— John Ling
The Malay Mail Online
July 2, 2014
JULY 2 — When the news first broke that a Malaysian diplomat had been accused of sexual assault in New Zealand, I was struck by that sharpest of emotions — shame. And soon enough, that shame deepened into disgust when official government correspondence was released. They appeared to show that diplomatic immunity had been used to sidestep a criminal conviction, and this was done at the expense of a young female victim.
This international incident has sent shockwaves through New Zealand society. Kiwis are famously known for their cheerful and unassuming nature. But, in this instance, they have grown increasingly vocal at what they perceive to be a miscarriage of justice. Anger has been directed primarily at the present National government for not pushing hard enough to prosecute the offender within New Zealand’s jurisdiction. Anger has also been directed at the Malaysian government for exploiting a loophole in the Vienna Convention that allowed them to fly the offender back to Malaysia.
To understand why this alleged crime has struck such a raw nerve with New Zealanders, you first have to understand this country’s history.
In 1893, New Zealand became the first country in the world to offer women the right to vote. Then, in 2001, it became the only country in the world where the top positions of power were all held by women — Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, Attorney General and Chief Justice.
The struggle for an egalitarian society occupies an almost mythic status in the New Zealand consciousness. People here are largely non-religious. Instead they follow common secular philosophy. They call it giving someone a “fair go”. It’s what every Kiwi child is expected to learn from a young age — no gender, no ethnicity, no dogma is allowed to supercede another. And the fight to advance women’s rights is placed on the same sacred pedestal as racial and marriage equality.
Little wonder, then, that New Zealanders should take this diplomatic incident as an affront to their values. It mocks over 120 years of liberal tradition. And this hurts all the more because Kiwis have traditionally held Malaysia in high regard. Malaysian restaurants are hugely popular here, and Malaysia Airlines has been a favoured carrier for Kiwis looking to travel to Asia.
Sadly, with the recent uptick in religious extremism, the catastrophic loss of MH370, and now this diplomatic faux pas, Malaysia’s reputation has now been called into question. There are now those whispering that this country is little more than a gangster state. A place where there’s no honesty; no integrity; no respect for women’s rights.
For the Malaysian community in New Zealand, this has placed us in the difficult position of having to act as apologists for the misdeeds of our bureaucrats. Rightly or wrongly, it now feels as if whatever age of innocence we once enjoyed is now long gone. “Malaysia Truly Asia” has become an ironic slogan for everything that’s wrong with our country of our birth.
For decades now, through times of war and peace, the New Zealand government has extended its hand of bilateral friendship. It has proven itself willing to give Malaysian citizens a fair go. We have come here as visitors, students and migrants, and throughout, Kiwis have been shown us nothing but warmth and generosity.
The onus now is on the Malaysian regime to prove that it is capable of reciprocating such friendship and goodwill. Only time will tell whether justice will be served fairly and impartially. The Malaysian community in New Zealand are hoping against hope that this will be the case.