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No fresh start to 2012 - The Star - Musings
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No fresh start to 2012

Musings by Marina Mahathir

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

The last year was one where there were particularly high levels of obliviousness. Why not, in 2012, for the sake of doing something different, have a campaign called “End Stupid Statements”.

IT’S 2012 and if the Mayans are to be believed, the world ends this year. For me, the world didn’t start well because we got up on New Year’s Day to dry pipes. No water in the toilets is not what you call a fresh start to the year.

Could someone make a resolution to replace the old pipes in Bangsar, please? Otherwise, we Bangsarites will go on a shower strike and stink the place out until our demands are met.

And, yes, our smelly mob will assemble in the streets to protest.

For some other Malaysians, especially some students, the New Year certainly did not start well at all. It makes one sigh again with frustration.

Let us see this clearly; the only people capable of using force on others are the ones with the batons and guns.

Generally, those aren’t civilians, and especially not students.

If this is the way the year is going to start, then we have learnt nothing from 2011, nor will we do anything new in 2012.

We will continue to exhibit our fears by clamping down on those who think differently, or who are simply different. We display our paranoia by immediately looking for who is behind those who think differently.

We cannot imagine that people can think for themselves, without someone telling them how and what to think and do.

It’s the ultimate indictment of our education system, that every single thing anyone does, especially if contrary to what the establishment wants, must be attributed to a sheeplike disposition to be led.

Well, surely, if those who are contrarian are doing it because they are sheep, then those who are conformists are also sheep.

After all, everyone went through the same school system, no?

The last year, for me, was one where there were particularly high levels of obliviousness among those who rule us.

Oblivious to what people really think and want being chief among them.

Whether it’s deliberate or not, I can’t tell, but somehow there’s mild comfort in believing that it’s just natural gormlessness, and not willful blindness.

I am hoping that this year will be a year of greater imagination.

It would be nice if our leaders suddenly had the imagination to trust their people to be able to think on their own.

And to trust that people thinking on their own is not necessarily a bad thing, nor necessarily a move that will backfire.

I’d also like our leaders to start believing that their people are generally good people, who get on with one another and simply want to live their lives as best as they can. And they can do all that without any interference from those who think they are leading us.

I don’t need anyone to tell me how to get on with my neighbours; I already do.

I do need someone to tell off those people who keep telling me to constantly be suspicious of my neighbours, including when they are nice to me.

Apparently this is only because they want to dislodge me from my faith.

In that case, my being nice to them must be equally effective at dislodging them from their beliefs.

Why not then have “Be Nice to Your Neighbours” campaigns?

Indeed, why not in 2012, for the sake of doing something different, have a campaign called “End Stupid Statements”.

Every statement uttered by a public figure that simply does not stand up to scrutiny gets printed on a big banner and then symbolically thrown into a giant dustbin at Dataran Merdeka.

My first candidate: Jews and Christians Are Taking Over the Country! (My test for the credibility of that statement is to ask: what for?).

I’m sure it’ll be a full dustbin.

But what am I saying?

We have an election to look forward to, which means there’ll be an endless supply of dumb utterances from all sides of the fence.

We should arm ourselves with deflectors to shield us from the inanities that are bound to rain upon our poor heads. Or helmets at the very least, because it’s bound to injure our craniums.

But let me remain optimistic.

The first person that says all Malaysians are equal under our Constitution gets my vote. Or who says, men and women are equal, or who outlaws child marriage.

And I’ll even give some grudging respect to the first person who says: “I lied, I’m sorry, I’ll step down now.” But I suppose that would be like expecting to see porcine flying objects. Life trundles on, folks. Try and have a good year!
Year that was for the protester - The Star - Musings
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Year that was for the protester

Musings by Marina Mahathir

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

The silly season is already on us and no doubt will be a fractious and prolonged one going into 2012.

IT’S the end of the year and, like everyone else, I’m going to try and summarise what made it an interesting year indeed.

Time magazine named The Protester as its Person of the Year in 2011.

I couldn’t agree more, because really few people have made an impact on society than protesters this year. From the protesters in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya and Syria to the Occupy Wall Street protesters and its many offshoots, these largely peaceful protests have forced things to change in their societies.

In the Middle East, corrupt and authoritarian leaders have been forced to step down. In some, it’s still an ongoing battle.

Of course, these steps towards democracy are not perfect. Nor are the results.

But that’s democracy for you.

Just because people don’t know what they want is no reason to dismiss democracy.

It is the fact that they finally have choices is the triumph, after so many years of not having any.

For those who insist on equating the London riots with the Arab Spring, do get your facts right.

The former was not about changing an authoritarian government for a more democratic one, nor was it meant to be peaceful.

The latter was a peaceful demand for change; the violence came from the government response.

If you want to equate the London riots with the Syrian government’s response, perhaps it would be more accurate.

Time magazine has mostly recognised the Arab, Spanish and American protesters in their essay. But perhaps they should have also looked eastwards.

I think the Bersih rally goers, protesting peacefully for clean and fair elections, are also deserving of the award.

For the first time, ordinary Malaysians went out to demand what should be their right, to be able to vote fairly.

Young and old of all races and religions, Malaysians marched to protect this basic human right. And were demonised because of it.

While the Government responded to the Bersih demands by establishing the Parliamentary Special Committee on electoral reforms, at the same time the so-called Peaceful Assembly Act – aimed at curbing any other rallies like Bersih – was passed.

In any case, it is delusional to think that curbing protests will curb rebellious thoughts.

These will continue to thrive in 2012, that’s for sure.

Perhaps 2011 was also the year of the Strong Woman.

On the international scene, not one but three women won the Nobel Peace Prize this year: President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, Leymah Gbowee, also of Liberia, and Tawakkol Karman of Yemen, the youngest-ever recipient.

It’s interesting that all of these women are rebellious women, who refused to accept the established, and patriarchal, way of doing things. Instead, they found their own way, and worked for peace in their countries.

Malaysia, too, has its share of strong women. Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan is the prime example of someone who has had to withstand personal attacks from all quarters like no other person has had to in our country, yet still carries on with her strong principles.

Let it never be said that she lacks courage. For women to get ahead, it really is imperative that they have the sort of integrity and display the sort of ethical behaviour that we often find lacking in men.

This year is, of course, also the year of the Obedient Wives Club, hardly a great leap forward for womankind.

Nevertheless, the OWC knew exactly how to get publicity for their causes.

And, I suspect, despite the sniggers over their sex manual, there are many who actually agree with their basic premise, that a good wife is one who blindly obeys her husband even when she doesn’t feel like it.

Finally, this year has been a bad year for justice and equality.

Children born less than six months after their parents married are considered illegitimate, thus forcing them to bear the sins of their parents.

Even if legitimate, children can be married off at even 10 years old, surely a blight on our society if we are to consider ourselves progressive.

Muslim women still don’t have the same rights as their non-Muslim sisters when it comes to marriage, property and inheritance.

And people of different sexual orientations are not regarded as full citizens.

I’d like to be optimistic about 2012 but that does not look likely.

The silly season is already on us and no doubt will be a fractious and prolonged one.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, folks!

Gimme, seems to be the easiest word - The Star - Musings
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Gimme, seems to be the easiest word

Musings by Marina Mahathir

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

In a land of opportunity for all, people should remember John F. Kennedy’s famous words: Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.

THIS is going to be one long sigh of exasperation, folks. I get like this when I think of my country sometimes and despair at the sheer shallowness of how we talk about her.

How, amid protestations of how much we love her, we insist on treating her with such disdain and thoughtlessness that in fact we are ruining her every day.

Once upon a time we used to talk about our country and what we could do for it. We used to think that what John F. Kennedy said – “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” – was so admirable.

We wanted to make our country so good that we could hold our heads up high anywhere in the world. Instead, all we hear these days is what can I get from this country, how can I get rich off this country.

While this should be a country of opportunity for all, why is there this attitude that this country owes us a living? Indeed, some of us think that we are entitled to be cosseted and pampered to the nth degree for as long as we live.

When I was little, my aunt gave us children a book that taught us about how to be good people. Basically, it meant expelling from our vocabulary two phrases: “Give Me”, and “I Couldn’t Care Less”.

People who used these phrases often were selfish people who were not considerate of others; indeed, thought the whole world was only about them. We learnt that it was better to give to others than to take, and to always care about other people.

So my jaw has to drop to the floor when I read the papers these days, and almost all that anyone says is “Give Me” and “I Couldn’t Care Less”.

“Give me,” they say, even though they have done nothing to earn it and even though it will bring ruin to the country. When asked to consider the feelings of others, basically they show a finger and say that they could not care two hoots.

Obviously nobody gave them the same book.

It’s hard enough to teach values to our children these days without adults showing every day in our papers and on TV that they have none at all.

How do I teach my children that nothing comes without hard work and discipline, and that consideration for others is not just a value but a duty as a human being?

As a little girl, I was taught one of the biggest sins was telling lies. Nothing made God angrier, it was drilled into me, than telling untruths, especially about other people. To this day, I cannot fib much, not even about my age or weight.

But nowadays people tell such blatant lies. You can always tell when a person is lying; they always feel the need to shout it out, as if sheer volume makes it truthful.

I’ve never known people with clear consciences to ever be anything but calm. So you watch this lying and you have to wonder how come their parents didn’t scare them to death about God as mine did?

Of course you only tell lies because you think that people will actually believe them. Which means that you think that such people are fools.

And indeed they often live up to the label. The astounding thing is, why are there so many of them? Are there absolutely no smart people around?

People who see through all this, and say something about it, are somehow made to feel as if they are unpatriotic.

Just because we don’t buy into the improbable stories, we are not playing by the rules. Of course, nobody wonders if the rules are good in the first place.

Actually, rules have been broken a great deal in these past few years. The rules of simple civility, for one, are long gone. I used to think of my people as the gentlest, most polite people on earth.

Until I saw a video of a meeting with much shouting and screaming, and someone pulling a chair from under an old man. We don’t censure behaviour like this, but we tut-tut at people kissing. Go figure.

I struggle to teach my children to be kind to others, to mind their manners, to never emulate those who are doing things that are wrong.

I tell them that whether it’s five ringgit or five million ringgit, if they take what’s not theirs, it’s called stealing. And if they make up stories that can cause harm to others, they must own up and apologise.

But when adults are the ones doing these things, what do I tell them?
Human Rights In Outer Space
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Film Screenings & Discussions
Presented by Sisters in Islam & Centre for Independent Journalism
Mon 5 - Sun 11 Dec, 2011
The Annexe Gallery, KL

Entry by registration: Please email with heading "Outer Space". Give your name, how many you are bringing, and title of film(s).

* * *


Mon 5 Dec, 2011, 8pm
Outer Space 1: News Room

USA, 2008
In this film, a journalist exposes the unjustified basis for her government's act of war against another country. Her report outs a covert intelligence operative, which is a breach of national security. Will she reveal her source or risk going to jail? Sounds familiar? It's not quite Malaysia, but we have an Official Secrets Act, which classifies most public-interest information as official secrets, and journalists are intimidated from reporting truth to power. What are the rights of journalists, their sources and the people? What is at stake when those rights are lost?

Timmy Armstrong: "You're not supposed to tattle."
Rachel Armstrong: "You're not supposed to have to put up with bullies, either."

Shaila Koshy (senior print journalist)
Chen Shaua Fui (online journalist)
Pauline Leong (journalism lecturer)

* * *

Tue 6 Dec, 2011, 8pm
Outer Space 2: School

Indonesia, 2005
Gie was an Indonesian history student turned political revolutionary in the 60s. He despaired at his country, fought for justice, fell in love, witnessed a massacre, lost friends and fell out of love. Based on the real-life journal of Soe Hok Gie, played by the beautiful Nicholas Saputra, this film examines the role of the young in challenging a dictatorial regime. In Malaysia, there are rumours of the dismantling of the Universities & University Colleges Act. Will Malaysian students be allowed to be national heroes again?

Soe Hok Gie: "The history of the world is one of oppression. The question is, can there be history without oppression or without sadness and betrayal? It's like, when studying history, the only thing we find is betrayal. It is there, in each and every part of our life, and yet we can do nothing about it."

Nicol Paul Miranda (student activist)
Sharaad Kuttan (radio journalist, lecturer)
Hilman Idham (student activist, UKM4)

* * *

Wed 7 Dec, 2011, 8pm
Outer Space 3: Wall Street

USA, 2010
Who were the key players responsible for the 2008 global financial crisis? This Oscar-winning documentary is a damning revelation of how the financial sector takes the world hostage, destroy millions of lives and gets rewarded for it. Implicating everyone from businessmen to politicians to economic academics, this is a portrait of a rogue industry without a conscience. As the Occupy Wall Street movement is happening now, we must ask: what else can the 99 percent of the population, even here in Malaysia, do beside feeling angry and helpless?

Andrew Sheng: "Why should a financial engineer be paid four times to 100 times more than a real engineer? A real engineer build bridges. A financial engineer build dreams. And, you know, when those dreams turn out to be nightmares, other people pay for it."

Charles Santiago (MP for Klang, DAP)
Boon Kia Meng (educator, activist)
Wan Saiful Wan Jan (Chief executive, IDEAS)

* * *

Thu 8 Dec 2011, 8pm
Outer Space 4: Polling Booth

Bolivia, 2005
Beginning with an uprising that overthrew a Bolivian president, this documentary flashes back a year ago to show us how he got into power: with the help of the US political consultants that got Bill Clinton into power. The team even arranged many focus group surveys so the presidential candidate can hear what the people wants. But is he hearing them? Or is this another way to manipulate their wants? Malaysians have gone to the streets over our electoral process, but perhaps we should also pay attention to the problematic nature of electoral campaigns.

Consultant: "We don't have to change the way people perceive the country and the economy. What we have to change is what is at stake in the elections."

Hisham Rais (writer, election consultant)
Tricia Yeoh (economic & policy research adviser)
Ray Langenbach (performance artist, academician)

* * *

Fri 9 Dec 2011, 8pm
Outer Space 5: Court

USA/Iran, 2008
In an Iranian village, a husband looking for an easy way to get rid of his wife accuses her of adultery. The burden is upon her to prove her innocence. If she cannot, the sentence is death by stoning. Based on a true story account, the film depicts the stoning in a most horrifying sequence and confronts us with the the guilt of watching and doing nothing about it. When the rights of the innocent are not protected, on whose hands are their blood?

Ebrahim: When a man accuses his wife, she must prove her innocence. That is the law. On the other hand, if a wife accuses her husband, she must prove his guilt. Do you understand?
Zahra: Yes, it's clear, all women are guilty, and all men are innocent. Correct.

Shanon Shah (journalist, SIS associate member)
Nizam Bashir (lawyer)
Nisha (Mak Nyah Programme, PT Foundation).

* * *

Sun 11 Dec 2011, 3pm:
Inner Space: Conscience

Germany, 2006
Winner of 64 international awards, this powerful psychological thriller shows us what it was like in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin wall. In the film, circumstances are forcing both the patriotic playwright who is under surveillance and the Stassi officer spying on him to find their inner conscience. But can their conscience still guide them when it is being controlled? Is the goal of limiting our human rights in the external spaces ultimately an attempt to limit us in the inner space of our minds? How do we resist the control?

Georg Dreyman: "The state office for statistics on Hans-Beimler street counts everything; knows everything: how many pairs of shoes I buy a year: 2.3, how many books I read a year: 3.2 and how many students graduate with perfect marks: 6,347. But there's one statistic that isn't collected there, perhaps because such numbers cause even paper-pushers pain: and that is the suicide rate."

Alfian Sa'at (playwright-activist)
Anne James (actor-activist)
Kee Thuan Chye (actor, playwright, writer)
Yin Shao Loong (political analyst)

* * *

The Annexe Gallery
2nd Floor, Central Market Annexe (Behind Central Market), KL.

Enquiries:; 03-4023 0772
The Sun - Respect child’s right to a name
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Respect child’s right to a name

Posted on 24 November 2011 - 05:09am
SISTERS in Islam welcomes the Terengganu government’s proposal to allow children born less than six months after their parents’ marriage to carry their fathers’ name in accordance with Section 13 and 13A of the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1957.

The practice of registering Muslim children’s surnames as binti/bin Abdullah when they are born within six months of marriage leads to serious and unjust repercussions on a child’s emotional well being and future. The child is being punished and labelled “illegitimate” for what is assumed to be the parents’ sin of conceiving a child outside marriage. The biological father is denied the duty to exercise parental responsibility and to confer all rights the child is entitled to. This National Registration Department (NRD) ruling supposedly originated from a fatwa which states that a pregnant woman may marry the father of the child, but that “the man cannot be recognised as the father of the unborn baby, inherit from him, nor be his mahram (unmarriageable kin), and that he cannot be the child’s guardian”.

The Quran states that no one bears the burden of another, nor passes one’s burden to another (Surah Fatir 35:18), which should guide us to be compassionate and fulfil our obligation to act in the best interest of the child. Instead, the ruling has punished innocent children, forcing them to bear the burden of their parents’ actions.

Over the years, SIS has received complaints over the rights of children born out of wedlock, children conceived out of wedlock but born within a marriage, and adopted children, not just at the time of registration, but when they apply for identity cards, begin school, get married and upon the death of their parents.

The best interest of the child must be the primary concern in making laws, policies and decisions that affect them, a principle upheld by Islamic teachings, universal human rights and Malaysia’s law-making process.

For example, the Quran recognises a stepmother or stepfather to be the mahram of their stepchildren (Surah An-Nisa 4:22-23). What more the biological father of a child? Using the principle of the best interest of the child, Muslim jurists allow the custodial mother to maintain custody of the child beyond the age when custody is supposed to be transferred to the father. Malaysia’s Islamic Family Law was amended in 1994 to reflect this.

The Quran in Surah al-Ahzab 33:5 also states “Call them by (the names of) their fathers: that is more just in the eyes of God”. While this is understood to refer to adopted children, is it not possible to extend the spirit of the verse to recognise the biological fathers of children conceived or born out of wedlock?

The dominant opinion in classical fiqh relating to paternity allows a man to admit paternity of a child born out of the wedlock through the process of iqrar.

Some classical jurists deeply concerned about the need to protect a child against the stigma of illegitimacy went as far as to set the possible duration of pregnancy as long as seven years under the Maliki school of law, and four years under the Shafie school.

Thus Section 111 of Malaysia’s Islamic Family Law recognises that nasab or paternity is established in the man even if the child is born more than four years after his death or after divorce, if “he or his heirs assert that the child is his issue”.

Given the social problems disproportionately affecting Muslims, the 1971 fatwa, enforced only more recently by the NRD, would lead to more emotional and social harm to the child, and affect his status in the family. This discriminatory practice violates a child’s right to a name, an identity and family, thereby violating Article 8 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child which Malaysia ratified in 1995.

SIS is disturbed by continuing discriminatory rulings governing the personal status of Muslims in this country. There was a time when a couple could go to a police station or the NRD to register the birth of their child. Their acknowledgement that the child was theirs and the details on their identity cards were sufficient for a birth certificate to be issued with both parents’ particulars included. There was no need to produce a marriage certificate. But now Muslims are required to produce a marriage certificate as a prerequisite for the inclusion of the father’s surname on a birth certificate.

Under the original provision of the Islamic Family Law of 1984, the biological fathers of children born out of wedlock could be held responsible for the maintenance of their children. But not anymore. Subsequent amendments made mothers solely responsible for the children.

We urge the federal government to take steps to immediately adopt the proposal by the Terengganu state government to enable the NRD to duly recognise the man who claims parentage jointly with the mother, to be the registered father of the child and for the child to be given his surname. This is in accordance with Sections 13 and 13A of the Births and Deaths Registration Act.

Furthermore, we believe there must not be any markings on a birth certificate or identity card to indicate that the child was conceived or born out of wedlock to prevent further stigmatisation of the child.

via email
Vying for dubious achievements - The Star - Musings
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Vying for dubious achievements

Musings by Marina Mahathir

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

We are great at railing against idiotic politicians at mamak stalls and on social websites, but when it actually comes to doing something, we make excuses; and with that, we disempower ourselves.

IN 2000, Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book called The Tipping Point, defining it as “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point”.

It’s that pivotal moment when people decide that enough is enough and actually do something to make a change.

In 2011, we’ve seen lots of tipping points.

It happened at the end of December in Tunisia when fruitseller Mohamad Bouazizi set himself on fire in protest against the confiscation of his stall.

That act of defiance against in­­justice became the tipping point for Tunisians fed up with the sys­­-tem and their rebellion led to the downfall of their president and set off a chain of events in neighbouring countries known as the Arab Spring.

Sooner or later, people reach a tipping point where they will no longer tolerate repression and corruption, pushing them to do something about it, even if it means that lives had to be sacrificed.

I really have to wonder when we Malaysians will reach our tipping point.

Every day, we read so much blatant nonsense from our leaders that the newspapers have truly stopped being readable.

News reports treat us all as people of low intelligence because only imbeciles would believe some of the outrageous claims made by our leaders.

When elections are in the offing, there is no doubt that our politicians immediately start jockeying for positions by trying to outdo one another.

It would be wonderful if they were racing to think up the best policies to manage the country, the economy, social issues, etc.

Instead, they are racing to find the silliest ways to strike fear into our souls and find more ways to oppress people.

I mean, solar-powered talking Bibles, really? There is a foreign magazine that gives out Dubious Achievements Awards every year.

These are a bit like the Ig Noble awards, the opposite of the Nobel prizes, where people are cited for doing the silliest things. Malaysia, especially our politicians, seems to be in the running for a lot of dubious achievements this year.

Maybe we should just accept that those are the only achievements we will ever have. Meanwhile, we the people have to live with these shenanigans.

We find out every year from the Auditor-General’s Report that millions have been wasted on ridi­­-culous items which any fool would know should not cost that much.

The report highlights a “mess” in a government-related company and an unexplained stupendously expensive apartment purchase.

There are also ministers who claim that none of it has anything to do with the Government. Gee, the Auditor-General must have so little to do that he needs to audit private companies as well.

And wow, they must really think we are dumb. And while the world is facing an economic recession that will be more severe than anything ever seen, fodder for revolutions everywhere, what do our politicians care about?

Whether people of different sexual orientation should be allowed any space at all to talk about their problems? Like natural disasters, the last thing economic catastrophes care about is whom you’re attracted to.

And given that most people are heterosexual, the chances are that the people who will be most affected by a recession are the heterosexual and poor.

Shouldn’t politicians vying for votes be concentrating on them? Perhaps our politicians, unlike voters, don’t read.

They seem not to have noticed that there are protests going all round the world against inequality, especially the ever-increasing gap between the rich and the poor.

Even some business people are saying that things must change or else there will be a global revolution, particularly against exploitative and uncaring corporations.

But as always, our politicians are one step behind the rest of the world.

They’re still dreaming of joining the fat cat 1% and forgetting that the 99% have a lot more votes.

Why do we put up with all this? Are our tolerance levels for stupidity that high? Is it because we don’t know any better? Or are we just lazy and complacent? We are great about railing against idiotic politicians at mamak stalls and on social websites, but when it actually comes to doing something, we make excuses.

We shrug our shoulders and say we can’t make a difference, only some people can.

And with that, we disempower ourselves, much to the delight of our leaders.

But every now and then, we do rise to the occasion.

I think last July we reached a tipping point of sorts, where lots of ordinary people simply got fed up and decided to make it known, albeit peacefully.

But have our leaders learnt anything from it?

Not much, going by the constant demonising ever since.

So how long will we put up with imbeciles leading us?

How long will we tolerate unbridled greed and hate?
Hate language still holds sway - The Star - Sharing the Nation
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Hate language still holds sway

Sharing the Nation by Zainah Anwar

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Again and again in Malaysia, those who defend the rights of citizens to exercise their fundamental liberties are treated as offenders.

WHERE should we draw the line between freedom of expression and incitement to hatred? This is a debate that occupies the international human rights system today as governments grapple with the need to fully respect freedom of expression as protected by international human rights law and comply with the prohibition of incitement to hatred.

As democracy matures, the public space for debate opens up further. Citizens, educated and aware of their rights, begin to articulate their demands for justice and social change. Diverse voices will compete for public attention and support. Traditionally marginalised groups will assert their right to be treated as citizens with equal rights and dignity. This is all good for democracy, respect for human rights and the well-being of society.

However, the problem arises when those identified as “others” are constructed by the dominant community “as people who do not share a community’s history, traditions and values” and, as a result, are “all too often perceived as predatory competitors, or at least a threat to the stability of that community’s belief system”, as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said.

And thus they get demonised, threatened, discriminated against and even murdered just because they are different.

This is a global problem. In the name of “war on terror”, Muslims are vilified, attacked, or discriminated against. A whole community is demonised for the actions of a tiny minority who abuse Islam to justify their violence and terrorism.

In the name of ethnic or religious homogeneity, whole communities are physically removed from a territory by driving them out, deported to concentration camps, or murdered. In modern times, the forcible expulsion and murder of Jews in Europe, Muslims in the former Yugoslavia, and Tutsis in Rwanda stand out.

In the name of religion and culture, homosexuals are stigmatised, attacked and murdered.

It is obvious that human beings are not born to hate those who think, act or look differently. Just look at a playground of toddlers of all colours and backgrounds playing together.

All too often, hate, fear and insults are manufactured to serve a political agenda. And it is convenient to manipulate and abuse religion, ethnicity and culture to create fear and anxiety in order to delegitimise the rights and interests of the “others”.

In modern times, the media have been used as tools to inflame perceived grievances and rouse emotions, escalating tensions and conflict that can result in violence. Much research has been done to show how in Serbia, Serb supremacists used television to stir up ethnic tensions prior to the civil war. In Rwanda, Hutu propagandists used the radio to lay the groundwork for genocide.

While such atrocities seem impossible in Malaysia, the fact is in our country today, fear and hatred are manufactured on a daily basis and public opinion inflamed through screaming headlines in some mainstream newspapers and television stations, and in the venomous hate language in the alternative new media.

Muslim feminists, human rights defenders, and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) groups and individuals are among those most vilified and demonised.

Recent events are cause for much concern. Many feel we are on a slippery slope to potential outbreak of violence. A country that has thrived, celebrated and been enriched by its history of embracing diversity and pluralism is today dominated by extremists who manufacture threats to race and religion supposedly posed by those they disagree with.

Thus, we see the demonising and defaming of Datuk Ambiga Sreenivasan for her courage and resolve to go ahead with the Bersih rally.

The fact that government leaders took the lead in depicting Bersih as a threat to national security opened up the space and gave legitimacy to the even more belligerent voices among non-state actors.

Death threats were sent; vile, abusive and hate messages proliferated by SMS and on the Internet, Bersih supporters were labelled “communists”, “anti-Islam”, or “funded by foreign Christian groups”.

The attacks against Seksualiti Merdeka are yet another public contestation that swiftly escalated into a shrill and belligerent public discourse.

First, a forum to discuss the rights of LGBTs was portrayed by the media as a festival to promote free sex and a threat to security. Ambiga who was due to launch the event was once again demonised, this time labelled the “anti-Christ” by the right-wing group, Perkasa, which demanded that her citizenship be stripped.

Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir, who defended Ambiga against these unjust attacks, in turn became the target of hate mail.

As expected in Malaysia today, close to 200 police reports were lodged all over the country against the organisers and supporters of Seksualiti Merdeka. The police banned the event and many activists were called in for questioning.

It is one thing to exercise one’s right to differences of opinion, but it is another when stigmatising, demonising, fear and hate-mongering language and accusations are hurled at marginalised and discriminated groups and human rights defenders.

Irresponsible newspapers day after day use inflammatory headlines to build up the frenzy. Mobs are hired to intimidate organisers and the police intervene, not to disperse the hooligans but to raid legitimate meetings held indoors to discuss issues of public interest and concern.

Again and again in Malaysia, those who defend the rights of citizens to exercise their fundamental liberties are treated as offenders, while those who incite fear and hatred and inflame racial and religious sentiments are given the upper hand to dictate the agenda through compliance, support or inaction by key state institutions.

While Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) protects the right to freedom of expression, Article 20 also requires governments to prohibit the “advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred which constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence”.

While striking the right balance is no easy task, the clear meaning is that freedom of expression is to be upheld for as long as it does not advocate hatred and incite discrimination, hostility or violence against an individual or group. Any limitations should take place only in the pursuit of justice and democratic principles, not against those who stand for justice and democracy.

But all too often, restrictions on freedom of expression are enacted in order to protect the interests of those who benefit most from silencing criticism, dissent and public debate on contentious issues.

That a group like Sisters in Islam which upholds equality and justice for Muslim women is demonised as anti-God, anti-Islam, and anti-Syariah, a coalition like Bersih 2.0 which demands for free and fair elections, is portrayed as a threat to national security and public order, or an event like Seksualiti Merdeka to recognise the human rights of people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities is deliberately stigmatised as a “free-sex” festival, arguably does not constitute a legitimate exercise of free speech but incitement to discrimination and hostility that could potentially result in conflict and violence.

The Prime Minister in his Malaysia Day speech promised the dream of a new Malaysia “that practises a functional and inclusive democracy where public peace and prosperity is preserved in accordance with the supremacy of the Constitution, rule of law and respect for basic human rights and individual rights”.

How do the hate language and the relentless police reports by extremists against those demanding their constitutional right to fundamental liberties, and the continual phone calls to activists to visit Bukit Aman or a police station for yet another round of questioning under one restrictive law or another, create this democratic and inclusive Malaysia?

A government that practises democracy must protect and nurture a public space that promotes justice, equality and democratic and human rights principles.
Global Movement of Moderates – Crucial questions for Malaysia
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Letter to Editor

Global Movement of Moderates – Crucial questions for Malaysia

17 November 2011

Sisters in Islam (SIS) welcomes Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak’s initiative to launch the Global Movement of Moderates Foundation (GMM) in January 2012. Najib’s proposal is crucial in light of some worrying trends especially in Malaysia.

In his 13 Nov 2011 speech at Honolulu, Najib said, “It’s time for us, the majority who are peace-loving and moderate to reclaim our rightful place in the centre…we cannot afford to stand by and remain silent in the face of extremism and violence.” SIS cannot agree more with this statement. Rising threats and violence, including on religious grounds, should not become the norm among Malaysia’s diverse population. But sadly, recent incidents have shown the ugly face of intolerance and violent threats by certain quarters, including non-state organisations, major political parties and the police. These include increased threats to human rights defenders, freedom of religion and minorities.

1.      Increasing threats towards human rights defenders
Malaysian human rights defenders are increasingly targeted by both state and non-state actors. For example, lawyer Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan was threatened with rape and murder by several non-state actors, and labeled an enemy of Islam in the government-owned media. Some have even called for her Malaysian citizenship to be revoked. All because she chose to lead Bersih 2.0’s calls for electoral reform, and for choosing to launch Seksualiti Merdeka in Nov 2011, a festival about gender and sexual diversity in Malaysia. A nation that aspires to lead others on “moderate” values needs to be able to address these problems in its midst first.

2.      Increasing threats towards freedom of religion
We are also alarmed at the increasing hostility towards religious minorities in Malaysia. For example, while we support Himpun‘s freedom of expression and assembly, we are alarmed by their calls for an Anti-Apostasy Act. The call for this Act is set within a highly-charged environment. For example, when Lina Joy sought to remove the word “Islam” from her identity card, both she and her lawyers were subjected to death threats by non-state actors. The government has yet to resolve these highly charged sentiments and laws regarding apostasy. A nation that aspires to “moderate” religious values also needs to address freedom of religion in constructive and compassionate ways.

3.      Increasing threats towards minority groups
We are also seeing increasing violence and threats towards minorities of different descriptions. For example, there are documented cases of violence towards Muslim transsexuals in Negeri Sembilan, perpetrated by state Islamic enforcers. There are also longstanding threats against so-called “deviant” Islamic groups, such as the Ahmadiyah in Selangor, also by state Islamic authorities. A “moderate” nation also needs to be able to cope with various minorities, even if they are despised by the self-proclaimed majority.

Thus, we call on the Prime Minister to consider these concerns in his vision for the GMM. We hope he consults with numerous groups, especially victims of extremist violence, in helping to shape this cause. Finally, the Prime Minister should ensure that our fundamental rights and liberties as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and our Federal Constitution are safeguarded and upheld.

Sisters in Islam
Irrational fear abounds - The Star - Musings
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Irrational fear abounds


Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Prejudice and discrimination, both rooted in fear of the unknown, can always be dispelled with better knowledge, at least in those willing to learn.

TEN years ago the world turned a decidedly nastier place for Muslims. Although Islamo­phobia already existed before Sept 11, the events that day ratcheted it up several notches. Suddenly Muslims in the United States and all over the world found themselves under intense scrutiny, much of it hostile.

Stereotypes abounded. Although Islam is a religion of peace, all Muslims were branded terrorists, undemocratic, violent, oppressors of women.

The only images seen in the media were of angry bearded men wielding weapons and shouting threats to the West. Only Muslim women covered head to toe in dour black, were seen. It did not help that some Muslims themselves provided fodder for these images.

Tales of aggression against Mus­lims abounded. Headscarves were pulled off, insults hurled and, at airports, anyone with the slightest tinge of an Arabic name was pulled out for special inspection. Some people suffered even more violence, resulting in injury and even death.

New perspective: One of the biggest boosts to the image of Islam and Muslims has been the Arab Spring where young Muslims, including women, were seen at the forefront of the revolution. – Reuters

Sometimes entirely wrong people became victims of the prejudice. A Sikh man got shot because he wore a turban, a bunch of Orthodox Jewish rabbis were pulled off a plane because they were praying in a language other passengers didn’t understand.

Fear ruled and with it came prejudice and discrimination, much of it fuelled by the media. Most of it stemmed from ignorance about the world of Islam, which is not only large but also diverse.

A Muslim in the Middle East is culturally different from a Muslim in Asia, but that was not appreciated in much of the West. Indeed Middle Eastern Muslims comprise only 15% of the entire Muslim world. Further­more there are many Western Muslims who look and act no different from their fellow citizens.

Meanwhile, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq only angered Muslims, who then reacted in ways that ingrained the stereotypes about them.

The early post-Sept 11 Islamo­phobic madness only lessened when much better information and knowledge about Islam and Muslims became available. This took two forms.

One, many Muslims took it upon themselves to educate non-Muslims about Islam, and in particular reached out to other faith communities to talk about their commonalities, rather than differences.

And two, thousands of students flocked to universities to learn more about Islam. Both Muslim and non-Muslim scholars of Islam did much to teach students about the real religion, rather than the one perpetuated by the media.

Ten years later, although it cannot be said that Islamophobia has disappeared, Western perspectives on Islam have become more measured and based on better knowledge. One of the biggest boosts to the image of Islam and Muslims has been the Arab Spring.

Suddenly the images of Muslims were young, modern, and protesting not about the West but about their own corrupt leaders. Although they did not explicitly talk about religion, in 2011 the Middle East became associated with the yearning for freedom and democracy, one not too different from what developed countries enjoyed.

Women were seen at the forefront of the revolution, both head-scarved and not, and changed the image of the oppressed Muslim woman.

It just goes to show that prejudice and discrimination, both rooted in fear of the unknown, can always be dispelled with better knowledge, at least in those willing to learn. There are of course many who simply refuse to open their hearts and minds to such enlightenment, but progress has been made in incremental steps.

It is also clear that very often those who steadfastly refuse to eliminate their prejudices do so because they think it is politically profitable to them. The loudest Islamophobes always seem to be politicians trying to win the populist vote. And the only way they maintain those votes is by keeping people ignorant. Hence, their refusal to engage at all with Muslims.

Every phobia about groups of people who are different from us works in the same way. They rely on stereotypes and on the fear that allowing these minority people the same basic rights as others would mean that they would demand more.

Thus, although no Muslim ever asked for it, some people in the US insist that there are plans to impose syariah law there. The media stokes the hysteria and stigmatisation. Unjust accusations and calls for depriving them of citizenship becomes the norm.

Although those baying for blood are small in number, they still make innocent people suffer. People who have never harmed anyone else suffer distrust and hostility from their former neighbours. Violence against them is justified, sometimes with religious backing. The entire atmosphere is poisoned by hate.

This past week, where some people seem to be proudly picking on the powerless, has reminded me of that Islamophobic hysteria. I fear for our country and where we are heading.

Sisters in Islam wins international acclaim for empowering Muslim women
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Press Statement

Sisters in Islam wins international acclaim for empowering Muslim women

8 November 2011

Sisters in Islam (SIS) received a coveted international award on Nov 7 in recognition for promoting women’s and human rights within the framework of Islam.

The Casa Asia Award is given by a consortium made up of the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, through its Agency for International Cooperation for Development (AECID); the Government of Catalonia, and the Barcelona and Madrid City Councils.

In his citation, Casa Asia Director-General Juan José Herrera de la Muela said, “Throughout its 21 years of life, Sisters in Islam (SIS) has opened a public space for debate in Malaysia and given voice to Malaysian women regarding their rights under Islamic law or sharia.”

Telenisa, SIS’ legal clinic, has helped many women, particularly at the grassroots level, to address legal problems in the Syariah courts. Telenisa, which started in 2003, assisted 551 clients in 2010, averaging more than one woman a day.

In 2007, SIS, launched two related campaigns. At the local level, the Muslim Family Law campaign aims to change unjust provisions in the Islamic family laws.

At the same time, SIS also initiated Musawah, which began as a grouping that included scholars and activists from around the world. Its premise was to promote justice and equality in the Muslim family.

Musawah made international headlines in early 2009 when it rapidly snowballed into a worldwide movement.

Musawah is now known the world over as a dynamic entity that gives visibility and voice to Muslim women who believe that equality in the family is both possible and necessary.

The Casa Asia Award is given annually to individuals or organisations that stand out in the promotion of dialogue, understanding and knowledge between the societies of Spain and the Asian and Pacific region.

Past recipients include Pakistani women’s rights activist Mukhtar Mai, “for her struggle for the rights of women, justice and dignity of the people of Pakistan” and Cambodia’s Kike Figaredo, “for his struggle to help and rehabilitate the victims of land-mines and for his contribution to human development”.

The 2011 Award ceremony took place on 7 November in Barcelona, Spain. SIS received a trophy and a cash award of 6,000 euro.

Representing SIS were Executive Director Ratna Osman and co-founder Zainah Anwar. They also spoke at the annual Casa Asia 8th East-West Dialogue.

Earlier this year, SIS board member Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir and Zainah were listed among the 100 most inspiring people by Women Deliver, a New York-based global advocacy group championing the rights of women and girls. Zainah was also chosen by Newsweek and The Daily Beast as one of the 150 women "who shake the world".

Sisters in Islam

Ratna Osman and Zainah Anwar receiving the Casa Asia Award 2011, from Madam Teresa de la Vega, former Deputy Prime Minister of Spain. The Director General of Casa Asia, Juan Jose de la Muela is 4th person from the right, and next to him is the Ambassador of Spain to Malaysia, Madam Maria Bassols. At the far left is Malaysian Ambassador to Spain, Dato' Ilankovan
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