Karpal’s dead body still no walkover

Abdar Rahman Koya
The Malaysian Insider
April 19, 2014

The Malay adage “Harimau mati tinggalkan belang, manusia mati tinggalkan nama” (A tiger leaves behind its stripes, a man leaves behind his deeds) can’t be more apt in describing the passing away of the Tiger of Jelutong.

Karpal Singh was both a tiger whose stripes patterned the Malaysian political landscape for so long, and a man whose name dominated contemporary Malaysian legal history. The courts and the Parliament will have a hard time shedding away his stripes for a long time.

In court, Karpal’s presence is a signal that a case is to be treated as important, deserving the widest coverage. He can choose to represent a food stall owner, or a former deputy prime minister, and both cases would be keenly observed by the legal fraternity. For when Karpal is the lawyer, it is not how a case would end, it is how it was argued in court.

Karpal proved that a good lawyer is not someone who never loses a case, but someone who takes the most difficult one and stands not a chance to either acquit or get a huge sum rewarded to his client. But Karpal wasn’t interested in the end result of his cases.

In a difficult one where his clients’ conviction was a foregone conclusion, he saw an opportunity to expose the judiciary and challenge existing laws in order to highlight their deficiencies and push for changes where parliament failed. Such was the case when he defended many foreign nationals facing the mandatory death sentence for drug trafficking, something he had opposed at a time when Malaysians would proudly hear this law announced to airline passengers who touched down at the Subang airport, believing it was the best solution to the scourge.

Karpal also took cases which did not need his decades of experience, and which could well be handled by that young lawyer who pretends a hectic court life, whose shelves are filled with hardbound books on criminal law but whose desk is piled with sales and purchase agreements waiting to be signed. Such was the case when Karpal represented Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in the criminal charge brought against the former inspector general of police, Tan Sri Abdul Rahim Noor, who had beaten a blindfolded Anwar to a pulp after the latter was said to have uttered the word “anjing” (dog), the street slang to describe the men in blue during the height of the reformasi.

Who would forget the way he remarked in court while cross-examining Rahim Noor, who had then claimed he was provoked by Anwar’s choice of word. Karpal then questioned how a blindfolded Anwar could have directed the word “anjing” at Rahim, and wondered loudly in court if it was the canine-like body odour of the former police chief which could have triggered Anwar’s response!

But perhaps Karpal is best known for his strong and uncompromising stand against the goal to turn Malaysia into an Islamic state, symbolised by his challenge to advocates of the Islamic state to walk “over my dead body”. This phrase soon became a household name in the debate on the Islamic state, while at the same time turning Karpal’s enemies into friends, and friends into enemies, something he seemed to be good at in his long career.

While many at that time took it as an insult, Karpal had essentially thrown a challenge to PAS and other advocates of the Islamic state, who either out of ignorance or for political points have made the hudud as the end-all of their faith. It then occurred to them that turning Malaysia into an Islamic state was fraught with legal challenges and was a task not helped by Malaysia’s socio-political reality, mainly thanks to the way Islam was preached and controlled in this country.

Walking over Karpal’s dead body means proving his perception of the Islamic state wrong. It is a perception formed by the state of the Malaysian Muslim intelligentsia and their confusion about religion and race. It is a perception brought upon by the silly bureaucrats in the cushy seats of Putrajaya, who dish out fatwas during the day and stalk sinning couples during the night. It is a perception formed by the failure of the so-called Islamic states, such as the one helmed by the Saudi priests, whose spotlessly clean, long garbs betray their cluelessness about life’s realities.

Such perceptions have only been further reinforced by the custody battle involving a Hindu mother and her Muslim ex-husband, when the Shariah court thought the role of the Islamic justice is to ensure the Muslim demography.

Two decades have passed after Karpal’s statement was thrown into the Islamic state debate, but his dead body is still not a walkover. The Islamic state debate has become shallower than ever, made worse by the kiss of death given by skull-capped nincompoops from Umno to well-meaning Muslims in this country. – April 19, 2014.

Abdar Rahman Koya is at the end of his thirties, and considers himself to have all the qualities of an ordinary Malaysian, a practising Muslim, and an incorrigible cynic.

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