Monday, May 25, 2009

Angels and Demons

I almost literally flopped into bed, feeling relatively satisfied with the day's work. Though I hasten to add; 'day' is incorrect. I had stayed up the whole night, making good progress with a documentary I am editing. That process itself raised a whole load of other issues that I would exercise my mental muscles on, but that would be another day. After going straight for 18 hours (I left the editing room at 10am and went straight to Korean class), all I could think of was bed.

Before I just about managed to drop almost-dead, I summoned enough strength to send a message to a friend, so I had met the previous evening. “She wouldn't believe that I'm just about to sleep now,” was the thought that made me smile as I pressed send.

Barely seconds later, the phone rang, and it was her. “Roh Moo-hyun committed suicide,” wasn't what I had expected to hear. “Fuck,” I thought to myself, and then said softly on the phone. Then I thought, fuck that, let it out, and I did. “FUCK!” I half-shouted, not really caring about my roommates at the moment in time. “He committed suicide? The former president?!” I continued along this vein for a short while, truly finding the news to be unbelievable. Incredible. Impossible. You name it, I thought of it as I also mentioned the names of several prophets from several religions in vain.

For those who are not in the know, the former president of South Korea committed suicide early Saturday morning. He and his family has been, for some time now, involved in a high-profile bribery case that has, when Kim Yu-na is not busy winning ice skating world championships, almost totally dominated the headlines. The case appeared to be heading towards an interesting climax, before he preempted it with his own death.

Lest it be thought that I am a sympathiser to the former president, I am not. In fact, I would admit that my understanding and knowledge of Korean politics is limited, at best. With my school, the Korea National University of Arts, embroiled in an interesting scandal of its own with the current government and its head, Lee Myung-bak (which I'll write about soon-ish), my interest has been jacked up that bit more. Even before that, I have good impressions of former president Roh, and wondered what could have driven him to the point where he would take his own life.

And this is where you don't have to be Korean to have a measure of this issue: a former head of state committed suicide precisely because of his implication in a bribery scandal. Think about it: when was the last time you heard of a head of state, former or current, taking their own life? They've been shot at, assassinated, bombed, died by way of natural causes or by accident...but taking their own life? Though you may come up with other answers, the only one that jumped to my mind then and now is Adolf Hitler, and he had plenty to answer for. Though former president Roh's situation is not the best, I would say he's looked upon far more favourably compared to Herr Hitler.

Which made me wonder about how he must have felt. “I hate the sin, but not the sinner,” someone once told me. I'll be damned if that same exact quote didn't resurface more than once at this moment in time somewhere in Korea. Which leads me to think: do I hate the sin, or the sinner?

After all...an Asian head of state implicated in bribery and corruption? Damn, you could just about take your pick from any Asian country of your choosing. Almost anyone, at almost any point in time. Hell, in my country, you don't even have to pick. With the amount of perceived self-interest that they have for themselves compared to actually serving the public with honour and dignity, you'd have a dossier thicker than an Argos catalogue.

Fact is, once I have reached this point of the post, I am not sure why I started writing this to begin with. There is no clear conclusion, no clear answers that can satisfy my questions to begin with. If Roh meant to silence people with his death, he raised more questions in my head than ever before. Some are about him: why suicide? What could have specifically driven him to kill himself? Bribery and corruption, yes, but, though sizeable, it's not exactly RM534.8 million, is it? Even if the guilt weighs heavily in the heart, is suicide worthy of contemplation?

What is the difference between him and other people? What's the difference between Roh Moo-hyun, a man who championed anti-corruption during his term in office, and the other leaders from other countries who also sang similar war chants, within Asia and without? Does it lie merely within the cultural differences of countries? Or is there something more?

Finding life unbearable, did Roh find salvation in taking his own life? Or was it already at a stage where he was condemned regardless? Who is able to give him redemption or salvation?

Ultimately, though, what is the difference between the sin and the sinner?

Is there an identifiable one to begin with?

And how would we know?

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