Archive for June, 2008

Housekeeping tips

Photo courtesy of Abalder

 

It’s that time of the year when it is advisable to air the mattress and later, to turn it over. This is to ensure that lice are uncovered and other prickly bedbugs are crushed. Stubborn stains, if any, are best treated in an open public space under a glaring sun.

 

 

Bad moon rising

It’s a Sunday morning and dark clouds hanging in the air. Thought that this ’60s number by legendary Creedence Clearwater Revival, ‘Bad Moon Rising’, would suit my mood.

 

Umno Youth to help the poor of all races?

According to a Bernama report today, Umno Youth’s community protection and welfare secretariat plans to help the poor in society, irrespective of their ethnic background. It is also exploring ways of helping people reduce their financial burden in the wake of the petrol price hike.

 

If implemented conscientiously, this initiative deserves commendation because for one thing it is an endeavour that is vital and urgent in our society where prices of goods and services have steadily gone up, and the poor are hit the hardest.

 

Equally important is that this approach taken by Umno Youth is indeed a recognition of the fact that, like sickness and death, poverty and economic hardship defy and transcend ethnic boundaries. In other words, poverty is a human problem (not an ethnic one) and thus needs to be tackled as such.

 

And this brings us to the issue of the New Economic Policy (NEP). One of the criticisms hurled against the Policy is that the way the Policy was implemented suggests as if only one particular ethnic group has a ‘monopoly’ over poverty.

 

Another implication of this Umno Youth initiative: wouldn’t this be an indirect admission to the assertion made by certain quarters that ethnic-based political parties have no political and philosophical basis and relevance in a multiethnic society like ours — especially after March 8 political tsunami?

 

 

Do petrol and ISA mix?

Well, it appears that both petrol and the Internal Security Act (ISA) can indeed ‘mix’ judging from what Inspector-General of Police Musa Hassan recently said.

 

In a report from Online Star:  

 

Those responsible for spreading rumours that petrol stations in the country were going on strike would be dealt with severely, Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Musa Hassan said.

 

“This is an evil and treacherous act to sabotage the economy. I will find out who is behind this and I will take action against them under the Internal Security Act,” he warned after closing the Internal Security and Public Order Department Endurance Test Event here on Wednesday.

 

Is the IGP really serious about detaining without trial people who are distressed by the rising costs of living and the possibility of uncertain supplies of some essential goods and services?

 

There is a need to think of the underlying causes of rumours in a society like ours, one of which is a lack of information and credible sources of information.

 

Remember, these are ordinary people who had been told time and again by certain government leaders that the prices of things, say petrol, would not be raised in the near future – but only to be jolted the next day or the day after by a price hike.

 

Besides, these consumers are not panicky about the possibility of a raised price or a short supply of Gucci handbags and Louis Vuitton designer wear. They’re talking of basic necessities.

 

From another perspective, the IGP’s warning on the use of the ISA against Malaysians can be construed as another way of justifying the existence and use of the obnoxious law. It seems that the definition of ISA has once again been stretched to include people who have gone panicky over petrol supply, apart from the previous inclusion of people who faked ICs, and who are government critics and dissidents, among others.

 

Furthermore, this ISA warning runs counter to the current sentiments of many people in the country. Civil society groups, particularly GMI (Gerakan Mansuh ISA, or Anti-ISA Movement), have called for the repeal of the ISA, a piece of legislation that violates human rights and goes against the very tenets of Islam and many other religions. The Pakatan-led Selangor state government, for instance, has given support to the GMI. (See here for example.)

 

The barricade between the press and the government

Today’s front-page photo in The Star is a sight to behold – after all these years. Cameras belonging to press photographers were left lying on the floor near the Parliament’s lobby where barricades were erected. This was a symbolic protest staged by the journalistic fraternity against the ban on the press from entering the lobby.

 

The ban, although short-lived, is indicative of an administration that has been so used to browbeating, if not subduing, the mainstream media with the primary aim to ensure that their coverage serves largely the vested interests of the powers-that-be. Besides, it looks like the government has taken the notion of barring to a different level, i.e. in its literal form.

 

That is why, while we can heave a sigh of relief, if not feel celebratory, because of the latest move by the Home Ministry to allow Harakah to publish bi-weekly again, the fact remains that this was done at the discretion of the Minister concerned under the provisions contained in the existing Printing Presses and Publications Act. In other words, the right of Harakah, or any other publishers for that matter, to publish and at any rate of publishing frequency they wish is still within the tight control of the government.

 

The tools-down action of the press people also suggests that if they are united against an injustice – and this one is about lack of press freedom – the odds can be overcome to a large degree. It was reported that chief editors of the major newspapers were in shock and in full support of the action taken by their journalists based in parliament, which is invigorating.

 

The acid test, though, to this journalistic camaraderie and resolve really is whether the mainstream media journalists and editors would come out in full force to support initiatives to strengthen and protect press freedom in the country, such as the petition campaign now being run by civil society groups of Benar et al.

 

This event at the Parliament also tells us that there is a need for critical engagement, if not adversarial relationship, between the press and the government. As experience of particularly the last two decades shows, ‘cosy relationship’ between the press and the government can be counter-productive and harmful to the citizens’ right of expression and to information. 

 

  

Kota Baru men get dressing-down?

It seems that the Kota Baru municipal council had issued a circular to warn Muslim women employees working in food outlets and other business premises not to wear lipstick and high-heeled shoes.

 

Specifically, according to a Bernama report, ‘Muslim women were forbidden to wear thick make-up, bright coloured lipstick and high-heeled shoes which made a tapping sound.’

 

The stated reason for this directive: ‘to prevent incidents like rape and illicit sex as well as to safeguard the morals and dignity of Muslim women in Kelantan.’

 

If it is true that such a circular was issued, the implications of this ruling are quite worrying, particularly for Malaysian men in general and Kota Baru men in particular because it appears to suggest that these men:

 

  1. are too vulnerable;
  2. are simply excitable;
  3. are easily stimulated by the sound of high-heeled shoes;
  4. are incurable sex fiends;
  5. are unable to resist red, kissable lips;
  6. possess runaway galloping hormones;
  7. have always and only one thing on their minds;
  8. do not have strong moral restraint;
  9. yearn for short-term pleasures and forgo long-term life ambitions; or
  10. all of the above.

 

Given the implied qualities of men above, one wonders how the dignity of Muslim women in Kelantan can be protected and promoted if the latter seem to be heavily perceived by these men as sex objects and potential seducers.

 

 

I don’t like Mondays

It is times like this that ‘I don’t like Mondays’.

 

If you leave me now, Yong

The open quarrel between BN chief Abdullah Badawi and Sabah Progressive Party’s (SAPP) head Yong Teck Lee reminds one of a song in the 70s, ‘If you leave me now’. The old number is admittedly quite mushy, but then political partnership can be intricate and mushy at the same time. Except that love squabble normally does not occur in tandem with a looming corruption investigation.

 

Between a rock singer and a hard regal place

It looks like the public protest promised by Selangor Pas Youth against the scheduled appearance of rock queen Ella and dangdut diva Mas Idayu at the July 6 Selangor-Singapore football tournament will not happen. This is after the Sultan of Selangor intervened, put his foot down and threatened to cancel the entire event altogether if the protest plan persisted.

 

According to yesterday’s Star,

 

In the memorandum submitted three days ago to the state government, state PAS Youth chief Sallehen Mokhyi had said that the performances by singers Mas Idayu and Ella were inappropriate for youngsters and their dressing did not follow the values of Islamic and Malay cultures.

 

In response, Mas Idayu told The Star that in her 15 years in the entertainment industry she only wore dresses and pants when performing.

 

Yes, there are many distractions these days in the lives of the young people and especially in an era of borderless world that could lead them to what is termed as ‘negative culture’. Some young people are, for instance, addicted to drugs and glue sniffing, while others succumb to sexual encounters. (This is apart from other kinds of social problems that mainly afflict some adults, namely addiction to political and economic power, social status, greed, corruption, etc.)

 

The causes for this phenomenon are multifaceted. One can’t really narrow it down to rock singers or musical concerts. Besides, are the youths so sexually vulnerable, or excitable, that a singer’s prancing on stage can spark a sort of ‘sexual epidemic’ in Malaysia? That is why Mas Idayu was spot on when she quipped, ‘Are they saying that if all artistes were banned from performing on stage, social illnesses would be eradicated?’

 

On this note, one needs to be reminded that popular music can be, and has been, a convenient platform in certain situations elsewhere to raise social consciousness among pop music fans and youths. In other words, popular music doesn’t necessarily have to be the opiate of the young people.

 

I am sure the Selangor Pas Youth, like many other concerned Malaysians, meant well, and was, and still is, indeed concerned about the moral conduct of the young generation. However, it appears that quite often the notion of morality has been reduced to all things sexual only. It would be useful for the youth wing to realise, if it hasn’t already, that such a view can be quite misleading and intellectually unsatisfying. 

 

Instead, for instance, consider the fact that it is downright immoral that in a relatively vibrant society like ours, economically speaking, there exists a stark contrast between abject poverty of the underclass and vulgar wealth of the rich and famous. It would be intellectually and socially useful for the political group to discuss and explore ways to reduce this immoral social gap. (This is, of course, assuming that the Selangor Pas Youth hasn’t yet taken up this issue, but if it has, it doesn’t appear to have taken on a high profile.)

 

This socio-economic issue is particularly pertinent and even urgent given the growing hardship that is being faced by the poor and the marginalised in the larger context of global economic slowdown. Like others in society, the Selangor Pas Youth may want to help map out strategies to help alleviate economic hardship of the downtrodden arising from this economic downturn.

 

As it is, the recent petrol price hike has already triggered off increasing prices of goods and services that eventually hit the poor like a ton of bricks.

 

Another example of an issue for the Selangor Pas Youth to ponder: the reported plan to build 12 more dams in Sarawak over the next few years. Would it not be immoral for the Youth, and other Malaysians for that matter (as God’s Vicegerents), if they stand idle by while the rape of the rainforests and the environment is about to be committed? This is apart from the potential of the construction of these dams causing massive social dislocation of the native communities in Sarawak.

 

In other words, it would be worth the while of the Pas Youth to raise awareness among the young of the immorality of social injustice and corruption, among others, in the country. This political wing has an opportunity to provide the moral (in the widest sense of the word) and intellectual leadership to the younger generation, the future of the country.

 

By doing so, the youth wing may well find itself very much in tune with the intellectual, moral and social needs of the country’s youth as well as other social groups in Malaysia.

 

 

No leaks please, we’re Malaysians

We’ve been here before, but some politicians are still adamant that Malaysians should still linger in this tired ideological terrain and cling to the old paradigm even after March 8.

 

Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Senator T. Murugiah warned civil servants against leaking secret documents, ‘regardless of their positions’.

 

In yesterday’s report in the NST:

 

“As government servants, they must walk a fine line between information exchange and information protection. Protect the documents or assets with a sense of mission and treat them like your own,” he (Murugiah) said at the opening of a protection security convention here.

 

Civil servants who leaked official documents risked losing their jobs. “If there is sufficient proof, they can be charged under the Official Secrets Act (OSA).”

 

Other Malaysians have moved on, emphasised on the importance of transparency, accountability and good governance, and have called on the government to institute several media reforms including the liberalisation of the mainstream media, the repeal of the Printing Presses and Publications Act and the OSA, and the enactment of Freedom of Information Act.

 

Civil society groups have long struggled to widen the democratic space in our society, the latest of which is the campaign initiated by Benar, CIJ, All Blogs and WAMI to present a memorandum on media freedom to the authorities.

 

That is why this undue emphasis by Murugiah on ‘protecting’ government documents appears quite misplaced and even regressive.

 

Perhaps de facto law minister Zaid Ibrahim was right. At a meeting with journalists and bloggers at the National Press Club recently, he said, if we may paraphrase him: don’t assume all ministers are reasonable. See here.

 

The statement issued by Murugiah is unreasonable and even contradictory to the reforms promised by Zaid especially when there seemed to be no attempt at differentiating the various official secrets as exemplified by Murugiah’s assertion here: ‘… threats against official information could be in various forms and likened leaking government secret documents to an act of espionage, subversion and terrorism.’  

 

Surely one needs to distinguish secret documents that have implications on military strategy or national security from those that should be public knowledge. How does a contract on, say, building a highway threaten the very security of the nation? Will our national military defence become compromised if people ask the government for documents pertaining to, for example, a contract to construct a government building that leaks upon completion?

 

Indeed, to confuse the two different sets of government documents can be construed as trying to subvert the intelligence of the ordinary Malaysians.

 


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