Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Why the stir over kangkung?

Brave New World (The Star)
22 January 2014

Things are being blown out of proportion over the issue with some viewing it through race-tinted glasses. Are they blind to the fact that the people who are annoyed at the kangkung remark are from all ethnic groups?


I DON’T like water morning glory a.k.a water spinach a.k.a kangkung. There’s a metallic tang to it that I find displeasing.
I much prefer kailan or bayam – the former fried with salted fish and the latter in a watery soup.
What has my taste in vegetables got to do with anything? Nothing really.
Just as the recent, rather humorous, jabs at the Prime Minister have nothing to do with his ethnicity.
It has plenty to do with his alleged insensitivity to the price hikes in the country (which affect every single Tan, Din and Harvin) and it has plenty to do with the fact that kangkung is funny (even its very name makes me giggle); but I can’t see where the Prime Minister’s ethnicity comes into play.
So, how is it racist?
I guess some people view the world through race-tinted glasses.
These are the people who are calling for a demonstration to defend the Prime Minister.
I must say their poster calling for participants in this demonstration looks very exciting.
It has a very macho-looking chap carrying not one but two parang and an equally macho call for all Malays to come out and defend their race, their king, their religion and who knows what else.
I am of course in favour of demonstrations and public protests; it is after all a fundamental right as guaranteed by Article 10 of the Constitution. But Article 10 also says, and rightly so, that any assembly must be peaceful and without arms.
This “Defend the PM” demonstration uses a poster with a chap carrying machetes. Aren’t machetes weapons? Are they asking people to bring their parang? Or is it just for dramatic artistic effect?
I am sure they will have a good explanation and surely the police should ask for it.
The Government has shown itself to be very sensitive to any symbols of violence. After all, the Registrar of Societies made a huge hue and cry about the fact that Parti Sosialis Malaysia used a closed fist for its party symbol.
A closed fist is violent, apparently. It conjures up images of pugilism, I guess.
But if a closed fist is violent, then isn’t a parang even more violent? Thus, I would be most surprised if the police do not swoop down on these organisers with the same vigour and energy that they use when swooping down on the organisers of other demonstrations.
For example, the anti-price-hike demo on New Year’s Eve was scrutinised and demonised by the cops because it was thought to be potentially dangerous.
The police even feared that there were going to be grenades in Merdeka Square.
The organisers did not say “bring grenades” and their posters did not have grenades on them but the cops wanted to be safe rather than sorry I suppose.
Therefore, I would expect nothing less from our men and women in blue than a complete and thorough investigation of people who actually have a weapon-wielding man on their invitation to a demo.
Especially in the light of several folks (again wearing those special spectacles) saying that this kangkung issue could lead to race riots.
Race riots? Because people are angry at price rises?
Are these people blind to the fact that the people who are annoyed at the kangkung remark are from all ethnic groups?
There is no racial issue here. The only racial issues are the ones being made up by the desperate people whose only pathetic claim to relevance depends on them making everything into a racial issue.
I don’t believe that Malaysians are going to fall for this idiocy. But having said that, a few may not care about reason and logic and all it takes is a handful to create trouble.
Surely a government maintaining the peace would seek these true trouble-makers out. Or do different rules apply? We’ll just have to wait and see.

Forum: A Culture of Exceptionalism 21 January 2014


Thursday, 16 January 2014

Allah issue a distraction

Sin Chew Jit Poh
17 January 2014


Football managers are masters at distracting attention away from the shortcomings of their team. When they lose, some managers will be quick to make a big deal of something else and not the poor performance of the team.

The funniest one that I can remember is Alex Ferguson blaming the colour of Manchester United’s kit. It was grey and according to him they lost because the players could not see one another on the pitch.

Not all managers are as imaginative as that and usually they will fall onto the normal source of distraction which is the referee. David Moyes did that when Tottenham Hotspur won at Old Trafford and Alan Pardew did the same thing when Newcastle was beaten by Manchester City.

Amidst the fury and the self-righteous anger there was little room to raise the issue that their teams also lost because they were simply unable to finish off the many chances that they had. By raging at the referee, discussions of the team’s weaknesses were skilfully side stepped.

I have a feeling that in a way this Allah furore is a similar tactic being used by the government. Nothing is more emotive than religion and it is a useful tool to be used in order to get people to react as opposed to reflect.

Just for the record I want to say here that I believe that there is absolutely no theological reason to prevent anyone from using Allah to describe God. The Quran is full of verses where the word Allah is used to describe God, by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. The Quran recognises that the concept of God differs from faith to faith, but at the end of the day God is still God and the term used to call God is Allah.

There is also no legal justification in Malaysia that can be used to ban a people from practising their faith in peace. The propagation of religion to Muslims can be controlled, this is true, but if you are simply practicing your faith peacefully, and you are not propagating your religion to Muslims, then no one should be allowed to bother you. That is your right and it is guaranteed by the Constitution.

So this ban on Christians using Allah to describe god is ridiculous theologically and unlawful constitutionally.

So why is the issue being allowed to fester? Why are government figures either silent (like the Prime Minister) or clearly supportive of banning non-Muslims from using the word Allah (like the Menteri Besar of Kedah)? Cowardice and bigotry can’t be ruled out, but let us not forget how convenient this emotive issue is.

If Muslims, being the majority of the population, are fuming under the misconception that somehow their religion is being threatened, then perhaps they will also not notice a few other things happening around them.

Things like the soaring cost of living without the corresponding soaring wages; or perhaps the fact that government ministers have shown gross insensitivities to the plight of the ordinary citizen trying to make ends meet? What about the fact that the hundreds of millions of Ringgit of people’s money which was lost during the PKFZ scandal appears to have happened by magic because the Public Prosecutors appear to be unable to find the culprit.

And of course we have forgotten that the Auditor General’s Report of just a few months ago is still valid and it still says that millions of Ringgit is wasted by government agencies.

These are all issues that affect the ordinary man on the street. The price raises hurt us, and the money wasted through incompetence and corruption hurt us. Christians respectfully using the name of Allah should not hurt us. We should be focussing on the former and not the latter yet, due to misdirection, things are the wrong way round.


Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Divining the laws in faith

Brave New World (The Star)
8 January 2014

As the debate on religious freedom can transcend legal arguments it should also be seen from a theological perspective.


READING the news in the past few weeks has evoked many feelings. But chief amongst them, for me at least, is the profound feeling of sadness.
Sadness that acts devoid of common decency and compassion are supported not only by a sizeable portion of our society, but also by government agencies.
I am of course speaking about the recent attacks on the Christian community over the use of the name of God.
I could raise the fact that Article 3 of our Constitution guarantees ev­eryone the right to practise their religion peacefully. So, if the Christian community have been using the word Allah for God, in a peaceful manner, in respectful worship, then it is their right to do so.
I could also point out that the Constitution does allow lawful limitations on religious freedom. It states that there can be control of the propagation of religion to Muslims.
This provision is very clear: if state or federal law prescribes it, then nobody can propagate any religious teachings to Muslims, without due authority.
There are laws in Selangor which prescribe such control. But these laws can only be used if there is non-authorised propagation to Muslims. Raiding a premises and taking away Bibles is utterly wrong because there was no act of propagation being done.
I could raise all these legal points until I am blue in the face, but the fact remains that it is not legal niceties which are the issue here.
Malay Muslims in this country are not going to be convinced by Constitutional legal arguments.
For many, this is a matter of faith and their community leaders have told them that it is wrong for non-Muslims to use Allah when describing God. To say or think otherwise would be a sin.
This mind-set of simply obeying a person with a hint of religious authority is something I am familiar with.
I was after all raised a Muslim in this country. But to understand the mind-set is not the same as agreeing with it.
I am loathe to tell anyone what to think, but here I would like to humbly ask the Muslims reading this, those who have not made their minds up one way or the other, to please look at the Quran. There is no theological basis for banning anyone from using the word Allah. Nowhere in the holy book does it say that “Allah” is exclusive to Muslims.
In fact Surah 22:40 (Al-Hajj) states that the name Allah is used in all sorts of houses of worship: mosques, churches, monasteries and synagogues.
And just because a figure in authority gives an opinion, it is merely that, an opinion. A fatwa is a person’s opinion; it is not the word of God.
There are many opinions on this matter. The ones being made by the faith leaders in this country are not the only ones.
People have been given minds in order to think for themselves. It is a feature of Islam that there is no priesthood; there is no papacy, no middleman between people and God.
There is instead a presumption, right from the beginning that all people take responsibility for their own faith and their own learn- ing.
And when studying this issue, when seeking out alternative opinions, ponder this: Is Islam a religion which condones the attack of other faiths? Is it a religion that is so small in its worldview that it can approve of one community claiming the term for God for itself? Is Islam so lacking in common decency and compassion?
I don’t think it is and I will not be accepting any opinion that says otherwise, for a religion without the decency to respect other faiths, without the compassion to not attack other faiths, would be in my view a very poor thing indeed.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Lesons in democracy

Sin Chew Jit Poh
3 January 2014
Oh dear, oh dear. It seems that even as we begin the year 2014 and we are now deep into the 21st century, there are still those amongst us who do not understand the meaning of the word democracy. I think it is only right that these poor uninformed souls are given a short course on what it means to be a democratic country.


Let me begin with some basics. In a democracy, the people get to choose their leaders. If they don’t like a person or a party, then they don’t vote for them. In fact, even before any elections, they are very free to say they don’t like a leader or a party. To oppose a political party is part and parcel of a democracy. Just because one does not agree with the ruling party does not mean they have to leave the country.


Are you listening, most venerable Wanita UMNO Chief?


Secondly, in a democracy, you must accept criticisms as well as toadying. Some people will love you and worship you like you are some sort of divine being. Others may think you are simply awful. Both views must be allowed to be aired. You can’t just take what you like and shut down what you don’t like. So if a newspaper makes a report that is not flattering to your heavenly leader and his even more heavenly wife, this does not give you the excuse to shut that newspaper down.


Are you listening, most wise Minister of Home Affairs?


Finally, I just want to say, in case there are those who just think that democracy means elections and nothing else; to assemble and to protest is also a democratic right. So if a group of people want to get together and say, quite reasonably I think, that the recent price hikes in this country is harmful to the citizens of Malaysia and that they are very angry about it, then it is their right to do so.


Any limitation on this right to assemble has to be very prudently enforced. Saying that the holding of a protest on New Year’s Eve is disrespectful to the celebration of New Year and thus should not be held, is a very odd statement and really is a ridiculous reason to try to stop people from simply practicing their human right.


Are you listening, most respected Gerakan Youth Chief?


Alas, I don’t think any of these people will listen nor will they care. Those who are de facto in charge of this nation, seem to be simply incapable of accepting that if you want to call ourselves a democracy (a world class democracy as a certain leader has been recorded as saying), then you must accept dissent.


If you can’t accept dissent you then have two choices. Stop being a hypocrite, throw away any pretence that we are living in a democracy and oppress the people by totally disregarding their inalienable human rights.


Or, (and this is my hope for the new year), admit that you are too weak and too soft to take criticism, resign from office and retreat from public life and surround yourself with good friends and family who will do nothing but praise you and your amazingness.


Happy New Year everyone!