Radicalising Charlie

Professor Tan Sri Dato' Dzulkifli Abdul Razak
MY VIEW - The Sun Daily
January 28, 2015

WHEN I first entered the world, Charlie Brown was just four years of age. I grew up to know him better as the "wishy-washy" icon of Peanuts, the famed lovable character created by Charles Schulz for over nearly 50 years with more than 18,000 comic strips to his name. When he died on Feb 12, 2000, Charlie Brown had taken a life of his own, appearing everywhere, from newspapers to books, from TV specials to figurines. He was even on an off-Broadway play aptly titled You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown. Charlie was good natured despite the many challenges he faced and striking out in love and life! Good grief!

The Charlie I know, always in his signature black shorts and yellow shirt with a thick black zig-zag design across the middle, was well liked and peace-loving. Indeed, he is quoted as saying: "The less you respond to rude, critical argumentative people, the more peaceful your life will be."

"In the book of life, the answers aren't in the back," he contended, implying that one needs to be wise to navigate through the complexities of life.

As a teenager, I was introduced to another Charlie, another iconic comic but real. Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977) born as Charles Spencer Chaplin came into my impressionable life. Taking after his father who was a versatile vocalist and actor; and his mother, an attractive actress and singer, he soon became a star. Inheriting the rich natural talent from his parents, he took to the stage, with his brother, Sydney. He made his professional debut as a member of a juvenile group and quickly won popularity as an outstanding tap dancer. At the young age of 10, Charlie had to fend for himself when his parents died.

He got his first break, two years later, as an actor in Sherlock Holmes. This launched him into a career as a comedian, which eventually took him to the US more than 100 years ago, in 1910. Since then, he was more in demand as he brought the much needed entertainment. The movie Easy Street was heralded as his greatest production up to that time.

As though that is not enough, by 1917, Chaplin became an independent producer in the quest for more freedom and greater leisure in making his movies. The "freedom" that he sought brought the leisure he envisioned enabling him to win his first Academy Award in 1929 for The Circus.

Chaplin's genius was beyond imagination, extending from writing to sports and music. Although self-taught, he reportedly mastered a variety of instruments with equal skill and facility, playing the violin and cello left-handed. Not only an accomplished musician, he was also a composer, writing and publishing many songs; apart from being an author, actor, director and soundtrack composer. All these brought much delight to millions around the world, even until today – sometimes in satirical ways but causing no offence as in the case of The Great Dictator (1940)! His famous quote: "We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other's happiness – not by each other's misery. We don't want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.

"Greed has poisoned men's souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost ... "

The wisdom in these words ring even louder now, despite the more than 70 years that have passed.

Today, we are indeed in the state of "lost" where life has become violent! It is at this very tragic time that another Charlie – Charlie Hebdo, came alive! Though just a name for a small French magazine (nowhere near the other Charlies), it has caused a devastating impact! Unlike what Charlie Chaplin professed, it not only lacks "kindness" and "gentleness", there is also an absence of "cleverness", bordering on arrogance and stupidity. Instead, Charlie has been radicalised! But like what Charlie Brown said the less we respond to rude, critical argumentative people, the more peaceful our life will be.

With some four decades of experience in education locally and internationally, the writer believes that "another world is possible". Comments: letters@thesundaily.com