Now, this is one woman I really admire – Marina Mahathir, Malaysian women's rights activist and until recently, super leader of Malaysia’s Aids movement. And everyone please, let’s be fair and not visit the sins of the father unto the daughter.
Marina has been concerned that the Malaysian government isn't doing enough to stop conservative Muslims from eroding the rights of citizens. And she’s right, if we consider the PM-sanctioned case of the ‘policewomen tudung issue’, which requires even non-Muslims to wear religious headscarves of a different faith - and stop before you protest that it’s all about police uniform because for more than a hundred years, Sikhs with their marvellous turbans have served in the Malaysian Police without adversely affecting the Police dress uniformity - and the temerity of City Hall in imposing a questionable morality summons on a young Chinese couple kissing in a park.
Added just too closely to all these, there was the earlier and more emotional but legally dodgy case of M Moorthy where authorities overruled the wife and gave him an Islamic burial, as they averred he had converted from Hinduism to Islam. It was a case where the Malaysian civil courts had cowardly abdicated their responsibility when it was damn clear they hadn't even reached the limit of the civil courts' legal jurisdiction.
Marina said: “All these developments are worrying. We want to promote ourselves as a moderate Muslim country' so we have to walk the talk.''
“People know the difference between affection and lewdness. Kissing, hugging being classified as disorderly conduct, I think that's really extreme.''
Now, I can provide an example of ‘lewdness’. Remember those 5 Chinese wives of Malaysian citizens who were confined in a police station for days because it was alleged that the police won’t call upon the Immigration to verify their legal residency until the hubbies paid up?
Well, one of those policemen openly ogled the breasts of one of the women, and even lewdly gestured to her his admiration of her mammary glands. That’s lewdness!
What has the IGP done about this? Nothing, zilch, nada. Instead, he was grandstanding with a tudung order to show his Islamic credentials before he went on to curry favour with the UMNO MPs about the IPCMC.
After the kissing summons, cabinet minister Ong Ka Ting ask local authorities not to send officers to spy on courting couples. He said the cabinet would devise a uniform definition of what indecency ought to be.
Guess what? Dismissing the Minister’s call to ‘cool down’, Mustafa Abdul Rahman Director-General of Malaysia's Department of Islamic Advancement (JAKIM) said arrogantly his office is ”directly in charge of taking care of the moral standard and behaviour of the masses, particularly Muslims.''
“… particularly Muslims” also means “… generally non-Muslims”. So JAKIM feels it can decide on moral standards for every Malaysian.
Marina was aghast by a civil servant defying a Minister, and said: “Cabinet says put a hold on all these bylaws on indecent behaviour, Jakim says: `No, we're still going to go out and arrest Muslim couples. You're a government department, the cabinet says this and you're defying it? Come on.''
But Marina, my dear, that’s not new. Remember a few months back in January, when the Federal Territory Religious Department (JAWI) proposed to start a peeping tom snoop squad?
The cabinet, mindful of the earlier Ali Rustam’s 4B peeping tom proposal which they had vetoed, told JAWI to ‘cease and desist’, but the religious department defied them by insisting on a decision by its own Minister Abdullah Md Zin, who was away in Mecca, before it would cancel its proposal.
Here’s a bunch of clerics-civil servants who obviously didn’t understand who’s who or what’s what in a democracy. They defied an order from the highest ruling authority in Malaysia, the Malaysian Cabinet, and only would obey an order from their own ‘tribal chief’.
Marina continued: “There are Muslims who are worried about these laws being applied to us. If you make non-Muslims wear tudung, what about Muslims who don't wear tudung?''
Then Marina said the thing that I have always believe in: ”It's a very dangerous thing. You should keep religion out of politics - any religion.''
And that’s why we have witnessed Sri Lankan Buddhist monks taking most un-monastic activities in the Island politics, and under the former Indian government with strong links to right wing Hindu groups, Hindu extremists burning alive in India a Christian missionary and his little children, and arrogantly and insensitively repossessing the temple grounds which is purportedly the birthplace of Rama.
Then there was ultra Shinto-ism abetting Japanese rightwing ideology, and the Dutch Reformist Church supporting the former white supremacist Apartheid regime. We of course have the extremist religious parties in Israel pushing for a non-negotiable Greater Israel of ancestral ‘holy land’, and the Christian Right in USA blindly supporting the Jewish State in robbing Palestinian property, and of course not forgetting the intolerant Islamic States and movements.
The PM, Abdullah Badawi, is the first Malaysian PM (or even DPM) with a strong and quantifiable Islamic credential, and blessed with a father who’s a noted Islamic scholar. If he doesn’t use all these credentials to do something to rein in those conservative and assertive Muslims who obviously haven’t shown they understand a nation’s democratic practices he shouldn't be surprised if one day he finds himself overthrown by the wannabe ayatollahs.
Secondly, if he doesn’t curb as well as reprimand opportunistic politicians and civil servants from grubbily exploiting Islam to further their own interests, he would be presented with their embarrassing fait accomplis that would work against his position as a credible PM - as the 'policewomen tudung issue' has already clearly demonstrated to non-Muslims that Abdullah Ahmad Badawi isn't the Bao Gong that his MCA cohorts claimed him to be.