint. Even then, I almost peed my pants!

So I can’t imagine how more macho journalists like Sean Langan and Sean McAllister can stay strong when they get held for months. Sean Langan was kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan and held for three months. BBC made a re-enacted film out of his ordeal:

Sean McAllister (who I am now friends with after having the opportunity to hang out with him at the Sheffield Documentary Film Festival in 2011) was detained in Syria and accused of being a spy. CNN’s Anderson Cooper interviewed him:

And the latest that has caught my attention has to be the detention of Vice News journalist Simon Ostrovsky in Ukraine by pro-Russian forces. It’s just that I’m a loyal viewer/reader of Vice and I’ve actually been following Ostrovsky’s daily video dispatches from there on a regular basis. Suddenly, the guy just disappears for four days and then they let him go. Not before beating and torturing him, of course. He was released last Thursday (24 April 2014). Here’s he’s account of what happened:

I guess I’ve been taking it easy seeing that the last international assignments I’ve been on in the past six  months have been in London, Stockholm and Perth.

Culture is never wrong… except for Swedish culture?


My attempt at cheering the kids up.
My attempt at cheering the kids up.

Culture is never wrong… except for Swedish culture?
By Zan Azlee

One of the subjects I used to teach undergraduates many years ago was Human Communication. It was one of my favourite subjects to teach. I loved it because it was the study of how people communicate with each other, taking into consideration the context of different cultures, languages and beliefs.

A core principal of good human communication is to understand that there are many different people in the world. And being different doesn’t mean being wrong. In fact, it is important that we never judge people based on their culture because culture is never wrong.

Vietnamese and Koreans enjoy eating dog meat and it is considered a traditional dish. But most Americans would find it wrong to eat an animal that is normally a pet. Who is right or wrong? It is a norm in Chinese culture (and many Asian cultures) to have the extended family all living in one house together. But in Europe, this is not accepted as children are suppose to leave the nest when they grow up. Right? Wrong?

And now that the world is getting smaller, people are more exposed to different cultures and clashes start happening. It’s not wrong to have these clashes. People just need to be understanding and open-minded. But of course there are cultural practices, after being compared with others, come out as totally wrong.

And through education, these are slowly expected to disappear. For example, many indigenous tribes in Borneo practiced head-hunting a long time ago. Now that everyone is more educated and ‘civilised’, the practice has been totally wiped out. Which is a good thing. Genital mutilation may be the norm in some African cultures but with more knowledge, campaigns are now being conducted to educate the people so they know that it is not a good thing to do.

But one thing that cannot be done is to blame these people for their tradition and culture. It is what they’ve been doing for generations without thinking it is wrong. It’s the way they are wired to think. But of course, the key word is education.

With more clashes of culture happening, the more our minds are exposed and opened up. We get to see things from many perspectives. And that will eventually cause the entire human race to progress and evolve.

Now what am I actually getting at? It’s quite obvious I’m going to relate all of this to the Malaysian couple, Azizul Raheem Awaluddin and Shalwati Nurshal, detained in Sweden for allegedly abusing their children. [Click to read the full article at English.AstroAwani.Com]

Wayang kulit, pigs and Islam


Wayang kulit, pigs and Islam
By Zan Azlee

I remember many years ago, I directed a documentary film about Dollah Baju Merah, the last classically trained wayang kulit dalang in Malaysia from Kelantan. He has since passed on and I was the last person to officially interview him and to document his last wayang kulit performance on camera.

What I remember most about the interview was how he tried to explain to me his relationship with his art using a pig analogy. During an election year, he thought he was being religious by voting for a religious party (guess what party?), but it ended with him being ostracised for practicing his art.

“Those whom I voted for declared that wayang kulit is haram because it has non-Islamic roots. And whoever practices it is committing a sin,” he said.

“But let me explain to you about pigs. A pig is an animal created by God. The pig itself isn’t haram. It’s just an animal like any other animal in the world. [Click to read the full article at The Malaysian Insider]

In bleak times, faith in Allah should prevail


In bleak times, faith in Allah should prevail
By Zan Azlee

Three years ago, I remember shooting a television reportabout the “Allah” issue in Malaysia for a Dutch news agency. I had interviewed Herald editor Father Lawrence Andrew, PAS parliamentarian Khalid Samad, the then home minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein and several Malaysians.

The situation was tense then. The court case against the Catholic weekly Herald was taking place and a church in Klang was set on fire. It was a sad, depressing and humiliating time for Malaysia and its people when racial and religious tension was at an all-time low.

I have always used my column here at The Malaysian Insider as a platform to try and encourage discourse and understanding towards multiracialism and pluralism. It’s been so many years and I continue to use this platform, including every other media platform I have access to, for that purpose.

Now, we are in 2014. And what is the situation we are facing with regards to racial and religious tension? Has there been an improvement? The case against the Herald still exists. The issue of the word “Allah” being used by non-Muslims is being brandied around. And protests are happening.

It seems like Malaysia and its people haven’t gotten very far ahead since that television news story I did five years ago for that Dutch news agency. [Click to read the full article at The Malaysian Insider]

Students protest the rising cost of living on New Year’s Eve (TURUN)


Students protest the rising cost of living on New Year’s Eve
By Zan Azlee

As any other New Year’s Eve celebration in Kuala Lumpur, Dataran Merdeka was jam-packed with people who were there to usher in the New Year and to enjoy the live performances that have been organised there for years without fail.

But this year, the situation was a little bit different. A call by Gerakan Turun Kos Sara Hidup (TURUN), Solidariti Mahasiswa Malaysia (SMM), Jingga 13 and Solidariti Anak Muda Malaysia (SAMM) saw thousands gathering there as well, but for a different reason. [Click to read the full article at English.AstroAwani.Com]