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‘Innovative’ forms of violence - The Star - Musings (23 May 2012)
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‘Innovative’ forms of violence


Wednesday May 23, 2012

The mark of a civilised society these days is that people no longer kill each other in order to defend their honour or to seek revenge, and vendettas are no longer passed down in families. Violence does not always come in physical forms but in varied ways these days.

I AM reading an interesting book by Steven Pinker called The Better Angels of Our Nature. Pinker’s thesis is that, despite what we think, violence globally has actually decreased over the centuries.

He gives plenty of evidence of how in ancient times, people’s lives were short not just because of health reasons but also because there was so much violence in their societies that even stepping outside their doors could be dangerous.

Over the years with more centralised governments, progress and prosperity, people realised that violent behaviour brought no benefits either for themselves or for their societies since people became more interdependent.

Of course if we looked at some societies, there is still a lot of violence. While the homicide rate in Western Europe is fairly low, it is still high in parts of the United States.

Pinker gives a fascinating account of the psychological history of the northern US states and the southern US states to explain the high rates of gun ownership and homicide in the latter.

Most of us have gone through what Pinker calls the ‘Civilising Process’. Through a series of negotiations between the state and people, lawlessness has been brought down to very low levels.

Having a central government, laws and law enforcers has meant that people generally are able to lead a peaceful life, as long as other social and economic conditions are also taken care of.

For instance, a country in a state of economic meltdown cannot be sustainably peaceful, as we can see with Greece. And the Arab revolutions are, in part, fuelled by high youth unemployment.

The mark of a civilised society these days is that people no longer kill each other in order to defend their honour or to seek revenge, and vendettas are no longer passed down in families.

Which is why, when we see people acting violently, we say they are uncivilised. But what we fail to see however is that violence does not always come in physical forms.

This is why we accept that mental abuse against someone is also a form of violence. But there are many ways of abuse that, while not causing physical harm, are still symptoms that we are still not civilised.

In the past week there have been several ‘innovative’ forms of abuse directed towards people, or rather individuals, with whom the abusers disagree with.
Some people decided to set up a burger stall in front of a private home. It may have been classified as peaceful but still it was a form of abuse, of privacy and certainly of some city by-laws.

It did not help that some people in authority said that it wasn’t illegal.

Then a few days later a group of grown men decided to shake their substantial butts at the same place.

There can be no mistaking the message of this act. It was meant to insult, and that can only be classified as abuse.

While these abuses veer on the edge of what we would call civilised protests, the pelting of a talk in Malacca with stones and eggs clearly goes over the edge.

Which goes to show that our society can easily slip down the civilisation ladder if nobody says anything to stop it.

Circular arguments have been made that, had it not been for the Bersih violence, none of this would have happened.

This is a bit like saying if you don’t drive your car, nobody else can crash into you. Two wrongs do not make a right.

Furthermore, some of these abuses have been going on long before Bersih. Take the cowhead incident for example. One side has exhibited these uncivilised behaviours at far greater frequency than the other.

This is where leadership comes in. If those who these abusers support keep silent, then it will be perceived as if these leaders condone these behaviours.

There is no point in disclaiming any links with these groups when these groups themselves say whom they are doing it for. Nor is there any point in claiming that these are small groups who should not be seen as tarnishing the larger membership.

By that logic, neither should misbehaviour on the part of some of the Bersih protesters be seen as representative of the entire body of protesters.

If we tout ourselves as a civilised moderate country, then surely there is no room for illegal food stalls, butt-shaking insults or the pelting of stones and eggs at anyone.

Nor should there be room for any other proven violence. Let us also not forget that violence by the state is also a symptom of incivility; look at Syria.

If our leaders insist on silence at these small incidents, it will only be a licence for more to happen. Then the responsibility for violence will be on them.
Independent commission the way to go - The Star - Musings (9 May 2012)
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Independent commission the way to go

By Marina Mahathir

Wednesday May 9, 2012

All perpetrators of violence, no matter who they are, must be brought to book.

I GREW up with a healthy respect for the police, as did most Malaysians. I always saw them as protectors whom I could turn to if I was in danger.

Unlike places like Mexico where people have reasons to worry about the police, our country has never been like that.

Which is why I can walk in the streets and not expect to be harassed by the police.

In some countries, you can get arrested just for loitering. If we had that in Malaysia, our jails would probably be full.

But generally as citizens, we can expect to have no need for the attention of the police unless we’re in trouble, such as if we’re in an accident, got our bag snatched or someone assaulted us.

So it was not unreasonable for the tens of thousands of Malaysians who went walking two Saturdays ago to expect a nice and peaceful day out.

They trusted that, after last year, their Government would have learnt how to better manage a large crowd and would not want to repeat the violence that happened. And indeed there was nothing to indicate otherwise.

My friends and I alighted our car in Brickfields amidst swarms of policemen and women, all of whom looked benignly at us and the hordes of people, many dressed in yellow, who were also making their way in the same direction.

There was not a single hostile glance from either side towards one another. We were all there in the heat, on a Saturday, in our city.

This atmosphere continued for many hours afterwards. At the Central Market car park, the participants and the police mingled.

There was no harassment of each other at any point.

Once I saw a young policeman carry a whole box of mineral water bottles to his colleagues, just as Bersih participants did the same for theirs. It was hot; everyone was thirsty.

When we finally started walking, it was orderly but festive. People chanted and sang, waved balloons and took photos. The police stood on the sidelines and simply watched. It was no different from any other crowded event in town.

Our instructions were simply to walk to the barriers, stop and sit down. My friends and I got to the nearest one on Lebuh Pasar where just before the bridge crossing the river, plastic highway barriers and razor wire had been placed across the road. The idea was to stop us from reaching Dataran Merdeka. On the other side of the barrier stood a line of policemen and women.

This was the first time that the police looked unfriendly. Even that would be an overstatement. They looked neither unfriendly nor friendly. They just looked. But the razor wire signified something else.

Since that day I have begun to notice barbed wire everywhere. In most places it is used to keep intruders and burglars out of private property.

It assumes that those who are to be kept out are criminals. So the razor wire at the barriers seemed to assume that we were the same.

Still there was no overt hostility.

When people talk about the violence at Jalan Tun Perak, they fail to mention the peace that was at Lebuh Pasar and elsewhere before the tear gas came out.

The young people at the barriers did nothing more than sit down and chant.

The police watched us and when I spoke to one of them, he nodded politely. There was no indication of anything to come.

Then, rather like the prelude to a tsunami when the waves recede, the police suddenly withdrew. Trucks and helmeted and be-shielded men appeared.

Why exactly was unclear to us. We were well behind the barricades; nobody had done anything to provoke anyone on either side.

What happened not long after on the other streets is now well known although the causes are still fuzzy.

Everyone is busy blaming everyone. But the violence, especially from those meant to protect us, is impossible to deny, what with the thousands of videos, photographs and eyewitness accounts.

I have been puzzling over this for a while. How is it that the police turned from benign to hostile seemingly without much reason?

And, if as our Home Minister insists, nobody ordered the police violence, what made them do it, and to such a disproportionate extent? Sixty-five people wound up in hospital, out of which only two were policemen. Surely this says something.

We all need to get to the bottom of this for everyone’s sake.

The only way to do that is through an independent commission of enquiry.

All perpetrators of violence, no matter who they are, must be brought to book.

Otherwise what will happen to the trust that we had that our police would never harm us?

Ombak Hairan dalam?
April 21, 2012

21 APRIL — Filem “Ombak Rindu” telah lama ditayangkan (lebih kurang 5 bulan yang lepas), namun kerana kesibukan kehidupan seharian bekerja dan berkeluarga, saya tidak dapat menonton ketika filem tersebut masih panas di pawagam. Hanya beberapa bulan kemudian baru dapat saya menonton filem tersebut di dalam keselesaan rumah saya sendiri. Baik juga ada Astro First, ye? Sebelum itu, memang dalam pengetahuan am saya yang filem ini ‘meletops’ di pawagam dengan kutipan lebih 10 juta ringgit. Ketika itu, saya hanya tahu sinopsis cerita secara ringkas sahaja – kisah Izzah yang dilakonkan oleh Maya Karin, seorang gadis dari kampung yang ke bandar, kemudian dia terlibat dalam cinta tiga-segi dan perkahwinan poligami bersama Hariz (watak yang dimainkan oleh Aaron Aziz) dan Mila (lakonan Lisa Surihani). Sepanjang menonton filem tersebut, saya tersentak bertanya diri-sendiri apakah reaksi dan wacana di media tentang perkosaan yang dilakukan oleh Hariz kepada Izzah ketika filem ini ditayangkan di pawagam? Dalam perbualan saya dengan saudara-mara dan sahabat-handai yang telah menonton “Ombak Rindu” sebelum saya, detik perkosaan yang dilakukan Hariz tidak timbul langsung, seolah-olah, apa yang berlaku sememangnya diterima tanpa soal dan tanpa kritis. Yang anehnya ialah reaksi skizoprenia Izzah sendiri terhadap perkosaan yang berlaku pada dirinya. Kenapa Izzah tidak lari dan membebaskan diri dari rumah yang didiami dengan Haris walhal peluang tersebut sememangnya ada dengan perginya Haris bekerja dan menziarahi ibunya. Adakah beliau terlalu lemah dan takut untuk membebaskan diri sendiri kerana ugutan Hariz yang akan mencarinya sehingga dapat? Namun di sebalik kelemahan dan ketakutan tersebut beliau masih mempunyai kecekalan untuk berunding dengan Hariz supaya bernikah dengan beliau agar hubungan kelamin di antara mereka adalah halal dari segi Shari’ah. Kenapa dia tidak sahaja membebaskan diri daripada terus ditiduri oleh Hariz secara paksa, samada halal atau tidak?

Mungkin jawapannya terletak pada Hariz kerana, yang lebih menghairankan saya ialah perkosaan tersebut tidak sedikit pun mencalar keperibadian Hariz pada kaca mata Izzah dan juga kita semua sebagai penonton malah dia masih dianggap sebagai seorang yang budiman terutama sekali setelah bernikah dengan Izzah secara senyap dan rahsia tanpa pengetahuan keluarga dan saudara-mara sekampung. Dari perbualan saya dan bacaan wacana media saya tahu yang ramai yang menangis menonton “Ombak Rindu”. Setitik air mata pun tidak tergenang bagi saya. Apa yang saya rasa hanyalah kekecewaan. Kecewa kerana tiadanya bantahan terhadap perkosaan yang berlaku terhadap Izzah oleh dirinya sendiri, oleh ibubapa Hariz dan juga kita semua yang menonton filem “Ombak Rindu”. Pernikahan Hariz dengan Izzah bagaikan selimut yang menutup keganasan yang telah berlaku terhadap dirinya. Kecewa kerana walaupun Hariz telah melakukan suatu jenayah yang keji terhadap seorang wanita, beliau masih diterima sebagai anak kesayangan, ketua keluarga, pemimpin syarikat dan harapan bangsa. Dalam pada itu, beliau masih boleh menuntut kesetiaan Izzah pada dirinya walaupun beliau sendiri tidak berlaku sama. Mungkin ramai akan menyatakan kepada saya, rileks lah Sister… Inikan hanya sebuah filem, kenapa saya perlu terikat dan terbawa-bawa dengan kisah Hariz dan Izzah ni, betul tak? Tak habis-habis dengan kisah perkosaan tadi. Don’t be so emo, you know? OK, saya boleh terima kenyataan tersebut. Saya boleh terima bahawa “Ombak Rindu” adalah suatu fantasi yang melangkaui batas realiti kehidupan seharian kita. Kalau begitu, saya ingin pergi jauh sedikit dari apa yang telah dipaparkan di atas layar perak di pawagam. Apa kata kalau ‘Hariz’ tidak sekacak Aaron Aziz? Apa kata kalau ‘Izzah’ dikurung di dalam pondok kayu yang usang dan bukan rumah yang tersergam indah diiringi pemandangan yang menyejukkan kalbu? Apa kata ‘Hariz’ bukan seorang Melayu? Apa kata ‘Hariz’ bukan seorang Muslim? Adakah kita masih akan memalingkan muka kita daripada perkosaan yang berlaku? Adakah kita masih merestui perhubungan kelamin dan pernikahan di antara ‘Hariz’ dan ‘Izzah’? Adakah kita masih akan melinangkan air mata di hujung filem ini kerana ‘Hariz’ dan ‘Izzah’ akhirnya dapat hidup bahagia dan bersama-sama? Dan sekiranya reaksi dan perasaan kita atas lakon layar di atas berbeza dari apa yang dipaparkan oleh filem “Ombak Rindu”, kenapa ianya berbeza? Menyimpang sedikit dari filem “Ombak Rindu”, kita teliti pula reaksi sesetengah pihak media dan orang ramai terhadap lirik lagu ‘Bawaku Pergi’ tulisan Malique, nyanyian Zizan kerana ura-uranya ia dianggap sebagai menggalakkan remaja perempuan lari dari keluarga mereka untuk bersama-sama dengan teman lelaki mereka. Ramai yang menginterpretasi bahawa teman lelaki yang dimaksudkan dalam lagu ini adalah mereka yang datang dari seberang, bukan orang kita. Saya rasa reaksi masyarakat terhadap lagu ini begitu kerana mungkin ramai yang risau anak-anak perempuan mereka akan terpengaruh dengan lagu ini dan dibawa lari dan diperkosa. Selepas madu dihisap, sepah dibuang. Tapi kalau mereka bernikah selepas itu, bagaimana? Hebat sungguh ancaman pengaruh lagu ini sehingga ianya digam daripada berkumandang di corong radio oleh Kementerian Penerangan, Komunikasi dan Kebudayaan. Sebaliknya pula, filem “Ombak Rindu” diabadikan oleh Pos Malaysia sebagai setem edisi terhad. Dengan pengabadian ini, hakikatnya ialah, kita semua telah bersubahat secara besar-besaran dalam menerima perkosaan terhadap wanita dan anak-anak sebagai suatu norma di dalam budaya dan masyarakat kita sendiri.

Perkosaan tetap perkosaan tidak kira bangsa, agama dan negara. Sekiranya kita terus redha atau pasrah tanpa melakukan sesuatu untuk menghentikannya, perkosaan dan keganasan terhadap wanita dan anak-anak akan terus berlaku.

ROZANA ISA: Ahli Sisters in Islam. Penyelaras Sekretariat Musawah, Gerakan Global bagi Keadilan dan Kesaksamaan di dalam Keluarga Muslim (Musawah, Global Movement for Equality and Justice in the Muslim Family).
Open letter to the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) from the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG)
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Open letter to the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) from the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG)
20 April 2012

The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) welcomes SUHAKAM’s recognition of human rights violations based on sexuality in its 2011 Annual Report by stating (on page 61) that, “The Commission stands firm that all people, regardless of their sexual orientation should be able to enjoy the full range of human rights without exception.”

However, JAG is disappointed at the comments made by the Chairperson of SUHAKAM, Tan Sri Hasmy Agam, who reportedly said that “The problem is that when we engage with dialogues, our friends in the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] community are demanding more than what they deserve.” (“’LGBT community entitled to be treated with dignity and respect’”, Malay Mail, 17 April 2012) This stance is inconsistent with SUHAKAM’s role to protect and promote fundamental human rights in Malaysia.

Universal human rights are just that – universal. There have long been debates over human rights and a perceived potential clash between these fundamental rights and culture or religion. These debates have been recognised in international arenas as being settled in favour of the indivisibility and universal applicability of human rights.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has affirmed this by stating that, “The balance between tradition and culture, on the one hand, and universal human rights, on the other, must be struck in favour of rights… No personal opinion, no religious belief, no matter how deeply held or widely shared, can ever justify depriving another human being of his or her basic rights.” (“Top UN officials urge countries to tackle violence based on sexual orientation”, UN News Centre, 7 March 2012)

The SUHAKAM Chairperson is unfortunately mistaken in his interpretation of what constitutes human rights. The right to bodily integrity and the right to sexual identity and relationships are fundamental human rights and must be protected and promoted by our national human rights institution. The Yogyakarta Principles, which are based on international human rights law, affirm that “each person’s self-defined sexual orientation and gender identity is integral to their personality and is one of the most basic aspects of self-determination, dignity and freedom.”

In response to comments from representatives of Islamic bodies who asserted that SUHAKAM should not recognise the right to non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender diversity, Tan Sri Hasmy Agam reportedly said that “We will try our best and follow as far as we can but if anything in UDHR [Universal Declaration of Human Rights] is un-Islamic, then we will not implement it.” (Malay Mail, 17 April 2012)

Tan Sri Hasmy Agam’s statement is at odds with Section 4(4) of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999, which establishes that the UDHR provides the guiding principles for SUHAKAM’s work.

For the Chairperson of SUHAKAM to make this statement also perpetuates a false divide between Muslim and non-Muslim Malaysians and in effect denies the fundamental premise of the UDHR – that everyone is born free and equal in dignity and rights.

Our national human rights institution must rise above political point-scoring and live up to its mandate to promote and protect human rights for all and be a strong, unflinching advocate for equality and non-discrimination in Malaysia.

Released by the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality, which comprises:
Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
Sisters in Islam (SIS)
Perak Women for Women Society (PWW)
Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor (PSWS)
All Women's Action Society (AWAM)
Women’s Centre for Change, Penang (WCC)
JAG Statement on Kedah’s new fatwa ruling equates man’s word to God
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Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG)
Kedah’s new fatwa ruling equates man’s word to God

19 April 2012

The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) is shocked and deeply concerned by media reports on Kedah’s new Fatwa ruling. The amendments to the Mufti and Fatwa (Kedah Darul Aman) Enactment 2008 now bar a fatwa from being “challenged, appealed, reviewed, denied or questioned in any civil court or syariah court.”

First and foremost, fatwas are theological and legal reasonings, opinions given by the Mufti to enlighten and educate the public about Islam and to assist them in arranging their affairs in accordance with the syariah. They are regarded as advisory and are not binding and enforceable on the ummah. Over the centuries fatwas have developed into a question-and-answer framework where the Mufti responds to questions posed by individuals. If a person was dissatisfied with the fatwa of one Mufti, he or she was free to consult a different Mufti or alim for an alternative opinion.

Throughout Muslim history, fatwas never had and still do not have the automatic force of law. In fact, when the Caliph Abū Ja‘far Mansūr wanted to make Imam Malik's fatwas unchallengeable in 148 AH, Imam Malik himself stopped him, saying that differences of opinion are God’s mercy to the ummah.

Within Mazhab Shafi’i or any other mazhab for that matter, the imams have had differences of opinions. Each imam would stand by his opinion, without discrediting or delegitimising other imams’ opinions, for their positions were grounded in humility and in the knowledge that there is no such thing as an instance which could decide an issue in question once and for all.

It must be remembered that a Fatwa Council comprises humans who are not infallible and certainly not beyond committing errors. It is at best, a projection of extreme hubris, and at worst, shirik, the biggest sin of all, when muftis become demi-gods and their fatwas equal to divine word.

Such a move is an attempt to subvert the courts power over religious authorities and force onto Muslims a particular version of Islam in Malaysia, one that they subscribe to and others may not contest. It is an unconstitutional and authoritarian attempt to consolidate power in the hands of a few, without the safeguard of any checks and balances.

In a modern democratic nation state, the Government, if it wishes to enforce the fatwa of a Mufti, must first put that fatwa through the legislative process for open debate before it can become law. Those not democratically elected, sitting in a closed body, and who do not believe that others have a right to discuss, debate and question matters of religion, cannot be allowed to legislate laws as that affect our fundamental liberties via a decree. Neither should the Mufti of the state fatwa committee have the sole power to revoke or amend a fatwa as provided for by the legislation.

When Islam in Malaysia is used as a source of law and public policy with widespread impact on the lives of the citizens of a democratic country, any attempt to criminalise contestation of religious opinions is tantamount to theocratic dictatorship.

One reason why the doctrine of binding precedent did not evolve in Islam is due to the belief that the opinion of one mujtahid can never be regarded as the final wisdom in understanding the infinite message of the Qur'an. Another alim can give an equally valid opinion based on his learned understanding of the text. In the context of law-making in a democracy, these differences of opinion should be debated and the legislative body then decides which opinion it wants to turn into law.

The implications of such absolute power are frightening. The criminalisation of individuals or groups that even question a fatwa and the inability to challenge these opinions in court indicates the ease with which it can easily be used as a tool to persecute minority groups deemed as a threat by those in power. This view is reinforced by recent events that further reflect the increasing rigidity and intolerance of many in religious authority, such as the arrest of 200 Shiites in 2011.

We find these developments not only disturbing, but also dangerous as they violate fundamental principles of democracy. We are also concerned how a united Malaysian nation that is democratic, liberal, tolerant and progressive under the banner of 1Malaysia and Vision 2020, can ever be achieved if an important segment of society, the religious establishment, in their words and deeds are fundamentally opposed to that vision, and are bent on governing the lives of Muslims in their obscurantist mould.

There must be a public sphere for engagement and debate for Malaysians who disagree with those Islamic scholars and preachers who already dominate the public space in perpetuating an intolerant, exclusive and elitist Islam.

Therefore, JAG calls on the Prime Minister and the Cabinet to take a strong stand and stop this headlong descent into a theocratic dictatorship engineered by those in religious authority both in Government and in the Opposition circle.
Released by the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality, which comprises:
Sisters in Islam (SIS)
Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor (PSWS)
Women's Aid Organisation (WAO)
All Women's Action Society (AWAM)
Perak Women for Women Society (PWW)
There’s art and there’s sleaze - The Star - Musings (11 April 2012)
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There’s art and there’s sleaze

By Marina Mahathir

Wednesday April 11, 2012

Kuala Lumpur may not be Paris, and we may not yet be ready for fashion photographer Helmut Newton’s nudes, but to ban ballet seems a very unsophisticated thing to do.

I WAS in Paris recently and with some free time one Sunday afternoon, I decided to see an exhibition at the Grand Palais, one of the city’s many museums.

My husband had suggested I go and see the retrospective of the work of the famous fashion photographer Helmut Newton who died in 2004.

Although Newton’s job was to showcase the designs of fashion designers like Yves St Laurent, he had a very particular vision of how he presented the clothes.

Invariably, his models are beautiful, strong, even athletic, women. Not for him any coy poses, his photos show women in almost confrontational stances.
That cold spring afternoon the line to see the Newton show snaked down the street.

Young and old, Parisians and tourists shivered for up to two hours to hand over €11 (RM44) for entry to the exhibition.

Inside, they were met with a huge exhibition, dozens of photos throughout his long career as well as a video made by his wife, June.

They were also greeted with literally huge works.

Gigantic photos lined the walls of some of the exhibition rooms, almost all of them of nude women, full frontal, standing tall and proud.

Unflinching and powerful, the exhibit has generated some debate as to whether Newton was a misogynist or a feminist.

I am inclined, having viewed the entire exhibition, to think he was the latter, albeit an unconscious one.

As I toured the exhibition, I watched the crowd as much as I looked at the photographs.

People treated the show with the same respect as they would an exhibition of the Old Masters.

They knew this was art and the work of a great photographer.

They paid good money to view this.

Confronted with the nudes, nobody sniggered or threw up their hands in horror.

Nobody ran out of the room screaming in moral indignation.

I have read no reports of anyone being inspired to rape anyone after being exposed to Newton’s work. There were no protests outside the museum.

There could be several explanations for the calm Parisian reaction to Newton.

Some might say that they are so morally degenerate that they have become immune to the sight of such full frontal nudity.

On the other hand, we can also say that the French are such mature and sophisticated people that they know when something is art and, therefore, worthy of respect, and when something is sleazy and pornographic and, therefore, is not.

Those who may disapprove always have the option of saving their money and staying home.

I flew home from the cold weather in Paris to the heat of home to find myself transported to another world, not just meteorologically.

While thousands of Parisians queued to view Newton’s exhibition, back home, a troupe of classical ballet dancers, fully dressed ones, were banned from performing in Malaysia to a much smaller but also paying audience.

Kuala Lumpur may not be Paris, and we may not yet be ready for Newton’s nudes.

After all, some years ago, an exhibition of Ferdinand Botero’s fat nude sculptures was axed in case some of us got too excited by the sight of giant breasts and bums.

But still, to ban ballet seems a very unsophisticated thing to do.

After all we have dozens of little girls dressing up in tutus for their ballet lessons every weekend.

I myself did ballet as a tiny tot. I don’t think my parents were setting me up for a life of immorality when they sent me to ballet class.

But the point is really this: why should the authorities decide for us what or who we should or should not see?

Especially when we are talking about paying money to attend such shows.

By that alone, the audience is limited and, therefore, whatever alleged “immoral” impact our authorities imagine would naturally be severely curtailed.
Nobody is being forced to watch anything.

Even though the ban has subsequently been lifted, the damage has already been done.

Is it too much to ask that there be a stop to this nonsense?

We are fast gaining a reputation as a place that no artiste wants to come to. But more importantly, why should people who know nothing censor culture and the arts?

In a country where a movie about a rapist is celebrated, why do we censor dance performances, women singers and men who are simply not macho?
Which is more harmful?

Or are even our arts censors keeping one eye on the elections, and somehow imagine that ballet would be an issue we should vote on?
JAG Statement on Datuk Seri Najib taking over Women's Ministry
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JAG Statement on Datuk Seri Najib taking over Women's Ministry

10 April 2012

The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) is dismayed to learn that the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak has taken over the portfolio of the outgoing Minister of Women, Family and Community Development, Datuk Seri Sharizat Abdul Jalil (Malaysiakini, 7 Apr 2012). This undermines the government’s purported commitment towards ensuring that women occupy 30% of decision-making positions. It makes a mockery of all the time, effort and resources that have been poured into making this a reality.

Prior to 2001, women's affairs was under the purview of the Prime Minister's Department, taken care of by a Deputy Minister within this Department. Eleven years later, we are uncertain what it means for women of Malaysia, that this portfolio has been returned to the stables of the Prime Minister's office. From our experience, women’s affairs languished at the bottom of the pile when it used to be located in this office. What we need is a standalone Ministry for Women, one which can focus its energies on women rather than compete with other equally important concerns of other constituencies: the elderly, children, Orang Asli, persons with disabilities, etc.

Does this move mean that after 55 years of being in power, there is really no one else within the Barisan Nasional component parties who is capable of taking over the women’s portfolio? If so, what does this mean for Malaysian women when women's leadership within the ruling government cannot be entrusted to take charge of our concerns? We are also surprised that none of the wanita wings of these parties have protested that women’s representation in cabinet is reduced, suggesting again that after all these years, they remain subservient to male interests within the ruling political parties in the country.

Or does this mean that after 55 years of being in power, the government ~ and in particular, the Prime Minister ~ is finally taking Malaysian women seriously? Over the last decade or so, it has become increasingly apparent that more and more authority is being concentrated in the office of the Prime Minister. If the Prime Minister directly taking over women's affairs means that the concerns of Malaysian women will be addressed with greater urgency and efficiency, then JAG looks forward to the following actions:

1. Enact: i. Legislation to incorporate the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) into national law; ii. A Gender Equality Act; iii. A new Muslim Family Law based on the principles of equality and justice to ensure that Muslim women enjoy the same rights as men and as Malaysian women of other faiths; iv. A Sexual Harassment Act; and v. A Freedom of Information Act.

2. Reform: i. Article 15 of the Federal Constitution to give women the same citizenship rights as men with regards to their non-Malaysian spouse; ii. Schedule II of the Federal Constitution to allow women to confer citizenship status on their children even when the child is born outside of Malaysia; iii. The Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976; iv. The Parliamentary Standing Orders to prohibit sexist remarks; v. The Penal Code to criminalise marital rape, stalking, and domestic violence which is psychological in nature; vi. The Local Government Act 1976 to enable elections at the local government level; vii. The Employment Act to recognise informal work such as domestic work and home-based work.

3. Establish a national steering committee on gender equality that aims to eliminate discrimination against women and takes proactive measures to fulfil women’s right to equality.

4. Set-up a permanent Select Committee on Gender Equality and Non-Discrimination to review, recommend and advocate for the mainstreaming of gender equality into national policies and budgets.

5. Form a permanent Standing Committee on Integrity and Governance to advocate for legal reforms to bring about greater transparency, accountability and participation.

6. Ensure that at least 30% of decision-making posts be reserved for women, especially in the private sector, in parliament, and statutory bodies like SUHAKAM as well as ad-hoc commissions.

7. Put in place a targeted, bench-marked plan and structure (that includes civil society) to implement Malaysia’s international human rights obligations via recommendations of the relevant treaty bodies, and the Universal Periodic Review.

8. Improve the collection of data on women in the country and make this available publically. This includes ensuring that the data is disaggregated by sex, ethnicity and other relevant variables.

9. Institutionalise a national mechanism comprising enforcement agencies and relevant NGOs that will meet 4 times a year to streamline Standard Operating Procedures on domestic violence, rape, sexual harassment, child abuse and other forms of violence against women and children.

10. Institutionalise regular dialogues between MPs and civil society organisations to bring about substantive democratic and gender responsive policies. Women’s groups in particular should be consulted on all issues relating to women’s rights and welfare before any policy decision or laws are formulated in this regard. We remind the Prime Minister and his government that women make up just under half the population of the country. With the 13th general election around the corner, we will also not hesitate to take our growing list of grievances to the ballot box when the time comes.

Released by the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality, which comprises:

All Women's Action Society (AWAM)
Sisters in Islam (SIS)
Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
Perak Women for Women Society (PWW)
Women’s Centre for Change, Penang (WCC)
Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor (PSWS)
Sabah Women’s Action Resource Group (SAWO)
My personal journey to Sisters in Islam by Ratna Osman
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APRIL 5 — I come from a modern middle-class family and, like most Malays, my religious identity is inextricably intertwined with the cultural traditions and rituals that were embedded in my daily life.

My siblings and I attended compulsory Quran-reading classes until we were 12. Growing up, I watched my father and my only brother receive special treatment at home in comparison to the girls.

For example, my mother would have to serve my father his glass of water while he sat reading the newspaper or watching TV, even if she herself was feeling tired after having cooked three meals a day and tending to six small children.

The significance of being a Muslim did not impact me until I attended an Islamic course in school at the age of 15. After the course, I longed to feel closer to God and therefore vowed to observe the five prayer times daily and unerringly.

I wanted to be the “anak solehah”, for I was taught that if I was not, then God would punish my parents for my sins. My teachers also made me believe that I had to put on the headscarf, and if I did not my parents would be at the receiving end of God’s wrath.

In addition, it was imparted to me that as a good Muslim girl, I should not assert myself — that speaking softly was a requirement so as not to draw too much attention to oneself. According to my educators, my voice, body and hair possessed the power to lead men astray... and should this lead to their “downfall” then it would be my fault entirely.

Naturally, I exhibited a high level of piety after imbibing all those guilt-imposing lectures. I so wanted to be identified as  a good, pious Muslim girl that I obeyed my educators when they insisted that I give up all the activities that I used to love: in particular the sporting ones and becoming a member of the Scouts group.

I was even told to minimise contact with close friends who were non-Muslims! To fill the social gap, I immersed myself in books on religion, attended courses which deepened my religious knowledge and sought solace through prayer. I idolised Muslim scholars and authors such as Maududi, Maryam Jameelah, Hassan al-Banna, Hassan Turabi, and Sayed Qutb... and even sought answers by turning to the lessons being advocated by various Muslim-based youth groups which were popular at the time of my youth.

I stumbled upon true knowledge only later when I studied law at the International Islamic University in Islamabad, Pakistan. I learned about the rich diversity that exists within Islamic jurisprudence, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that differences of opinions between the ulama were celebrated, that these differing viewpoints were neither frowned upon nor were the proponents persecuted.

Still, I was bursting with so many questions especially when it came to the issue of “inheritance”: why should a son get double the share of a daughter even if it was the daughter who had supported and looked after the parents during the couple’s lifetime? Many such questions were abruptly shot down by the lecturer on the premise that one is simply not permitted to question the Quran.

Instead, I was told that there is hikmah (wisdom) within all God’s revelations, and therefore the inheritance law would remain unchanged no matter how different the concept of reality today is from the time of the Prophet. Although I felt a searing sense of injustice, I did not object further. Eventually, the list of questions sans satisfactory responses — on issues of polygamy, the freedom to practise one’s religion of choice, the financial maintenance of divorced wives — grew longer.

For me, Islam has always been a religion that is just and fair. Why then were the outcomes for women not so? Why were women shouldering the burden of delayed divorce processes? Why was it so difficult for women to obtain maintenance for themselves and their children from errant husbands? Why, when so many women were now breadwinners within their own families were they receiving less inheritance than their male siblings?

Surely this was not the fate Allah had intended for Muslim women. To be told that women should endure these injustices only to reap the rewards of heaven later was simply too convenient — insufficient to cauterise the pain that some women and children perennially face.

Even more disconcerting is that Muslim men and Muslim society in general are complicit in perpetrating this injustice! After I left the corporate world, I yearned to seek satisfactory answers to these inconsistencies.

This led to my applying for a job at Sisters in Islam (SIS). What ensued was an unexpected but welcome surprise. It was within this organisation that I learnt of Islam as a religion which can actively address almost all social issues in modern society. I had never thought this possible from my former stance which was based on the strict, classical interpretations of the Quran.

Through my work at SIS, I am now able to advocate for necessary amendments to the currently existing Islamic Family Laws of my country; I speak out for gender equality, and reject all forms of injustice.

At SIS I learned that it is important to take into consideration socio-historical context when reading the Quran; that both the explicit and implicit messages of the text should be taken into consideration if one wanted to understand and assimilate the holy verses and apply them to daily life.

Moreover, not many people realise the difference between syariah and fiqh — the former being God’s divine message; the latter being the interpretation of that message by human beings who are not infallible. This newfound knowledge gave me the freedom to question all the injustices within issues that had surfaced in my mind ever since I was studying in Islamabad.

Finally, it became clear to me that it was never wrong to inquire, to ask why Muslim women were in the predicament that they were in at present. I read the Quran now from a completely new perspective. To me, this Living Book, which was compiled over 1,400 years ago, is not just a holy manuscript that you wrap in a beautiful cloth and put on a high, special shelf in your home to be respected and revered — I refer to mine often, and it still never ceases to amaze me.

Thus I shall continue with my exhilarating journey at SIS, filled with a renewed sense of pride at being a Muslim woman and confident with the knowledge that I have found a place that best fits my spirit and identity.

* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.
The learning tower of Pisa - The Star - Sharing The Nation (1 April 2012)
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The learning tower of Pisa

Sharing The Nation
By Zainah Anwar

Sunday April 1, 2012

Let’s help our students to learn better and teachers to teach better.

AS the Government sets out yet again to reform the Malaysian education system, I hope the experts will pour over the vast amounts of resources and data already available on what makes for a successful education system.

For the first time ever, Malaysia has joined 73 other countries in the highly regarded Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) administered by the OECD which evaluates key competencies of 15-year-old students in reading, mathematics and science. The results for Malaysia are due to be released this year.
Have students acquired the knowledge and skills essential to meet the challenges of the future? Can they analyse, reason and communicate their ideas effectively? Have they found the kinds of interests they can pursue throughout their lives as productive members of the economy and society?

The Pisa triennial surveys seek to answer these questions. Participating governments wait with bated breath for the results and analysis of the voluminous data generated, to find out where they stand in comparison to others in this globalised world and what kinds of interventions are needed to help students to learn better, teachers to teach better, and school systems to become more effective.

As the man who directs PISA at the OECD, Andreas Schleicher said: “Today’s learning outcomes at school are a powerful predictor for the wealth and social outcomes that countries will reap in the long run.”

In the latest 2009 PISA assessment, the Shanghai education system, which was evaluated for the first time, stunned the world by coming up tops in all three categories. It topped Singapore in maths, South Korea in reading and Finland in science out of the 65 countries surveyed.

More than one-quarter of Shanghai’s 15-year-olds demonstrated advanced mathematical thinking skills to solve complex problems, compared to an OECD average of just 3%. “Large fractions of these students demonstrate their ability to extrapolate from what they know and apply their knowledge very creatively in novel situations,” said Schleicher, breaking the myth of a Chinese education system focused on rote-learning.

Significantly, too, of the top five performers, four are Asian countries or economies – Shanghai, South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore. Finland is third. Other countries making up the top 10 are Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Australia and Belgium.

What is hopeful about the Pisa assessment is that it provides evidence that change is possible. In his report, Schleicher concluded that the best school systems became great after undergoing a series of crucial changes. They made their teacher-training colleges much more rigorous; they prioritise developing high-quality principals and teachers above efforts like reducing class size or equipping sports teams; and they held teachers accountable for results while allowing creativity in their methods.

There are also gratifying findings about equity in education. The successful education systems are those that devoted equal or more resources to the schools with the poorest kids. There is little difference found in the performance of students from private schools and those from public schools, once socioeconomic differences have been factored out. It found that cooperation between schools and between teachers lead to better learning outcomes than aggressive competition. Trapping the most disadvantaged students in the least successful schools exacerbate social inequality and negatively impact a nation’s overall performance.

What is also interesting is that the top performing countries have contrasting approaches to education. While the Asian countries emphasise academic hot-housing and tests, Finland in contrast adopts a progressive approach. There are no standardised national tests, no streaming or ability grouping. Teachers are trained to assess children in classrooms using independent tests they create themselves.

The main driver of Finnish education policy that has brought it success today is the idea that every child should have exactly the same opportunity to learn, regardless of family background, income, or geographic location, says Pasi Sahlberg, the Finnish education expert. Education is regarded as an instrument to even out social inequality – an approach Malaysian policy makers should really be familiar with.

Finland offers all pupils free school meals, easy access to health care, psychological counselling, early access to special education, and individualised student guidance. What Finland has shown is that a shift from an elitist and socially divided education system into an equitable public education system has produced top rate performance from students across all backgrounds.

While Finland’s approach differ from the top Asian countries, what they have in common is this: priority on quality teachers and school leaders. They depend on expert, experienced teachers and on excellent teacher training. They pay their teachers well and teaching remains respected and prestigious. Finland recruits from the top 10% of its university graduates into teacher training. Every teacher has a Masters degree and teacher training programmes are among the most selective professional schools in the country.

Interestingly, too, the finding in Shanghai shows that its high performance is also due to a “sea change in pedagogy”. From an emphasis on rote learning, the new school slogan today is: “To every question there should be more than a single answer.” Something I am afraid that Malaysian officialdom remains unfamiliar with.
In the age of Google where facts can be found at the click of a mouse, Chinese students today learn how to learn, rather than how to memorise, thus developing minds that are more adept at learning how to solve complex problems, rather than regurgitate facts.

The Pisa study also finds that parents who are more focused on their children’s education can make a huge difference in a student’s achievement. The Pisa team interviewed 5,000 parents from 18 countries in 2009 about how they raised their children and compared that to the test results.

According to Schleicher: “The performance advantage among students whose parents read to them in their early school years is evident regardless of the family’s socio-economic background. Parents’ engagement with their 15-year-olds is strongly associated with better performance.”

Fifteen-year-old students whose parents often read books with them during their first year of primary school show markedly higher scores in Pisa 2009 than students whose parents read with them infrequently. Students whose parents reported that they had read a book with their child “every day or almost every day” or “once or twice a week” during the first year of primary school have markedly higher scores in Pisa 2009 than students whose parents reported that they had read a book with their child “never or almost never” or only “once or twice a month”.

Schleicher explained that “just asking your child how was their school day and showing genuine interest in the learning that they are doing can have the same impact as hours of private tutoring. It is something every parent can do, no matter what their education level or social background.”

I hope the Education Ministry and its team of experts will pour over the Pisa findings on what makes a school successful. We want an education system that will help every Malaysian child realise his or her full potential. We want the highly effective teachers, the equitable education system that embraces diversity and is less competitive, that emphasises critical and creative thinking and problem-solving over rote learning.

We too need parents committed to their children’s studies and schooling experience. These all count for successful learning outcomes today that help define the success of the nation tomorrow.
Net video the modern PA system - The Star - Musings (14 March 2012)
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Net video the modern PA system


Wednesday March 14, 2012

If mass conveyance of messages is unclear or late, then one is likely to get the wrong message and make the wrong decision.

I WAS at the airport the other day waiting for a flight. As always, I kept my ear out for announcements about boarding times and was surprised to find the public announcement system faint and unclear.
I had thought there is no longer any such thing as less than crystal clear announcements at airports so that passengers can never find excuses for being late at the gate.

Worse, in some of the airline lounges, there are no announcements at all and you have to rely on your own watch to ensure you get to your gate on time.

Which led me to think of how important the mass conveyance of messages is. If they are unclear or late, then you are likely to get the wrong message and make the wrong decision next.

If the announcement about gate changes is too soft or too late, then you’re likely to find lots of very stressed people rushing from one gate to another, hoping not to miss their flights.

I suppose those who work the airport PA systems hardly ever make the wrong announcements. And I must say that those at our airports are usually clear in their pronunciation so you get their messages quickly and concisely.

In some countries, however, the accents can be confusing but luckily there are always alternative ways of checking flight information.

I do wish all public announcements had the clarity of airport announcements.

Unfortunately, other forms of mass announcements tend to be unclear, and sometimes even misleading. And unlike airport announcers, sometimes the lack of clarity is actually deliberate.

Of late, public announcements in this country seem to be particularly prone to obfuscation. If one only relied on them, then one is likely to get a very skewed view of the world.

Most recently, there was a video on an African warlord that went viral all over the world. It called on everyone who sees it to not just pass it along but to donate to help get rid of the warlord. This is the modern form of the PA system, the Internet video.

But almost as soon as it gained popularity, people started writing articles, i.e. other forms of public announcements, that gave a more nuanced analysis of the issue involving the warlord and questioning whether the aims of the organisation behind the video were truly honourable or, at best, somewhat naive.

Whichever way anyone felt about the whole campaign, the availability of these alternative perspectives allowed us to hopefully make a more intelligent assessment on whether we would support the cause or not.
Being able to assess leaves the power to decide in our hands.

The Internet, not being controlled by anyone, is a many-headed PA system. It can convince you of one argument or another, or it can leave you confused.

But it does allow power to remain in the person who uses the Internet to decide one way or the other.

Note: No reproduction of this article is allowed without the author's consent.
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