Something’s rotten in the state of 1Malaysia

February 18, 2010 § Leave a comment

It’s always a good time to foam at the mouth where Malaysian politics is concerned. Every day is a new day to get your panties in a twist over some idiotic comment or policy being made or approved. And I told myself not to write about it here, because I’m not very articulate when I’m angry, and the spectre of the ISA looms dark over the Malaysian public.

But sometimes, it’s simply impossible to wax lyrical over a book, or a film, or some aspect of ‘culture’ without recognising the politics that underlie our everyday lives.

The recent foam-in-the-mouth situation is brought on courtesy of the Home Ministry. In the wake of the Kartina issue, where the Syariah High Court meted out a punishment of an RM 5, 000 fine and six strokes of the cane after a Muslim woman was found to have imbibed alcohol, most Malaysians (myself included) thought that this was the first attempt on the part of Malaysian officials in meting out a draconian law under the guise of religious piety. But as the Home Minister will tell you, fret not. Other women HAVE been caned before, in Malaysia, for having partaken in ‘illicit sex.’

The obvious questions are, clearly, are only women liable to be caned for illicit sex, if sex outside marriage is unlawful in Islam? In that case, were/are men caned too, for the same reasons? Or were these women caned for having illicit sex with other women? And what levels of intellectual and ethical maturity does our Home Minister possess if he trots out this beautiful example in defense of the sentence meted out to Kartika?

What I love about Malaysian online alternative media is that we’re given examples of the reactions this announcement has elicited. On the one hand, you get the outrage. On the other, you get the applause.

It’s important to note what is said in that Malaysian Insider article by one of the lawyers who is against the sentence :

“Malaysian Human Rights Association president Malik Imtiaz Sarwar, a Muslim constitutional lawyer, said he believed that the caning was outside the jurisdiction of the Syariah courts.

He said the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 — which confers powers on the Syariah courts — does not authorise caning of the kind dictated by Islamic law.”

In other news, books are banned in Malaysia, and books are seized from the bookshops by Home Ministry officials hell-bent on ‘studying’ potentially offensive and sensitive publications.

I placed an order online at for what I thought seemed to be an innocent enough book: Laini Taylor’s Lips Touch: Three Times. It’s a young adult novel that incorporates elements of fantasy, and as far as I know, the stories and the illustrations have gotten rave reviews in the (largely) American press and blogosphere.

Over there in America, they do things different. They let their kids read books like this! Over here in Malaysia, the Home Ministry detains the books at the Subang Jaya entry point and needs to send me an apologetic email offering me various options for a refund.

Reasons why the book is detained? The possibilities are endless. It could be that the Home Ministry is worried that young men with no morals might tempt the pure young girls of Malaysia by offering them luscious fruit that have been ‘cursed’ by a bomoh.

Or the sight of those red lips on the cover could send Malaysians into a nation-wide kissing frenzy. (But this could work in the government’s favour. No one would ask questions about the Kugan case or Anwar’s trial, or why one of the submarines commissioned for RM 3.4 billion ‘can’t dive’, or how come huge amounts of taxpayers’ money went down the drain in the PKFZ fiasco, how Umno Youth suddenly gets RM 2 million funding handed over for its ‘programmes’ just like that, etc.

But Malaysian politicians, if nothing else, lack the ability to look ahead. Their view of history, and of the current world, is always synchronic, and always seen through not rose-coloured, but heavily-tinted glasses. The kind that they use for their state-sanctioned vehicles.

Postscript: Marina Mahathir has an insightful blog post about the caning issue here. She brings up a key point, namely how class differentials plays a key role in our government’s moral police’s extreme policing. The people who are subject to these stringent religious laws are the ones least likely to be able to have access to decent legal representation. One would think it would have been more Islamic to counsel these girls, and offer them financial support with regards to their babies, or an avenue through which they can still remain in school/complete their studies and bring up their babies at the same time (as some are without family support). In all 3 cases there was no mention of the other party – ie. the ‘sperm donors.’ Clearly, they did their job and then went on to do other things.


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