Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Equity, Sovereignty and the failing Malaysian Multicultural Social Experiment

Malaysia has legislated racism incorporated into its constitution through its ‘Bumiputra protection laws’. These laws were initially enacted supposedly to assist the Malays obtain ‘an equal chance’ at controlling the countries economic wealth. Some notable Malaysian ‘Malay women’ are currently outraged that some more recent Muslim ‘sharia inspired’, or more rightly Arab culturally based, laws are creating an inequitable situation.

A personal experience

While working in Malaysia I was part of an international organisation that provided management and staff training programs to members of a particular section of the services industry. A Malay female colleague and I were charged with the responsibility to negotiate the terms of reference of a large consultancy contract with a major customer. The colleague was our organizations sales manager and I was the project leader. This lady was well educated, travelled the world on her own negotiating contracts and quite wealthy and successful in her own right.

We pulled up into the customer’s car park in Jalan Ampang (KL) got out of her Mercedes and with briefcases in hand headed for the lifts. A car park attendant yelled at my colleague in Bahasa Melayu and my colleague asked me to get the lift while she sorted the matter out. Oops it thought, parked in someone’s reserved spot. After ten minutes I was getting anxious as she had not returned and I didn’t subscribe to the Malaysian concept of ‘rubber time’ which with the ‘traffic jam lah’ excuse is often used for being late to meetings.

“What’s the problem” I asked when I finally located her looking flustered and heading towards the lifts? “I have just been questioned for ten minutes by a religious, over zealous car park attendant about what I’m doing with you”. “Pardon”, I said in amazement! “The car park attendant doesn’t appreciate me being alone in a car with a white guy” she said “and he asked me why I wasn’t wearing a tudung (hijaab) and why was I driving ‘your’ Mercedes”. As I was younger then my temperature went up considerably and I headed off to sort him out. “No no” she replied hanging onto my sleeve, “I will get into big trouble, let it slide and lets get to the appointment”.

Another Personal Experience

My wife is Chinese however she is sometimes mistaken for a Malay, Thai or Phillipino. Sometime ago she was entertaining the wife a Dutch colleague who was holidaying in Kuala Lumpur from one of the Malaysian Islands where her husband worked. The lady is an Indonesian Christian. This couple have lived and worked in many places around the world and obviously have quite a broad outlook on life. “Lets go and enjoy some of Malaysia’s great ‘coffee shop’ (street) food for lunch,” my wife suggested, “no please, I can’t stand the stress” she responded. The response was prompted by the fact that the friend had experienced some hostility when trying to purchase a McDonalds meal, as the Malays around her including the McDonald’s staff had created some difficulty for her. It was Ramadan the fasting month and instead of respecting our friend’s “personal sovereignty” others thinking she was a local and as all Malays are born Muslim, they had assumed that she was breaking ‘the rules’. Breaking the rules or not if someone is able to act on their free will without harming others an enlightened society should respect that persons capacity to choose.

Mahathir's daughter [Marina] denounces Muslim 'apartheid' 16/03/06 by Jalil Hamid Reuters (Edited Excerpts)

"You have two sets of laws for citizens of the same country, one is more disadvantageous than the other. To me, this is like the situation in (old apartheid) South Africa," the 48-year-old Muslim said. ”Marina's outburst was sparked by recent amendments to Malaysia's Islamic family law that make it easier for Muslim men to take multiple wives, to divorce them and to take a share of their property.”

’Inevitably, there have been angry reactions, with one group, calling her ignorant’ and another saying she is ‘a bad Muslim as she does not wear a tudung’. Marina’s correct response… "I think, it's not for them to judge. What is a definition of a good Muslim? I try and do my best to help people, I don't make judgment on people...I don't lie, I don't cheat."
PAS, the Islamic party, condemned her. "The statement is very dangerous, giving the impression of the inability of sharia laws to settle cases involving Muslim women, which is not fair," PAS deputy chief Nasharuddin Mat Isa told Reuters. PAS’s traditional support comes from Malaysia’s more fundamental states of Kelantan and Terengganu. These two states plus a few provinces of southern Thailand I believe either are, or are potentially, the centre of the “Asiarabia” I mentioned in the previous post.

“The mother of two said she was undeterred… "I've been reading letters of complaint from women about all their matrimonial problems, all of them are complaining the (sharia) courts do nothing for them."

Levels of ‘personal sovereignty’ and why Arab culture is a worry!

As the Indian female author Shobhaa De puts it, she in her works "wanted to show that women should have the same rights [as men] over their lives, bodies and sexuality." As BBC’s Michael Peschardt says in introducing her interview (roughly from memory) ‘she talks about the level of personal sovereignty one has over their own mind, body and spirit (soul)’, which is to my mind a major issue of today’s ‘clash of civilizations’. The Muslim/Arab outlook on women is major contributor to conflict particularly in the self-evident area of a growing war of the sexes. In many repressive societies, honour killings bear a revolting testimony to the plight of many women.

Arabic cultural norms expressed through what is proffered, as “god’s word” particularly by the Islamic males, are becoming an increasing affront to the rights of women worldwide. Malaysia unfortunately has apparently regressed, particularly in the areas of individual ‘rights’ and of ‘personal sovereignty’ as it seems to becoming more ‘dark age Arab’ in its outlook.

All power to Marina!

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