Anwar, Allah and the caning of women

By Jema Khan | The Malaysian Insider

FEB 18 — I have been a loyal member of Umno since they came to Sabah in the early nineties. I have served in the Umno Youth exco, as Umno Youth chief of Sabah, as Umno Youth chief of Tuaran and even as a branch leader in my division.

I retired fully from politics in 2000 to focus on my business with a sense of satisfaction in having done some good both in Sabah and in Malaysia. That was good enough for me and I felt I had done my duty and could now concentrate on my business, family and myself.

In the passing of time since, I have seen many a friend being elevated to the highest level of Government. That pleased me in that at least I knew the main players in Government personally. From time to time, I would give my views to them on this issue or that when the opportunity arose. I would not be writing this if there was a more discreet way to repair the serious damage done to my country.

I consider myself a liberal Malay and have always acted as such even when I served Umno a decade ago. Although I would toe the party line eventually in most issues, I espoused my liberal views often to my compatriots and they listened though not necessarily agreeing. Nevertheless, we all remained firm friends. Today they seem unable to tackle issues which I consider basic and yet having serious repercussions.

The most serious issues today are Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s sodomy trial, the use of the “A” word for non-Muslims and the caning of women under Syariah law. These issues are all fundamental to all of us as they can dilute our rights as individuals in a civilised nation. A decade ago, all these rights remained intact for all of us.

In Anwar’s case a decade ago, he was found guilty for abuse of power only: the sodomy conviction being overturned on appeal eventually. No matter how one feels about it, justice eventually prevailed on appeal as there was reasonable doubt to cause his sodomy conviction to be considered “unsafe”.

Here we are again, putting the nation through another trauma all over again; surely we all know the burden of proof lies with the prosecution and it has to prove its case “beyond a reasonable doubt”. From the press reports, I would say that there are serious elements of doubt. I fear for all of us if we were the ones to be prosecuted in a criminal case and guilt was determined other than by the test of “beyond reasonable doubt”. That can be the first dilution of our rights.

The “A” word to be used by non-Muslims had never been an issue before. especially where I come from, which is Sabah. We have all lived in peace respecting each other’s rights, why change now? Strike two for the dilution of our individual rights.

The issue that breaks the camel’s back for me was the caning of women under Syariah law. It is ignoble, unjust and an affront to my dignity as a man. Caning of women is not even allowed under our penal code and we never did it before, why start now? Strike three.

If the US has a “three strikes and you are out” law, I wonder what it means to us in Malaysia? Is it that our individual rights are no more sacrosanct? Shall we just give up and let the powers that be or want to be, continue to trample all over us? Shall we just cry for our nation as the title suggests? Or shall we strike back?

I propose that we set up a liberal Malay party and call it “Parti Liberal Melayu” and allow all likeminded constitutional Malays and Bumiputeras to join. Although I am very much for “1 Malaysia”, my previous experience has shown me that politics in Malaysia was still along racial lines.

In any event, what I really want to prove is that there are still many liberal Malays who often are hiding somewhere inside themselves. Come out of the closet and join a former “Umno Putra” and show the world that “liberal” and “Malay” are not an antithesis. Any takers?

* Datuk Jema Khan is the former Sabah Umno Youth chief. The original title of this piece is “Cry baby cry”.

  1. #1 by Jeffrey on Monday, 22 February 2010 - 6:58 am

    When you say “come out of the closet” will there be more liberals or conservatives coming out? It could be the latter. Don’t compare “decades ago”. Everything has changed (even UMNO) since Tun Dr Mahathir took over and ran the country for long 22 years. He did 2 things simultaneously : (1) under Ketuanan/NEP promoted aggressively by state’s policies crony capitalism via privatisation; (2) “state controlled” Islamisation (to counter PAS’s threat). However it is not easy to control influences of thought/beliefs. The Ayotollah khomeini’s Iranian Revolution had taken place and fired imagination. [Many in Arab societies find appeal in the more conservative Wahhabi School, dominant in Iran/Saudi requiring rigid literal interpretation of sacred text and Islamic jurisprudence in contrast to the softer more relaxed Sufi-inspired variant in South East Asia]. Can the State really control the thoughts/beliefs of those who study in madrassas in Middle East (since TDM’s time and continuing) and who come back here to work in bureaucracy or to schools to teach in religious schools here?

    The ruling party’s ideology underpinning its political success in getting the Malay majority vote for more than ½ decade is politicisation of both race and religion since Malay cultural identity is intertwined with race per constitution and general understanding. So as UMNO promotes race, so it has to in relation to religion.

    But in Mahathir’s legacy, (1) crony capitalism and its attendant money politics & corruption is contradictory to (2). If Mahathir’s force of personality and authoritarian style could hold 2 contradictory thought systems together, its doubtful those after him could especially when the seeds sown by TDM now bear full flowers and fruits, in both (1) and (2).

    The challenge is this: crony capitalism/corruption is an anathema to religion. If ruling govt does not mitigate and change (1), those influenced by (2) will change it! Case in point : Khomeini changed corrupt Shah’s regime. So ruling party has no choice but by way of prolonging self preservation, to come out with MACC etc to bolster image of rectifying (1) and simultaneously doing whatever necessary to be seen supporting (2) to retain the Malay Muslim vote. Hence the common denominator underpinning all three of the most serious issues today – Anwar Ibrahim’s sodomy trial, the use of the “A” word for non-Muslims and the caning of women under Syariah law – is in the name of support of the Religion! To support (2) means, in many instances, appeasing the expectations of the conservative groups more inclined to the Wahhabi School of thought. They are everywhere, in schools, courts, civil service, within the ruling party and without (even in the Opposition parties, and I don’t mean PAS only – even in PKR when its own people disagree with Anwar on the “A” issue).

    When one returns to and embraces Islam ffrom fundamental perspectives, it is embracing in entirety the whole way of life (adin) without exceptions – and without separations between private and public morality (hence moral policing of Khalwat and Zina, prosecution of liwat etc) or between genders (no whipping of female by sercular law of Criminal Procedure Code).

    In fact, the very idea of “secular” is an anathema. Datuk Jema Khan talks of our pre-existing civil liberties. What civil liberties when they are now rejected as a western secular colonial contruct ? If you talk of modernization and globalization, conservatives don’t believe in the Western-driven way. The role models are not US and western countries or Singapore: it is the Islamic Republic of Iran of Ahmedinejad and its flounting of its nuclear programme in the face of Western powers.

  2. #2 by chengho on Monday, 22 February 2010 - 7:47 am

    careful with Pas , they are waiting to execute their brand of islamic law.

  3. #3 by Godfather on Monday, 22 February 2010 - 8:03 am

    You don’t need another race-based party to show your displeasure at the evil UMNO regime. Just throw your support behind PKR and give PKR the opportunity to field more decent and honourable candidates at the next elections.

    We all know that UMNO had engineered the erosion of our constitutional rights for the past 30 years. The fact that the PDRM, the MACC, the AG’s Chambers and the Judiciary have all been made subservient to UMNO means that we have to come together and get rid of this evil regime. Work with PR, not confuse the rakyat with another race-based party.

  4. #4 by Bigjoe on Monday, 22 February 2010 - 8:07 am

    When you look at even UMNO, no more than 30%,if that, of them are actually ideological right – racist, religious-fanatics. The rest are not ideological, merely in it for their own purpose or actual nationalist.

    People have to remember the traditional culture of Malays are not that of hate and violence. The ultras are a mutated abherent – it is the fringe group that got mutated by irresponsible leaders.

    Most Malays will turn away from them if it does not pay to be on the side of the haters and violent. And its not difficult, you just need to expose them.

    That is why Najib is such a hindrance to change because he is hiding or at least helping to hide the haters and the violent. Its better to get the haters and violent out in the open and the Malays will reject them.

  5. #5 by boh-liao on Monday, 22 February 2010 - 9:07 am

    Jema Khan, former Sabah Umno Youth chief
    Got title, got money, got powerful friends, got business jalan, got whatever lah
    Wonder where his ancestors came from n when they were in this land
    Lucky his ancestors not classified under beggars n prostitutes by his Umno friends
    He as Umnoputra was satisfied n convinced dat he did some good both in Sabah n M’sia
    Wonder good 2 who – 2 his own kind or 2 d hardcore poor true Bumiputras in Sabah
    Finally his conscience is awakened, maybe after watching Avatar
    2 fight d most corrupt n racist regime n 2 reach d impossible dream

  6. #6 by Jeffrey on Monday, 22 February 2010 - 9:09 am

    Jema Khan and our liberals opposing the caning of women under Syriah face two major obstacles.

    The first is the amendment (under TDM’s administration) to article 121 of our Constitution providing parallel legal systems – civil and Islamic – where Syariah Judges under the latter have made their judgments according to Syariah even if it conflicts with our civil/constitutional law without interference from our Civil Courts. Yes Section 289 of the Criminal Procedure Code, exempts women from the whipping sentence but Section 125 of the Syariah Enactment stipulates how both men and women should be caned. It is not just the Ruling Govt unwilling to amend 121A. Neither PAS nor PKR within Pakatan is urging recission of 121A amendment!

    The second problem facing liberals is that they must distinguish between the (a) punishment of whipping itself from that of (b) whipping women in particular. In respect of (a) is it not strange why liberals think it is barbaric to cane a woman but not barbaric to whip male offenders strapped to a wooden tripod as if he were Jesus crucified and get whacked with an iodine dipped fat and long rottan by a trained whipper until he yelled and collapsed unconscious with permanent scars? Also not barbaric to hang by capital punishment both man or woman convicted of a capital offence? When one does not consider properly the nature of punishment in (a) properly – whether whipping is per se barbaric, going to (b) based on gender arguments (whipping men is oK but not women) is going to court more problems. Even by secular and constitutional premises. It will be asked by even conservative Islamist: are we not placing our women in too high a pedestal like Victorian times? What of equality of both sexes promised by Federal Constitution? Spare the rod and love our Malaysian women but not men? Ultimately it goes back to concept of equality – Aristotle’s idea of justice as proportional equality that prescribes : “treat like cases alike and unlike cases differently”.

    So it is being argued here that the caning here for women is proportionately light : the cane is shorter/thinner, female offender fully dressed in seated position, lashes administered by another female with average force of a female without lifting hand over shoulders or head! So the strength of the caning would be equal to the gender taking into consideration Aristotle’s injunction – “treat unlike cases (male & female) differently. But why exempt female from caning but not man from perspectives of equality they will ask ? Because women skin softer, cannot bear pain (when they undergo that in labour better than men)? What’s the rational differentiating factor why women are not inflicted proportionate pain by their offences? Surely it cannot be suggested that for women the more appropraite “pain” factor (whether to body or soul) is tickling them until they pass out or feeding them some kinda laxative so they will experience severe tummy ache for a week or stop them from going shopping for 2 years!

    Whatever liberals’ fear of caning women stem from creeping religiosity (departing from past just like use of “A” word) that abrogates all civil liberties and discard of all rationality raising concerns about whats the line drawn and where will this stop where conservative religious segment are kept appeased, pushing their agenda.

    Will we go the way of Somalia one day in the future where the hardline Islamist groups have rigorously enforced their version of Sharia law – not just amputating the hands and limbs of 3 robbers publicly – but are now going for women with firm breasts and accusing them of violating Islam by causing a deception because of the bras they wea? Exactly how they determine what is a firm breast is not stated!

  7. #7 by Thor on Monday, 22 February 2010 - 9:21 am

    Umno is not religious nor fanatics.
    There are more like atheist.
    If they really believe in god, they would not have done alot of evil and mischief.
    They’ve broken every sets of rule and law, as set in the koran and bible.
    They don’t believe in karma or punishment as they believe god is just a myth.
    They just use god’s name to woo believers as mostly malay are god loving people.
    These people could be easily duped ‘cos in Malaysia, we’ve seen alot of fake imam around.
    Umno is not 100 percent pure anymore ‘cos most of its leaders are of “imported” type.
    After 22 years of mammak rule, the name “Umno” does not reflect its real origin anymore.
    That’s why you see these people are fond of using religious and sentiment to stir and confuse the malay people.
    Though some may not be as stupid but mostly those older and kampung folks are their main target as most of them are still “weak” in mind.
    These older generation does’nt bother what is happening in the outside world, as news and media about the actual truth have been controlled and manipulated most of the time.
    To save our country and home from further damage, we ‘ve to come up with more effective ways to reach these people.
    Umno is hoping mostly for the malay support to save them in the next GE as other races support have disminished after the previous GE.

  8. #8 by Ridzuan Aziz on Monday, 22 February 2010 - 10:36 am

    Being an Islamic country, it is most natural to uphold the principles outlined in the religion. But, to question the kalimah Allah and the caning of women is downright ignorant. We have to admit, we are not fully Islamic in the way we manage our country simply for the reason that we also understand and respect the needs of other races, cultures, and religions. This is seen in the degree of tolerance we have among the Malays especially.

  9. #9 by DCLXVI on Monday, 22 February 2010 - 2:34 pm

    chengho :careful with Pas , they are waiting to execute their brand of islamic law.

    Where? In Kelantan?

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