Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Free speech must be for all

Brave New World (The Star)
25 April 2017

Even if we disapprove of what they say, we should defend to the death their right to say it.
ONE of the difficulties about defending the freedom of speech is that one has to defend speech that one likes as well as speech that one does not.
In the past week there have been two free speech issues that have been of interest in the country. One is regarding Zakir Naik and the other about a truly unfunny television presenter.
Let’s deal with Zakir first. Right off the bat, I want to say that I don’t think anyone should be banned from speaking unless what they say incites violence.
It does not matter if what they say is hurtful, that is not sufficient ground for censorship.
The very same reasons used to defend Zunar’s right to create his highly critical cartoons and not face criminal charges can be used for Zakir.
The problem here is that Zakir’s treatment is patently hypocritical. Can you imagine a Christian preacher being critical of Islam getting not only the freedom to hold large scale lectures but also to get Permanent Resident status?
Exactly. It won’t happen. So the special treatment given to Zakir is indicative of a Government that is biased.
For me, that is the core of the issue: that this Government is selective regarding whose freedom they respect and whose they don’t.
Not only is this freedom given to a person whom many find offensive, they also give him a PR. This is so odd because the fact that he is under criminal investigations in several countries would normally bar him from such a privilege.
It is even stranger considering that there are thousands of honest people born in this country, who can’t get status and yet this person can.
And he is obviously ever so grateful, encouraging people in this country to vote for his benefactors.
But back to the issue of speech. The TV presenter who made fun of Watson Nyambek’s name is clearly in the wrong profession. He was supposed to be funny but merely ended up making a fool of himself.
As such it would be understandable if his employers ended his services. It would also be totally understandable if Watson wanted to take some sort of civil action.
However, it was reported that a police investigation is to be opened based on the possible use of the Penal Code; specifically the provision of insulting a person with the intention to breach the peace.
I think this law was meant for immediate situations where people are verbally abusive and this leads to violence.
This is not the case here; the presenter was being a total idiot, and he should get what is coming to him, but criminal charges should not be part of that.
If criminal law is used too freely against speech and expression, it can be used to suppress legitimate dissent.
I dislike the things that Zakir says. I find that TV presenter to be a total prat. But in the matter of free speech, unfortunately if we want it for ourselves we have to want it even for the offensive and the foolish.

There’s a reason for the law on statutory rape

Brave New World (The Star)
12 April 2017

The goal is to protect girls who are not mature enough to make complicated decisions with far-reaching consequences.
DATUK Shabudin Yahaya has really caused a furore with his statements in Parliament about statutory rape.
Having read transcripts of his speech in Parliament, I came to see that some of the comments made about him are unfair. He does not condone rape, for example. But be that as it may, I have some issues about what was said.
Firstly, there seems to be confusion about the meaning of statutory rape. Statutory rape means that any sex with a girl under the age of 16 is rape.
Her consent is beside the point. I found it disturbing that in his speech there appeared to be a distinction made between rape (rogol) and consensual, albeit illicit, sex (zina).
This is missing the point totally about the law regarding statutory rape, because the whole concept of the law is that children do not have the ability to give their consent, by virtue of the fact that they are too young.
So, sex with an underage girl is rape; no matter what the circumstances.
One argument that he also seems to be making is that some girls under the age of 16 are mature. One presumes that he means mature enough to consent to sex.

Again, this misses the point. The law is there to protect as many girls as possible.
The fact of the matter is our society as a whole thinks that girls under 16 should be protected from sexual predators and are not grown up enough to make decisions as complicated and with such far-reaching consequences like choosing to have sex or not; thus we have this law and it is a strict liability law (meaning the intention of the offender and the consent of the victim is irrelevant: if the act is done, then a crime is committed. End of story).
As an example, we have laws about drink driving. There is a limit which a person can drink and drive; beyond that he is committing an offence.
It does not matter if there are a few people who can hold their liquor and drink a lot and still be able to drive (I am not condoning this at all, just making an example).
The fact is, it is deemed that most people can’t drive safely if they drink beyond a certain point, and thus the law covers everybody. This is how protective laws work.
Another point that he made which I find most concerning is the statement that girls who reach puberty are “spiritually and physically” ready for marriage. How does he know? I don’t know where this comes from, but I am guessing it is from his religious beliefs.
Look, the whole concept that people (boys and girls) can marry upon reaching puberty is a rule created 1,400 years ago in a time where people’s life expectancy was very short.
Things are different now; children stay children longer regardless if they are able to produce semen or are menstruating.
They have school to go through to prepare themselves for the future. They are not likely to die at 30 so there is no urgent need to procreate before they croak. Surely the changing times should be taken into consideration.
Finally, the thing that worried me the most is the objectifying of girls, the statement about how some young girls have bodies of women.
This is most unsettling.
Girls are girls and until they reach the age of 18 they deserve the protection afforded to children.
They are not sexual beings and should not be treated as such because they are too darn young.
This blase treatment about the safety of our girl children, to me, reflects a type of misogyny.
It commodifies and objectifies them and as such is in breach of Article 5(a) of the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which Malaysia is party to.
The article reads as follows:
States Parties shall take all appropriate measures: to modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women.
Seeing as how an MP from the ruling party seems to be unable to shake off his misogynistic viewpoint (whether intentional or not) based on what appears to be his “social and cultural” patterns, it would appear that this sorry little affair just goes to show how far this Government has to go before it can begin to give women and girls the respect that they are due.

Allow room for critical thinking

Brave New World (The Star)
29 March 2017


FIVE school teachers have been given show cause letters by the Education Ministry for being “excessively” critical of the Government in public forums and the like. I wish I could find out what they said; it would be nice to see what “excessive” is.
The Education Minister also said that civil servants should be loyal to the Government and any criticism should be done via the “correct channels”. But all this silencing of educators is not undemocratic, he says because it is done via the law – namely the General Orders which civil servants are bound by.
How quaint.
These are really old justifications that have been used for decades.
Firstly, one has to wonder what “proper channels” there are and whether they are effective or not. If these channels are not open to the public (and I am certain by “proper” it is meant “discreet”) then they can easily be ignored.
Secondly, just because a law exists to silence people, that does not make it right. A power provided by legislation can be just as undemocratic as an unfettered discretionary power.
These five teachers are facing the beginnings of disciplinary action for things which they did outside of the classroom. But the Youth and Sports Minister has chipped in saying that things done within the classrooms should not be used as a “political platform”.
Well, sure, it would be unseemly and inappropriate for any sort of political campaigning to be done in classrooms. Kind of pointless as well, since schoolchildren can’t vote.
But I wonder; what if a history teacher decides to point out the fact that Umno was late in joining the calls for independence and in fact the originator for that call was the Malayan Left. Would this be political?
And that is just within the context of schools. Universities offer courses and have departments whose entire purpose is to examine critically what happens in society, which includes what the Government does.
A Social Science Department that does not cover race-based policies in the country will not be doing its job. An economics department that does not explore the effect of corruption on the well-being of the country will not be doing its job. A law faculty that does not criticise unjust laws and judgments will not be doing its job.
However, recently, public universities have received a circular, once again written under the authority of legislation meant to control civil servants, where we have been told that we can’t say or do anything that could be deemed as manifesting disloyalty to King, country and government.
Well, I can tell you that makes my job as a Human Rights and Environmental Law lecturer very simple then.
I think I can just turn up to class for the rest of the semester with a guitar and sing Kumbaya with my students for an hour.
Of course I won’t do that. This is because my responsibility as a lecturer, and a teacher’s responsibility, is first and foremost to our students. Our job is to broaden their horizons and to show them not just what is, but what should be.
As long as what is being taught is backed up by good research and sound reasoning, then what is said should not be penalised.
If we do our jobs well, we produce thinking graduates and by this we serve the people and the nation. Not the Government.
It is not just teachers and lecturers who have been under the cosh recently; university students have not escaped either. Nowadays any show of dissent from students will ensure disciplinary hearings. But one student in particular has had the full force of so called anti-terrorism laws, and all the intense pain and stress that implies for her and her family, used against her.
Siti Nor Aishah Atan was a Master’s student in Universiti Malaya. She was apparently doing research on terrorism, and as part of her work she had in her possession, surprise surprise, books related to the subject. She was arrested last year for being in possession of “illegal” books.
The High Court released her on the grounds that there was no evidence that the books were “illegal”. She was then rearrested and detained without trial under the Prevention of Crime Act for 60 days.
Upon her release she was made to wear an electronic tag and report to the police once a week. Meanwhile, the Attorney-General’s Chambers, unhappy with the High Court, appealed the decision and she was detained without trial again, now under the Special Offences (Special Measures) Act.
My question is this: Siti has been under investigation and watch since September last year; she has been detained for two months, and she has had her movements monitored, so why the need to detain her further? Unless, this girl from Terengganu, is some sort of genius terrorist mastermind (which is the reason why one presumes the AG’s Chambers are so dogged) or the investigating agencies are utterly incompetent for not being able to find enough evidence to charge her properly in court.
Besides, what she was doing was research. Surely in the face of very real terrorist threats the world over, such research should be carried out and not punished.
But then, in a land where civil servants are expected to be docile and lecturers are faced with restrictions which are designed to cow them into total intellectual impotence, logic does not really come into the equation.

Yes, your votes do count in the next election

Brave New World (The Star)
1 March 2017

The window for registering to vote could be narrowing, so don’t throw away your privilege and responsibility.
I GATHER that there are over four million eligible voters who are yet to register. Most of these people are young, that is to say in the 21 to 29-year-old range.
Word from those who work in voter registration is that there is a prevailing feeling amongst the youth that although they may not like the ruling party, they also don’t like the opposition. In other words, they feel that there is no one that they want to vote for.
A feeling of disillusionment is also appa­rently flowing through the urban middle classes who may feel let down by the disunity amongst the opposition parties, as well as perhaps a feeling of hopelessness due to the fact that the electoral system seems to be so flawed – thus meaning a lower voter turnout.
Heaven knows I can sympathise with all of the feelings above. However, I think staying away from the polls is not the best thing to do. If we want change to happen in the country then everything that can be done, must be done.
It is important to know that the elections are not the be-all and end-all. They are merely one tool with which to work for change. Of course, ideally, one can just go about one’s life and only worry about politics once every four or five years, but that is simply not the case here.
There is too much going on that will have a profound effect on the nation and our lives. Corruption; new laws which impose disproportionate penalties; public institutions that are poorly led and facing a trust deficit; the list goes on.
It won’t be easy to make the changes necessary to make this country well, and I can understand the pessimism that leads to the belief that the current crop of politicians are not the people to do it. But having said that, it would be folly to just ignore the elections.
At the end of the day, whether we like it or not, elected members of parliament and state legislative assembly persons are the ones who make laws and influence policy. Therefore they have to constantly show that their position is by virtue of us.
There are other methods to do so, of course. We can pressure and lobby them persistently and constantly, but why not use elections as well? The political elite in this country need to know what it feels like to win and to lose and they need to understand that we are the ones to determine that.
Although in the past, elections were relatively simple affairs where the voter had basically a choice of two to make, nowadays we have the great possibility of three-cornered fights. Although this plays into the hands of the incumbent, they are still important elections to take part in for they are an opportunity to show the competing parties whether the voter supports their individual manifestos.
What about the uneven constituencies? I agree, things are weighed so heavily in the favour of Barisan Nasional that it all seems a bit pointless. However, win or lose, the popular vote is still an important statistic. Not to those who win via gerrymandering, but for those who wish to continue to strive for a changed Malaysia, for the popular vote is an important form of legitimacy.
All in all, it is better to be part of the election system than not. If the elections are in September, which is a high possibility, then the end of March is the last chance to register to vote if one is to be certain of the chance to do so in GE14.
If you or anyone you know have not done so, I implore you to change that. Then we can get on with the business of changing the country. No matter what the GE14 results are.

Is it a thriller or a soap opera?

Brave New World (The Star)
15 February 2017


SOMETIMES it is good to step back and look at things dispassionately.
Let’s take the resignation of the four key DAP members in Malacca. As usual, when such things happen, accusations fly back and forth.
Terms like traitor are bandied around and it’s all very hot. But this is Malaysia and things like this just get forgotten by the general public after a while. A short while actually.
This being the case, I doubt that these resignations will have any serious consequences. In the next election, I seriously don’t think that the foursome will have any luck if they stand as independents.
Sure, it makes the party look bad and the Barisan Nasional will be jumping over each other to score political points, but so what?
Politically speaking, the country is as divided as it can be. I think people’s minds are pretty much made up as to which side of the fence they are sitting. If anything, there might be a sense of being fed up with it all and there may be a sense of disillusionment amongst some quarters.
I can’t say for certain, of course, as there has been no report of such a survey conducted, but my sense is that the optimism of the last two general elections is depleted.
Anyway, in the bigger picture, some infighting in DAP amounts to a hill of beans.
So, as a dispassionate observer, what do I think will be interesting?
For me, it is the “will they or won’t they” question hanging over PAS and Umno. As it stands, these two remind me of Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd in the early days of that excruciating TV show, Moonlighting. I leave it to you to imagine which party is Willis and which is Shepherd.
People were fascinated to see if these two characters would finally get it on. I have the same feeling watching PAS and Umno in their elaborate courtship dance. They are now both defenders of Islam, it would seem, and there’s hand-holding and shared legislative ambitions. The courtship seems obvious; it is just the consummation that is not quite clear yet.
PAS has already said it will not work with DAP and Amanah. This means that unless there is a cataclysmic split in Harapan, there will be two opposition blocks: Harapan and PAS.
This would play straight into the hands of the BN because the only feasible winner in a three-cornered fight will be them. Surely PAS knows this, so what will their game plan be? Go for it alone and risk losing seats? They already said they won’t work with the Opposition. So what does this mean? Will they finally fall into the loving arms of Umno?
Only time will tell, but I wish they would just get on with it. There’s only so much coy flirtation one can take in any soap opera.

Why the US travel ban is pointless

Brave New World (The Star)
1 February 2017


PRESIDENT Donald Trump’s executive order to ban anyone from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering America is not only discriminatory, it is also foolish and pointless.
Let’s examine why, shall we?
The biggest terrorist attack on American soil is the Sept 11, 2001 airplane hijacks and crashes.
Who were the people involved? They were Saudis. Strangely enough, Saudi Arabia is not on the list above. Which makes one wonder whether Trump is really serious about stopping terrorists (who are exclusively Muslim, naturally) from entering his wonderful country or he is just making a great big show-and-tell to make his voters happy.
Furthermore, since 2001, according to the New America Foundation, 82% of terrorist attacks in America have come from American citizens and Permanent Residents. And according to the Cato Institute, an American is over 250 times more likely to be killed by ordinary homicide than a terrorist attack.
So by taking aim at the peoples of these seven countries, what we have, therefore, is a policy that is utterly misguided and pointless.
Well, maybe I am being overly harsh. There is a point to this policy. It makes racist, misinformed bigots happy. That is surely a good thing for Trump. Also, it is great news for the Islamic State and their ilk because the “Great Satan USA” now has a leader who is an Islamophobe and proud of it. Trump is the ideal poster boy for extremist recruiters.
And what can the world do about it?
In Britain, the answer is to be as subservient as possible. Theresa May, the British PM, was the first world leader to go rushing to pant at Trump’s door and she was quite happy to excuse his vile policies as something within his right to do. The United States has its policies and we have ours, is roughly what she said when asked. How convenient.
However, the people of Britain have not been so pliant. Nearly 1.5 million have signed a petition demanding that the planned state visit of Trump be cancelled. It takes only 100,000 signatures to force a debate in the House of Commons. Within hours, this number was exceeded many times over.
Now, will the government cancel the visit? Of course not, the Brits have no friends in Europe any more so they have to play ball with the Americans. It would be nice for the government to admit that this is the case.
Instead, we have seen the usual political squirming along the lines that Trump was democratically elected and thus we have to respect the will of the American people. How wonderfully hypocritical.
When America chose to cut all aid to Palestine because the people of that country voted Hamas into power, it was perfectly acceptable for them to disregard the democratic will of the Palestinian people.
Of course, their reasoning was that Hamas was a “terrorist” organisation.
If it is acceptable to not respect the democratic choice of a country because you don’t like their elected leaders, why then is it not acceptable for a country to minimise relations with a country that voted a misanthropic, uninformed bigot into power?
If you don’t have the guts to do so, just admit it. Please don’t hide behind the false high horse of respecting democracy, as it seems that the powerful are more than happy to disrespect democracy when it suits them.

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BNW Show 5 April 2017: The Debate Debacle

BNW Show 1 February 2017: Unshackle our Students

BNW Show 26 January 2017: The Language of Citizenship