Monday, August 24, 2009

Condemn religious bigotry, not Islam

On August 24, independent news portal Malaysiakini reported that PAS Youth is calling for a ban on MLTR's (Michael Learns To Rock) concert this September - citing it as an insult towards Muslims in the country because it is held during the fasting month of Ramadhan

Firstly, I would like to clarify that this is not an attack on Islam. I have enough respect for my Muslim friends to honour their faith. What I am trying to convey here is my personal rejection towards religious bigotry of any kind - be it Christian, Buddhist, Taoist or etcetera. So I urge my fellow Malaysians not to attack the religion but the religious bigotry of PAS Youth.

The Danish band is scheduled to hold a concert in Genting Highlands on September 5 to promote their newest album, Eternity. With hit songs like Paint My Love and That's Why You Go, the biggest proportion of MLTR's global fandom is actually found in Malaysia.

On August 24, PAS Youth leader Nasrudin Hassan commented that the concert would be a "massive insult" to Muslims in the country who are currently fasting for Ramadhan. He also criticized the present government for giving Star Planet Sdn Bhd the green light to organise the event.[source].

To make things even more compelling, Nasruddin Hassan said he is not hesitant to rally Muslim youths around the country to hold mass protests against the concert. He is also calling for other Muslim NGOs in the country to make a stand against the issue, hoping to cleanse Malaysia from immorality and sin perpetrated by the UMNO/BN government.

"The concert is sure to bring about complacency and immorality among Muslims," Nasruddin Hassan was quoted saying. [Malaysiakini, 24/8/09]
My question is: Why not also ban the sale of cigarettes during the month of Ramadhan? I'm sure tar and nicotine can do more harm than a Danish ballad rock concert can!

If PAS Youth feels that the concert is not suitable for Muslims, then the most reasonable and practical thing to do is to advise Muslims to simply not attend the event. They should be considerate that there are also other Malaysians who do not observe the Ramadhan and would love to see their favourite band live. Has PAS Youth forgotten that Malaysia is not 100% Muslim?

Religious bigotry in Malaysia is not new. Recently, the issue of the sale of alcohol in Muslim-majority areas in Shah Alam has been heavily politicised by PAS Selangor and UMNO. The state administration's local government, research and development portfolio - currently held by executive council (exco) member Ronnie Liu was accused of "interfering in the matters of Islam" by PAS Selangor.

Liu recently intervened in a seizure of beer cans by the Shah Alam City Council from a shop in the city. Muslims in the country are already legally not allowed to purchase alcoholic beverages but PAS Selangor is demanding for a ban on the sale of alcohol in every Muslim-majority area. PAS Selangor believes that by doing so, Muslim youths would be protected from indulging in alcohol.

But it did not occur to them that if one really wants to get his/her fix, one can always drive somewhere else or quietly do it in their own room. PAS Selangor is also ignorant to the fact that many non-Muslim retail owners depend heavily on the sale of alcoholic beverages. Placing beer cans in shops is not an act of forcing nor encouraging Muslim youths to drink!

It is a fact that religious bigotry will always be a thorn in the flesh of progress and civil maturity and will also continue to plague our multi-cultural society. Thus, we as Malaysians must understand that while we may condemn the narrow-mindedness of certain religious bigots in the country, let us all also be sure not to condemn the religion.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Kerajaan BN or Kerajaan Malaysia?

The Barisan Nasional coalition has been in power for over 50 years. However, the political monopoly has created confusion among ordinary Malaysians and politicians alike of the difference between "party" and "government". This has open doors for abuse and propaganda by the powers that be which I believe every Malaysian should therefore be aware of. It is the very reason why a government should be impartial and not party-orientated when it comes to governance.

So what is the difference between party and government? Apart from the spelling, of course, a party is an entity of politicians who share the same ideology and is intended to run for election to govern. Government, on the other hand, is the administrative body of the nation and it should not discriminate any group of people based on their political beliefs, no matter how different they may be from the elected party.

The problem lies in the misconception or rather, the ignorance by certain quarters in acknowledging the difference between party and government. I believe, some politicians and local executive councillors are guilty for their failure to distinguish such things in public..

I am speaking from my personal experience and observation. And I believe, if we look hard enough (a challenge to whoever may be reading this), the proof of my point can be seen almost everywhere and anywhere. Below is a picture of a signboard which is quite ubiquitous. It is self-explanatory:

The signboard proudly exclaims, Projek Kerajaan Barisan Nasional (A Barisan Nasional government project). Is "Barisan Nasional" the name of our country? Or is the school building a 'gift' from the Barisan Nasional? No party should ever claim credit for a project that benefits the community if it is funded by taxpayers' money. Is this not political propaganda even when it is not election season?

Such signboards only mock every taxpaying Malaysian. Are supporters of the Barisan Nasional the only ones who deserve such perks and social benefits? Or are these signboards a cheap reminder to non-Barisan Nasional supporters that they are at the mercy of the ruling coalition? No. The government is obliged to serve every citizen regardless of their political affiliation.

They are also accusations of the federal government (led by Barisan Nasional) withholding crucial funds for states currently under the rule of Opposition parties. Taking Penang state for instance, in August 2008 Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng disclosed that the federal government is holding back RM1.1 billion worth of allocated funds for the urgent expansion of the Mengkuang Dam in Permatang Pauh. Penang’s growing population was bound to face critical water shortage in the next four years. Lim noted that the allocation has not been fulfilled even though it was originally confirmed in the 8th Malaysia Plan. The project was later to be financed fully by a loan from the federal government under the 9th Malaysia Plan. The people of Penang chose the Opposition as the state government but they are nonetheless Malaysians. Thus, it is the duty of the federal goverment is to serve the people of Penang no matter what.

And on August 17 2009, PKR Pahang Legal advisor Ahmad Nizam Hamid reported that Deputy Prime Minister and UMNO party vice president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin had used a Nuri helicopter owned by the Royal Malaysian Air Force in Sabah while conducting party activities. The news about the abuse of government property for party affairs only came to light when the helicopter had to make an emergency landing in Tuaran. Just what right does Muhyiddin have to utilise the RMAF helicopter for UMNO matters?

Is the political psyche of Malaysians too accustomed to the Barisan Nasional 50 year dominance that such misconceptions of party and government have gone unnoticed? Political parties may debate and bicker over ideologies but a government should remain what it is and all politics are put aside for the sake of nationhood. Therefore, the Malaysian context that relates party with government and government with party is flawed. Because ultimately, the people of Malaysia come first, not party nor propaganda.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

Racial journalism from Utusan Malaysia - yet again

Endless racial debates seem to be the main agenda for certain national newspapers like the Utusan Malaysia. Notorious for their racially themed articles, the UMNO-owned paper clearly does not reflect its president's call for 1Malaysia. If Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak is sincere in making his 1Malaysia pep talk a success, the first step would be to keep Utusan Malaysia in check from its racialism.

In my view, this is double speak from both UMNO and party president Datuk Seri Najib Razak who are advocating the 1Malaysia concept. Utusan Malaysia is the party's mouth piece and what it says reflects the party's stand and views. Also, being a national newspaper which is widely distributed to the masses, Utusan Malaysia has a social responsibility to fulfil - that is to ensure the right spirit of journalism is delivered to people.

Recently, Utusan Malaysia published an article entitled, "The Malays are cowards" and it suggests that the non-Malays are being disrespectful to the Malays by manipulating politics and questioning their special rights. [Click here for the English translation or the original Malay version]

In the article, the author comments that the non-Malays want more political power and is lamenting the possibility that one day, the majority of the country's top posts could be held by non-Malays. Not very 1Malaysia-ish, I'd say. This is the reason why the word "meritocracy" remain absent in the vocabulary of narrow minded bigots like Utusan Malaysia. For them, it does not matter if the Inspector-General of Police or a Minister is unqualified and incapable just as long as he is a Malay. On the other hand, the non-Malays have no qualms about having Malay leaders as long as they are capable and know what they are doing. So, race is actually beside the point. Malaysians just want able leaders to lead them.

The article further suggests that the Malays are being "attacked" by the Chinese and Indians for power over the country. And by doing so, the Chinese and Indians are instigating another May 13. The writer also points out that “what the Chinese and the Indians want now is more political and administrative power, not justice and democracy.” Is this not racially slanderous?

The Pakatan Rakyat have publicly condemn the article, citing it to be seditious and potentially detrimental to racial harmony. I agree. Why isn't Najib sticking his nose into this since such articles are directly opposing his 1Malaysia ideals?

PAS central committee member Dr Hatta Ramli criticized the writer's belief that public bodies like the courts, the police and the military are Malay institutions when they are actually upheld as Malaysian institutions. This lop-sided view only reflects the limited understanding of the nation's history. This country is not only built by one race but is a collective effort of the various immigrant communities that chose this land to be called their home. But sadly, racist bigots do not understand this historical portion of reality.

Nonetheless, we should all respect Utusan Malaysia's right to freedom of speech. But if that is the case, would the favour be returned if such articles like Utusan Malaysia's are written in a non-Malay newspaper? Would they not also cry foul and say it is seditious?

I will not call for a total ban on Utusan Malaysia because I respect their right to free speech. The least we - those who are disgusted with their version of quality journalism - could do is to not buy their papers. Banning Utusan Malaysia for their views, no matter how preposterous they may be, would make us indifferent to them. We may disagree with Utusan Malaysia but we should do our utmost to protect their right to say it.

That being said, however, does not stop Utusan Malaysia from making a fool out of themselves with their apparent "insightful" articles on race relations. Unless that is sorted out, Najib and UMNO can forget about convincing the rest of Malaysia that 1Malaysia is viable.

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Saturday, August 1, 2009

Does Malaysia still need the ISA ?

The Internal Security Act (ISA) has never failed to provoke its fair share of controversies. The government says we need it; the foreign media says its unethical but ultimately, the majority of Malaysians want the policy scrapped for good.

The preventive detention law was first drafted by the government to counter the communist insurgents during the Emergency Years. And yes, the law has been instrumental in putting a dent in the Jemaah Islamiyah terror movement many years ago. But the question is: Do we really need the ISA?

Both former Law Minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim and Human Resources Minister Datuk Dr. S. Subramaniam have in the past expressed their discontent with the abuse of the ISA by the powers that be. Zaid Ibrahim, a lawyer by profession have said that Malaysia has adequate laws to prosecute an individual deemed a threat to national security and there is simply no need to invoke the controversial law.

In an article published by the Malaysian Insider, Pasir Mas independent MP Ibrahim Ali has called for the support and the continuity of the ISA. He reckons a multiracial country like Malaysia needs the ISA in order to maintain peace and order in society. To support his argument, he suggests that it would be 'easier' to arrest a terrorist suspect who is plotting to bomb a public area under the ISA, rather than using conventional detention law to prosecute him in court for 'he' has yet to commit a crime.

Nonetheless, I believe that kind of reasoning is flawed.

First of all, if an arrest is to be made on a terror suspect, that would likely mean the authorities have sufficient evidence of his terrorist involvement in the first place; otherwise an arrest warrant cannot be issued. Secondly, the police still has the right to detain a criminal suspect for 48 hours for interrogation - even without a warrant. On the other hand, a person can be incarcerated up to 60 days of interrogation without access to legal counsel under the ISA.

In fact, I would support the ISA if and only if the legislation is restricted to cover terrorist or military threats. The fact is that today, the party in power has the prerogative to choose who is a 'threat' and who is not. This gives powerful individuals in the government to abuse the ISA. Individuals like Raja Petra Kamarudin and Teresa Kok were considered threats to national security simply because they disagreed with certain government policies and practices. Are bloggers and MPs now more dangerous than crooks and terrorists?

Recent trends have also shown that the ISA is currently being used to serve political purposes.

But what about the racists? People have called for the ISA to be used on politicians like former Bukit Bendera division chief Ahmad Ismail who labelled the Chinese Malaysians as squatters last year. Nothing happened. So to say that Malaysia needs the ISA to prevent people from stirring racial sentiments is irrelevant. When the ISA is really needed to serve its true purpose, it is not used. What is the point then?

But I believe in the freedom of speech. Being of Chinese descent, if one decides to make a racist statement on my ancestry in public, does it mean I should start a racial riot and torch every Malay home or business? No. But unfortunately, our society is not mature enough to handle such harsh statements - yet.

The ethical issue with the ISA is that a person can be arrested for a crime he has yet to commit. That is like putting the cart before the horse. Likewise, when heavy Muslim-dressed passengers have to undergo tighter security screenings for 'potential terrorist affiliations' in European and American airports, many here cry foul against the religious/racial profiling being exercised by the liberal West. Similarly, the police here could also arrest every single motorcycle rider on the road for being potentially 'Rempit'. Why not?

Hence, I believe the ISA has already served its purpose to suppress the communists. Laws are drafted to fulfil the nation's needs of a specific period and therefore we cannot expect a law to remain relevant forever. Laws have to be amended according to the times. The same applies with the ISA.

I would support if the role of the ISA is to be reviewed by the government. However, I am still not to keen on that idea. I would rather see the ISA be abolished and a new set of law be tabled to address the issues of national security. Why allow a law like the ISA which has all the room for abuse by corrupt leaders to continue to prevail?

Thus, the reviewed ISA or whatever name the new law is to be called, should be more specific in its definition of 'national threats' and the criteria which define them in order to prevent future abuses.

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