Saturday, June 30, 2007

Little Napoleons

This is upsetting. NST reported that JAKIM raided Restaurant Seetharam in Bangsar a few days ago and confiscated three pictures of Hindu deities placed behind the cashier’s counter. Since when did the display of deities become an offense?

A couple of doors away, Restaurant Aiswaria was similarly raided and issued a notice.

Apparently the restaurant did not have halal certification from Jakim, nor Muslim workers. Officers from the department also removed a picture of Mecca and another with Quranic verses. Aiswaria owner Jehabar Ali Hussain Kader who is Muslim said, "I have not broken any laws. It’s ridiculous that I was cited for these offences. I never knew that it is an offence to display religious pictures in my premises. Being a Muslim, I purchase food items from a halal vendor."

What has Malaysia to show for diversity, unity, and tolerance when news like these are increasingly the norm? Read Lim Kit Siang for more details.

It’s easy to be cynical and imagine that these acts are part of a deliberate and coordinated attempt at pushing the envelope. I hope I am wrong - I want to be proven wrong - but all this show of muscles and self-righteousness seems to me a way of signaling to the non-Muslim public (and indifferent/negligent Muslims) that we’ll need to toe the line, take the backseat, if we want to live in Malaysia. All it takes is a little intimidation, a little selective enforcement, the almost thuggish manner in which authority is demonstrated; and even if such acts were not condoned (as is often claimed), peace-loving Malaysians usually retreat.

Skirts that are already decent are longer at certain government functions, eating of food before Muslims during puasa months are voluntarily stopped, church signboards are made smaller or less conspicuous, couples shy away from holding hands, dvds with christian themes are labeled “Not appropriate for Muslims” etc. In the wet markets, pork sellers operate behind high walls as if the sight of khinzir is as mortally sinful as the Quranic injunction against its consumption. Can anyone tell me if laws and conventions are now so beholden to sensitivities of Muslims they overtake rights and freedoms enshrined in the Constitution? Are not these the result of a public cowered into conformity to avoid ‘offense’ if not by legislation, then by public statements? Again harassment tends to follow in the wake, and again, we step back as if ashamed by our own audacity. This is no way for a people to live together as a nation.

It bothers me that the relevant department heads always deny knowledge (“I didn’t know – we’ll wait for the report”) when these things happen. If indeed the raids the likes we read about in Bangsar were conducted by overzealous little Napoleons, then the authorities must zealously discipline and prosecute them for creating inter-religious tensions. And even if they acted within their authority, they have to learn how to exercise it with more civility because right is no excuse for might. As Zainah Anwar wrote, action speaks louder than words. Otherwise cynics will see them as a grand strategy at Islamisation by attrition.

No comments: