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Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Legion of Silencers: Fervent Enablers of 1Apartheid

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Call this a rant, if you must. Provocative post ahead? Walski certainly hopes so.

"Silencing The Feminine Energies" by Walt Pourier, via, hosting by Photobucket There is a prevailing school of thought that the more harsh and repressive society is, the more “Islamic” in character it becomes. This school of thought sees civil liberties as destructive “Western” precepts that must be curtailed. One of these civil liberties happens to be freedom of thought – ok for the proponents to practice, but not ok when these thoughts run contrary to their set of beliefs and aspirations.

Without further beating around the bush, this post refers to the loose grouping of Muslim NGOs in Malaysia. Their numbers are many, and Walski won’t bother listing each and every one – but this legion of NGOs comes under an umbrella coalition, which calls themselves PEMBELA (or ‘protector’ in English).

Their latest endeavor, as has been reported by both the mainstream and non-mainstream news media, is to silence any dissent against the Pahang State Syariah Court decision on the corporal punishment to be meted out against one Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, for the offence of consuming beer.

We won’t go on a tangent to discuss the merits (or otherwise) of the decision, nor of the Joint Action Group (JAG) for Gender Equality’s grounds for protesting. What Walski wants to highlight here is the efforts of this Legion of Silencers to curtail relevant criticisms of concerned persons.

For them, criticism is tantamount to insult – a convenient untruth for those unable and unwilling to engage in intelligent discourse, resorting instead to threats and legal recourse, so as to silence any dissenting voices. 
(selective justice is no justice at all, and more, in the full post)

Last week, Utusan Malaysia, the nation’s leading brain-dead Malay language daily, published a series of letters and articles condemning JAG and SIS. As is typical, instead of wanting to engage in intelligent dialog, the go-to is always censure. And wanting to invoke the Sedition Act against JAG. In particular, to SIS. Even the pseudonymous Awang Selamat put in his two bits – in English – grammatical errors and all.

The effort to request the government to repeal the Syariah Criminal Law enforced in the country with each State has its own set of enactments, is beyond the expectation of many. It is a regression. What more, such call was made by NGOs with Islamic tag.

As organizations which operate in the name of Islam, what is expected by Muslims is the struggle to strengthen the implementation of the law in the country.

Awang feels that it is unbecoming of any attempt to question the syariah law which is well-received by Muslims, who formed the majority of the population in the country.

Infact, even in the case of penalty by canning of Kartika, there is no argument about it since she herself accepts the punishment with full remorse and never once questioned it.

Whatever it is, the authorities should respond to the case of calling the government to rescind the law, with firmness and priority.

Awang feels that it should be handled with tact as it involved so many parties including the sovereignty of the law and Malaysia’s position as an Islamic country.

Awang—feeling disturbed

(source: Utusan Malaysia - October 6, 2009)

But Walski agrees – Awang is indeed a disturbed individual. Or individual by committee, as is the case, in all likelihood. Furthermore, his editorial represents how shallow the Malay-language medium sees the issue. And when confronted with an issue with serious ramifications, the shallow-minded can only respond in one manner – not articulate the issues involved, but invoke retribution of the law.

The latest to join the fray is ABIM – the Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia. These jokers filed 11 police reports against JAG, as reported by Malaysiakini. Their grievance – that the JAG memorandum “insults Islam”, “threatens the sovereignty of the sultans as heads of the Islamic religion”, and “insults the status of the syariah courts”.

And the memorandum that these Silencers are so adamantly insulted by? You can read it in its entirety here (via the Women’s Aid Organization (WAO) website), but Walski thinks that it is important enough to duplicate the memorandum here, in its entirety.

The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) appeals to YAB Dato' Sri Mohd Najib bin Tun Abdul Razak to take immediate steps to address the issue of the sentence of whipping meted out to Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno.

JAG also urges the government to review whipping as a form of punishment as it violates international human rights principles which regard whipping and other forms of corporal punishment as cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Moreover, research has shown that whipping is not an effective deterrent, even to violent or sexual crimes.

The court’s decision to whip Kartika for consuming alcohol has led to a public outcry at the national and international levels, damaging Malaysia’s reputation as a moderate Muslim country. It also fuels the widespread belief that Islam is a religion that discriminates against women. While civil law in Malaysia prohibits the caning of women, syariah law makes no such exception.

JAG believes there are compelling reasons why Kartika’s case should be reviewed - on syariah, constitutional and legal grounds, international human rights principles, and based on sentencing guidelines. They include:

Syariah Grounds
(i) Qr’anic teachings emphasise repentance, forgiveness and personal transformation. Even the verses on punishment for theft (Surah Al-Maai’dah 5:38-39) and robbery (5:33-34), emphasise that an offender who repents after his crime and amends his conduct, is redeemed, as God is forgiving and merciful.

(ii) Kartika has repeatedly expressed remorse and repented for her action. She should be forgiven, instead of be given the maximum punishment.

(iii) There is no consensus in Malaysia on the range of crimes for which whipping is prescribed,. Only Pahang, Perlis and Kelantan provide whipping for alcohol consumption under their Syariah Criminal Offences Codes.

Sentencing Guidelines
(iv) Under normal sentencing guidelines, Kartika should not have been given the maximum punishment as she had pleaded guilty, was a first time offender and has shown and continues to show remorse.

(v) The whipping sentence is also disproportionate to the gravity of the offence committed, especially since there was no violence involved in the commission of the offence.

(vi) When an accused pleads guilty, it is a mitigating factor. Therefore, the judge should have taken that into consideration in favour of the accused, and should not have meted out the maximum sentences in terms of the fine imposed and number of strokes for whipping.

Constitutional and Legal issues
(vii) Can the Kajang prison which is established under Federal law execute an order issued by the syariah court which is under state jurisdiction?

(viii) Can a Federal authority execute a sentence of whipping against a Muslim woman when the Prison Regulations 2000 forbids corporal punishment to be applied to a female prisoner (of any age), or a male prisoner who is more than 50-years-old?

(ix) Can the Pahang Syariah Court simply impose an additional sentence of imprisonment for seven days after the trial had ended and the case deemed closed, just for the punishment of whipping to be carried out?

(x) The victimisation of Kartika violates constitutional guarantees of equality and non-discrimination under Article 8(2) of the Federal Constitution. Under federal law, a woman cannot be whipped, but under syariah, she can. Daily, thousands of Muslims violate the syariah law which forbids alcohol consumption. And yet, Kartika is victimised with the maximum punishment to set an example to others.

(xi) Is it the duty of the state – in order to bring about a moral society – to turn all “sins” into “crimes against the state”? Or should this be private morality best left to the religious conscience of the individual, rather than be deemed public morality and turned into a matter of law? As practice shows, the enforcement of such moral policing laws has often led to controversies, abuses and public outcry. In the end the Federal Government intervenes and those arrested are released.

International Obligations
(xii) As a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) since 1995, Malaysia is committed to uphold respect and equality for women. This commitment is complimented by Malaysia’s obligations under the Universal Periodic Review whereby Malaysia’s delegation had during the UPR process in February 2009 reaffirmed Malaysia’s “respect for human rights long established given the country’s character as a melting pot of various cultures, religions and ethnicities”.

(xiii) Malaysia is also committed to the 1988 ASEAN Declaration on the Advancement of Women, the 2004 ASEAN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women and the 2005 Putrajaya Declaration and Programme of Action on the Advancement of Women in Member Countries of the Non-Aligned Movement.

In the long term, we urge the Government to conduct a comprehensive review of the Syariah Criminal Offences laws of this country, with a view to repeal such laws, thus enabling all Malaysians to be governed by a single Penal Code under federal administration.

In 2005, Sisters in Islam , a member of JAG submitted a memorandum to the Government to reiterate its call for the Syariah Criminal Offences laws to be repealed on the grounds that they have no basis in Islamic legal theory and practice; they conflict with the Federal Constitution and that they conflict or overlap with the Penal Code and other federal laws. SIS had commissioned two reviews by Professor Muhammad Hashim Kamali and Professor Shad Saleem Faruqi and these have been shared with the Government.

The Government must show the political will and courage to once and for all deal with the implications of such intrusive moral policing laws. The implementation of these laws continues to raise numerous profound and controversial issues at the Islamic, constitutional, and human rights levels. They also fail to reflect the changing realities of Malaysian life today. The continual public outrage over moral policing laws reflects the disconnect between state control of private lives and personal choices, and how Malaysians view their entitlements to these rights. This can no longer remain unresolved.
(source: WAO Website)

Now, how on earth can this be construed to be an insult to Islam, a threat to the Sultans’ sovereignty, or even the status of the Syariah courts? If there is a misapplication of law, isn’t that grounds for critique, regardless of which system of law?

Furthermore, why pinpoint action on JAG, WAO and SIS, when other notable persons have spoken out against the issue of whipping Kartika? Is it misogyny, and the prevailing opinion that in “Islam” (as these Silencers understand), women should not be vocal and speak out when there is a perceived injustice?

Walski highlighted the name Muhammad Hashim Kamali in the JAG memorandum for a reason. On September 1, 2009 this renowned authority on syariah law wrote an article for the NST (downloadable in PDF from here). In the article, the professor raises the possibility that the Pahang Syariah Court’s decision to mete out the maximum punishment may be a miscarriage of justice. He even argues that the “crime” of consuming alcohol may not be a “hadd” offence.

And yet, in the case of Kartika, the judge chose to sentence the lady to the maximum allowable by law. For a first offence that Kartika herself had admitted to and shown remorse. Is this the kind of justice that the Silencers want? And because there is no such thing as case precedence in syariah law, the very same overzealousness could be applied by a different judge in the future.

Now, why isn’t anyone going for the professor’s jugular, like they are against JAG, WAO or SIS? Isn’t pointing out that there are flaws in the system, that many see as God’s perfect justice on Planet Malaysia, equally an insult to their sensitivities?

Walski will tell you the reason – selective persecution, that’s why. And guess who’s being persecuted in this case – women organizations. Convenient targets for the intellectually challenged, vocal bigots who cannot see beyond their own jaundiced world view and prejudice.

The frenzy and zealousness of the Silencers does indicate one thing that is indeed disturbing – that what they want for this country is an Apartheid – one set of laws specifically for Muslims – that NOBODY can challenge – and one set of laws for everyone else.

The sad truth is that Malaysia is on a steady path to becoming a failed state – mark Walski’s words. It’s no longer a question of “if”, but of “when”. All the volatile ingredients are there, and how the ingredients have been converging is indeed scary.

Amendments to Article 121 of the Federal Constitution back in the 1980’s, the unwillingness of the civil court system to even touch on any matter deemed to concern Islam, the increasingly vociferous Syariah law fraternity in response to any criticism, aided by their leadership of  the legion of “Muslim” NGOs, the declaration (for political reasons) by the UMNO/BN led government that Malaysia is already an Islamic state, the various political quarters riding on the agenda of insisting that Malaysia become much more an Islamic state than it already supposedly is, the continued and increasing back-door incursion of so-called “Islamic” laws and norms into our personal lives (and not being given the choice nor opportunity to protest), collusion of law enforcement in matters religious, the carte blanche given to the Islamic agencies and bureaucracies to act as they please, the blatant scare-mongering by certain prominent members of the “Islamic” clergy class, the increasingly vocal censure of ordinary citizens in voicing their concerns, the absence of a government with enough backbone to do anything about the subtle slide towards tyranny…. these are just some of the ingredients that Walski speaks of.

All these sometimes independent-appearing pieces of a bigger puzzle have been coming together over the past few decades, hiding in plain sight for all and sundry to see. And the bigger picture the pieces of the puzzle reveal as the convergence continues is not a rosy one.

The proponents of “more Islam” seem to want a more conservative society, where personal space can easily be intruded upon, where one no longer has the liberty to think for oneself without fear of offending “the state”. Where Morality Police roam with reckless abandon, ensuring that life for anyone labeled “Muslim” on their MyKad is lived within the narrow parameters of what their self-appointed moral guardian masters allow.

There will come a time when even expressing concern, and voicing differing and dissenting views about any matter deemed “Islamic” will be considered crimes against the state. We are starting to see the beginnings of it now, as evidenced by the calls of the Silencers, be they subtle in some cases, or blatantly in others. We saw it before with Article 11, and we are seeing it again now.

And the dumbest thing is that what Walski describes is nothing new – we’ve seen it before in many other nations. Iran, Sudan, Saudi Arabia… What boggles the mind is that despite living proof that a state governed with religion as the basis of policy (any religion) eventually becomes a tyrannical one, that is exactly what the Silencers dream of as their ideal.

Once again, mark Walski’s words – we are fast coming to a point of no return. 1Apartheid is a reality we might as well get used to, if we choose to remain in this once great nation. And thanks to the Silencers, that reality may come sooner than we can imagine.

May God have mercy upon us all…

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