A jihad for sexual health and education


“Do not bring shame to the family,” warned Elham Mahdi al Assi’s mother before Elham died from internal bleeding due to days of sexual torment by her new husband. Abed al Hikmi had taken his new bride to Dr. Fathiya Haidar, who advised the groom to stay away from his bride for several days in order for her to heal. Instead of following the doctor’s orders, al Hikmi continued his assault, assuming his wife’s screams had to do with spiritual possession and not because of the pain or torment that he was inflicting on her.

While Elham Mahdi al Assi's case may seem extreme, it is not rare. Muslim societies attach great importance to male virility and even more to the virginity of young women and girls. The focus often leads to ignorance and hardship, mainly for females whose virginity rules even their earliest years. From not participating in sports or using certain kinds of feminine hygiene products to securing their virginity by opting for a surgical procedure that ensures tearing and bleeding on the wedding night, females bear the brunt of this sort of patriarchal traditionalism.

The very same traditionalism also limits the development of educational curriculum that answers questions about the basic anatomy and physiology of both males and females. Although the governments of some Muslim countries, such as Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, and Bahrain, have approved of basic sexual health education curriculum, most teachers shy away from providing this education due to lack of understanding coupled with embarrassment about the subject at hand (PDF). The teachers’ inhibitions are understandable and beg the question why don’t these governments facilitate the training of teachers expected to educate intermediate aged students on their bodies.

Some Muslim countries deserve credit for having taken the lead on sex education. The Indonesian government designed a sex education program after witnessing a rapid increase of teen pregnancies. Plus, the government discovered that the youth are eager to have their questions answered. Turkey has also permitted a limited educational program in response to teachers noting that girls wanted information about their bodies and how they function.

Sex education should not be seen as corrupting youth, but rather instrumental in building a healthy society; such honest dialogue was certainly a part of the early Muslim community. Critics often cite the perceived hedonistic societies of the United States and Western Europe as the failed models of sex education. Though most of these critics have little background in biological or reproductive health, they continue to guide the discussion. Often citing sexually deviant behaviors, they claim the need to protect the family unit and its morals. Ironically enough, many of the societal ills that these detractors fear—teen pregnancies for one—could, in fact, be resolved through kids making informed choices and decisions.

Early Islam, whether through the study of Qur'anic verses or the Hadith, taught Muslims about menses, sexual etiquette, fluids, discharges, and relationship problems that could lead to a miserable sex life. Muslims found it natural to educate themselves about healthy sexual practices and relationships because intimacy was seen as a beautiful gift from the Almighty. This gift was also the subject of Muslim literature, both allegorical and scholarly, for centuries, as sexuality was not seen as heretical or shameful.

Although this liberal attitude toward sexuality may have been the norm centuries ago, it is no longer part of the Muslim social fabric. Al Azhar University Professor Dr. Ahmed Ragab published a study (PDF) which examined the attitudes in Egypt and North Africa toward HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, and general sexual knowledge. According to the findings, Egyptian adolescents knew very little about the maturation of their bodies, even though some had already begun the awkward transition from childhood into puberty. In Tunisia, over 50% of male students and over 70% of female students believed that varying birth control methods caused serious health risks. Even more worrisome was the lack of testing for HIV/AIDS and STI's, as most did not understand how they are contracted or prevented.

In 2007,the Population Reference Bureau (PRB) released a comprehensive report (PDF) entitled Young People's Sexual and Reproductive Health in the Middle East and North Africa. The report painted a picture that is rarely seen due to the louder, although less informed, voices of the critics of sex education. Across the board, younger people wanted more information about anatomical and physiological functioning, along with the prevention of AIDS and STI's. Approximately 73% of female respondents wanted information about menses, physiological development, and reproductive health. Most felt that they could not talk to their mothers or were encouraged to not ask questions.

Although sexual education should be made available to both males and females, teaching girls/women about their bodies often stirs up more suspicion and opposition than does educating young men. This is likely due to the idea that a woman’s body and virginity are tantamount to her family’s honor. As a result of many governments’ and families’ stubborn refusal to offer sex education to Muslim women, we find a disturbing number of women suffering from reproductive health problems. Over 70% of Saudi Arabian women who are diagnosed as having breast cancer die because they could not seek treatment or the cancer went undetected in its early stages, due to lack of female-only services. Fifty-six percent of Egyptian women surveyed had some sort of reproductive tract infection (UTI, PID, etc) but assumed pain and discomfort were a normal part of the female experience and failed to visit the doctor.

Such ignorance does not honor Islam or the Muslim family. Critics must stand aside or offer solutions based on facts. The Muslim obsession with child bearing and sexual pleasure can only be seen as hypocritical if the Muslim population remains uninformed. Today's Muslim youth are bombarded with pornography, temporary marriages, and misinformation. If they continue to be ignorant, we risk both their physical health and their spiritual wellbeing.

Source: altmuslimah

HIV Infection on the Rise Among Men Who Have Sex with Men

By Mon Mon Myat

RANGOON, June 3, 2010 (IPS) - The only son in his family, Maung Maung Oo was forced to marry when he was 24 years old. By then he had been carrying on a sexual relationship with a man for four years – which he continued even after his marriage.

For the next 14 years, Oo led a double life. But in 2005, he finally decided to be true to himself: He left his wife and three children for his male partner.

"My wife was so shocked when she learned of my affair with a man," says Oo. "But I can’t change how I feel though I have the body of a man."

Oo, however, is still living a life in the shadows. Although he and his partner are now living together, their relationship remains a secret to most people. "My partner does not want people to know we are living together as a couple," Oo explains. "He wants to pretend that we are brothers."

According to Ko Aye, who conducted a pioneering study on men who have sex with men (MSM) in Burma in 2003, stigma remains against people like Oo in this South-east Asian country of 48 million people. Yet while he says there is "not a very serious or strong reaction" against MSM, many MSM themselves apparently think there is a need to keep their "true identity" secret.

This has complicated efforts to limit, if not stop, the spread of HIV among MSM in the country. According to official data, HIV prevalence among MSM in Burma was 29.3 percent as of 2008, or 42 times higher than the national adult prevalence rate.

Men who have sex with men include both those who may not identify themselves as homosexual, and those who do and include those in sex work as well. Estimates by the Department of Health and the World Health Organisation put the MSM population in Burma, as of 2007, at 280,000.

Aye says that the stigma against MSM in general stems from "religious principle or traditional beliefs." This has led to people like well known make- up artist Soe Soe to believe that having relationships with men could not possibly be called "fortunate."

"We end up in this kind of life because of karma in the past," Soe Soe told IPS. "This is not what we choose to be."

It is a viewpoint that persists despite Aye’s observation of an improvement in the public attitude toward MSM. Thanks to the "development of information technology," Aye says, "people usually accept it" nowadays.

"For example," he says, "students may know a teacher is gay, but they accept him as a teacher."

There are also several prominent members of the entertainment and fashion sectors who are gay, whether they are out in the open or not, but enjoy public acclaim and respect.

Yet, for sure, it has not helped to reassure many that the government continues to portray homosexuality as "evil" or at the very least deserving of public scorn.

Just in February, the prominent ‘Bi-Weekly Eleven Journal’ ran an article quoting supposed medical experts as saying that homosexuality could lead to mental illness and sexual crimes.

Section 377 of the Penal Code also prohibits homosexuality, with penalties ranging from 10 years to life, plus fines. (A travel advisory by the British government says that in June 2007, an "EU national" was sentenced to seven years in prison in Burma for "committing homosexual acts.")

As a result, many MSM would rather keep their sexual preferences – and obviously their sexual lives – tightly under wraps. Chances are, too, they are reticent in seeking treatment even if they suspect that they already have HIV.

Soe Soe, for instance, says that he does not even "dare to join an MSM network."

In truth, despite the official condemnation of homosexuality, there are dozens of local MSM networks in major cities such as Rangoon and Mandalay, with local community-based organisations providing these with information and counselling services.

One of these networks is called ‘Golden Queen’, which has as members 45 MSM, including several who are living with HIV.

Unlike Soe Soe, Myo Tun, a sex worker who has an entirely male clientele, apparently thought nothing of becoming one of Golden Queen’s members. He says, "Whether society accepts us or not, we have already ended up in this life."

"We need to raise awareness among our fellow (MSM) as we are at high risk for HIV infection," he adds. "We often face problems of condom tearing. That could spread HIV easily."

Maung Maung Oo now knows this all too well. Two years ago, he discovered that an illness his partner was suffering from was actually one that comes with having AIDS. Not long after, he found out that he himself had it as well.

Unlike many other MSM in Burma, however, Oo and his partner did not hesitate in seeking treatment. They have since been regularly receiving anti- retroviral treatment from an international nongovernment organisation. Every six months, they also have their blood checked to monitor the number of white blood cells that fight infection and that helps indicate the stage of the disease in their system.

Oo says that when he first found out that his lover had HIV, "it was like a flame in my heart."

"If he dies," he says, "I think I’d also die soon after from depression."

And yet Oo says that he has found his life more meaningful than it was when he was still with his wife and children. "I believe there is real love between us," he says of his relationship with his partner. "Without that, how can we keep this relationship for 23 years?"


Source: IPS

When the virtue police come a-pokin’


Whatcha gonna... whatcha gonna do… whatcha gonna do when the Virtue Cops come for you? Run? Hide? Feel guilt running down your face and drop to the ground asking for forgiveness in front of everyone? Or would you transform into a drop-kicking-iron-fisted UFC fighter and beat that officer to the ground? That’s what one Saudi woman elected to do when an officer from the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (known on the streets of Saudi as haia (pronounced haiy-ya)), stopped her at an amusement park in Al-Mubarraz to investigate her male companion.

The woman’s decision to pull out her karate-chop action “HAI-YA” against this officer highlights the public’s frustration with how “moral law” enforcement officers have corrupted the checks and balances system of moral behavior in Islam, leaving the public outraged and humiliated, rather than “morally cleansed” as planned.

The Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice is an agency within the Saudi Arabian government, which oversees the application and enforcement of Islamic Sharia law. Dr. Fadhel Alha of the Department of Islamic Preaching and Communications at the University of Riyadh writes in an excerpt on the Committee’s website:

“There are those who say that we must leave people alone and not interfere in personal matters of virtue from which they refrain, because this conflicts with their individual freedom which is set out in Islam. Those preaching this approach quote the words of Allah in the Koran: ‘There is no coercion in religion…’”

Continuing with:

“Second, the personal freedom granted by Islam to the Muslims lies in [Allah's] liberating them from enslavement to men. This does not mean that man is liberated from enslavement to the God of these men…”

“Third, the verse 'There is no coercion in religion' does not mean that everyone can do what they want and refrain from doing what they don't want, or that no one is entitled to require them to do the good that they have abandoned or to refrain from the evil that they do. The meaning of the verse… is that a person must not be forced to convert to Islam…”

If morality and ethics could only be preserved through tactics of fear and intimidation, then there would be no space for mercy in the theology and practice of Islam. While actions and accountability are fundamental to Islam, so is mercy, in all its forms. Guarding and upholding morality is a main element of the religion, through methods of teaching and demonstration. Not only have the mutaween (religious police) neglected this deep-seated principle of Islam, but have over-stepped Islamic principles of reason and mercy in several instances, with shallow justifications for their actions.

The woman’s response was a reaction to a history of abuses of power by this religious force that consists of over 3,000 officers plus volunteers. Accompanied by a police escort, these officers patrol the streets to “correct” dress code violations, signs of homosexual behavior, and monitor the closing of shops during prayer times. They have the authority to order the arrest and detention of violators. In one of the most tragic events of the Kingdom that took place in Makkah in 2002, the mutaween were responsible for the deaths of 15 girls when they prevented their escape from a burning school building. They went so far as to “[beat] young girls to prevent them from leaving the school because they were not wearing the abaya (a long, loose robe)."

Another incident occurred last month, where a woman was assaulted by the mutaween when she was turned in to headquarters by a man who claimed that that she was a “runaway;” in fact, she was actually traveling from Jeddah to Tabuk to visit her son. The man who turned her in had offered a ride to the local bus station, but took her straight to the police station instead. Reports say that she was beaten in the station precincts, while the man was set free. The man’s own motives should have been questioned as Sharia-compliant however, as he was hoping to gain a financial reward- a common tool and weapon of madness favoring the religious police, who stand open to citizen’s reports of moral deviance. This type of “community policing” leaves wide discretion to ordinary citizens, and creates a strong incentive to profile people based on suspicion and misguided intentions.

Whispers of reform reveal a silver lining amidst a seemingly hopeless situation. Media outlets in Saudi Arabia have been drawing attention to cases that have come under the radar regarding abuses by the religious police. With the Saudi government’s decision to fire the National Director of The Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, and replace him with Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Humain, the people of Saudi Arabia can expect to see some improvement in this program.

It seems there is also an opportunity to change the image of The Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. Some in the public don’t mind the existence of the commission, but do feel that the actions are excessive and unjust most of the time. Even if there is a new director and revised training regulations set forth, incidents like the one described at the beginning of this article present a different picture happening on the ground. There is not only the question of whether tangible means can serve to correct actions guided by internal motivations, but also one of whether there is any “right way” to check people’s actions. The world has seen too much abuse of power and control by governments in Muslim countries in the name of Islam.

If there is room for reform, then there is an urgent need to go back to the basics – a return to literacy and knowledge about Islam – not just handing out a list of behaviors classified as “haram" (prohibited) to be handled by inept “protectors of the law.” Additionally, if the intention is to uphold Islamic tenets and values, then institutions like this agency must apply mercy, and keep in mind the words of an early Muslim, Hamdun al-Qassar: "If a friend among your friends errs, make seventy excuses for them. If your hearts are unable to do this, then know that the shortcoming is in your own selves.”

Source: altmuslimah

Why many opt to study abroad

SENDING students to study overseas is “not getting a good return on an investment”, so says a lecturer in a local university who asked what a typical overseas institution offered that we could not? (The Star, May 31).

This parochial view is not shared by many parents who, at great cost to themselves, send their children abroad to study. Even politicians choose that path for their children.

The reasons are obvious if we just look closely at the environment in which local graduates are trained. Here are just five of many considerations.

First, critical thinking is what university education is about. Yet for the past 40 years, local graduates go through an educational system unheard of in developed nations – it was illegal for a student at a local university to question or criticise any lecture or tutorial.

This is the effect of section 3 of the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971. Several generations of local students graduated under this regime of university education.

Even after the 2009 amendments to this legislation, a student is still not allowed to join, deal with or express support for or sympathy with any political group or any other organisation that the Education Minister regards as “unsuitable to the interests and well-being” of the student.

Failure to comply may cause the student to be suspended from further university studies at any university without the Minister’s permission.

Second, Malaysian universities are apparently run like a huge government department. Lack of academic freedom may be seen in the fact that any university staff may be transferred to some other university so long as the Minister directs it.

Third, in local universities strict dress codes are imposed and enforced from time to time. It is indicative of how much freedom of expression is allowed in university campuses.

Fourth, English is the premier international language. It is used in global communication, science, aviation, business, entertainment, diplomacy and the Internet. Yet local graduates can hardly speak or write the language properly.

Fifth, leading employers seriously take into account which university a job applicant graduates from. Graduates from ivy league universities overseas are preferred.

Kuala Lumpur.

Source: The Star

Corporate, NGO speak: mutually unintelligible? — Dina Zaman

JUNE 2 — If there is one love-hate relationship that is evident, it would be between the non-profit sector and corporates/governments.

Corporate social responsibility projects, fundraisers, monitoring and evaluation working papers — very few come to fruition with both parties at loggerheads.

The non-profits decry capitalism and how corporations are just spending money to look good, while are extremely dependant on profit making multi-nationals per se, for their ‘charitable’ programmes.

For profit organisations think these:

(1) how will this enterprise benefit my company financially, and

(2) professionally?

It is understandable that NGOs see beyond money. They have communities to care for. Such endeavours revolve around behavioural change, emotions, psychology, and education. They are passionate, angry, and determined to see their communities thrive.

Unfortunately, many (not all) do not operate like a business, and expect corporates to fund their work without any explanation. They believe that a corporation will benefit almost instantly the moment money is handed out to them. This is what one calls the ‘Karma’ factor.

Corporates however view this differently. There’s a bottom line to meet. How does a proposed project fit with their corporate strategies and branding? Oh dear, this does not look sustainable at all, I’m not keen on this one!

Some NGOs manage to hoodwink MNCs, and then they disappear. No transparency, no paperwork is done. You hear of horror stories of how some members of a non-profit use money to buy German cars, to the detriment of the very people they say they are helping. Is it any wonder that business organisations shy away from NGOs then?

Of course not all NGOs work that way. However, there is a need for many non-profits to behave like a business, instead of viewing businesses as their personal bankers. This may sound rather strange, especially for an outfit concentrating on a particular cause, but non-profits would do well to study the business they wish to approach.

Handouts/welfare mindsets no longer work. Pushing one’s agendas and ideals also may not sit down well with a business entity.

Sometimes it is the very basics which actually become a barrier to funding: poor communications and presentation.

Letters asking for funding, sans information of the organisations and their causes. Angry NGO staff approaching corporates all set for war and refusing to negotiate. Wearing inappropriate clothes - yes, call this shallow, but one can still look decent and washed in cheap and presentable clothes. This has nothing to do with mercenary capitalism: take pride in one’s self. You’re representing a cause. Unless you’re a member of a long lost jungle tribe, and modern clothing is an alien concept to you, an even well-worn and yellowed but clean and pressed shirt works. And if you have a beard and represent a faith-based organisation, please brush out food matter from it. Some CEOS have weak stomachs.

Here’s a tip: read books on advertising, marketing and public relations. Yes, the scourge of NGOs who have better things to do than read about shallow people and businesses. This is, however, one ‘enemy’ an NGO must befriend.

In an increasingly image and marketing driven world, the pie is getting smaller. You want money? Nothing comes for free, baby.

Corporations must also communicate to NGOs what they want and the audience they are targeting. What could have been thought as an external CSR programme, would actually be an internal programme for the organisation. Sometimes, a corporate’s KPIs which may have changed along the way, are not relayed to the NGO outfit.

And many times, corporate and NGO jargon appear as mutually unitelligible languages. Both parties end up scratching their heads. At times, in sheer desperation a charity is sourced, and they realise that the match is not a heavenly one! So a break-up happens in the middle of a courtship. Time is wasted and the community needing support, is aggrieved.

Woman Says Citibank Fired Her Because She Was Too Hot

Courtney Comstock | Jun. 2, 2010, 7:49 AM | 415,416 | 288

Debrahlee Lorenzana is filing a lawsuit against Citibank because they fired her, she says, for the strangest reason: she's too hot.

She's 5'5'', 125 pounds and well, you've seen her photo.

"Where I'm from," she told the Village Voice, "women dress up—like put on makeup and do their nails—to go to the supermarket... I was raised very Latin. We're feminine. A woman in Puerto Rico takes care of herself."

Her bosses told her that "as a result of the shape of her figure, such clothes were purportedly 'too distracting' for her male colleagues and supervisors to bear," she says.

[Her two male] managers gave her a list of clothing items she would not be allowed to wear: turtlenecks, pencil skirts, and fitted suits. And three-inch heels.

From the Village Voice:

"As a result of her tall stature, coupled with her curvaceous figure," her suit says, Lorenzana was told "she should not wear classic high-heeled business shoes, as this purportedly drew attention to her body in a manner that was upsetting to her easily distracted male managers."

"I couldn't believe what I was hearing," Lorenzana told the Voice. "I said, You gotta be kidding me! I was like, Too distracting? For who? For you? My clients don't seem to have any problem."

As soon as Debrahlee started working at the Citibank branch in the Chrysler Building, she says, everyone there focused on her appearance.

She's working together a lawsuit to charge the bank for creating a sexually discriminatory environment with a lawyer, Jack Tuckner, who agrees that she's smoking hot, but thinks Debarah's case should stand up well with a jury.

"It's like saying that we can't think anymore 'cause our penises are standing up—and we cannot think about you except in a sexual manner—and we can't look at you without wanting to have sexual intercourse with you. And it's up to you, gorgeous woman, to lessen your appeal so that we can focus!"

But he also bizarrely told Debarah that she should come to his place (his office) for a photo shoot, because she should have pictures of herself in more conservative clothing to use at her court case ... and then (presumably) told her it was OK to take and let the Voice print the rest of the photos they have of her on their site.

Luckily, she has more evidence than just the conservative photos.

Her case also seems to cite:
  • A meeting during which her two managers told her that her pants were too tight.
  • An email to HR
  • A visit from HR to the Chrysler Building branch
  • Debrahlee took of other female employees dressing equally or more provocatively than she
  • An email to two Citi VPs
And a lot of verbal evidence from a vivacious Puerto Rican woman.

She'll tell the jury that when she looked too hot, they told her to dress down. But when she responded by not wearing makeup, they told her she looked "sickly" and when she left her hair curly instead of straightening it, they told her she should go ahead and straighten it every day.

"I could have worn a paper bag, and it would not have mattered," she told the Voice. "If it wasn't my shirt, it was my pants. If it wasn't my pants, it was my shoes. They picked on me every single day."

Citi can just add this one to the list of sexual-related misconduct lawsuits they have piling up. First there was the blog Fabulis' claim against them, then Dorly Hazan-Amir's, which is pretty ridiculous on Citi's part if true, and that's just in the past four month. We have an email out to a Citi PR rep and will update when we hear back. here is their response:

"We believe this lawsuit is without merit and we will defend against it vigorously. We respect the privacy of all of our employees and therefore cannot comment more specifically on this litigation, this former employee's overall performance, or the reasons for her termination- which an arbitration panel must resolve. Citi is committed to fostering a culture of inclusion and providing a respectful environment in the workplace. We have a strong commitment to diversity and we do not condone, or tolerate, discrimination within our business for any reason."

That's a strong defense! Debrahlee's story sounds like a good movie plot line. What would it be called? Add your ideas in the comments.

Source: Business Insider

Press Release: Drop action against the four UKM students

The Malaysian Bar deplores University Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM)’s action in using the draconian Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 (UUCA) to institute disciplinary action against four political science undergraduates.

UUCA is unconstitutional, as it negates the freedoms of expression, assembly and association. It is anachronistic and has no place in any democratic society. Furthermore, the prohibition against legal representation for the students is unacceptable, in light of the potential penalties and the repercussions facing the students. By comparison, lecturers are permitted to be represented by legal counsel.

The four undergraduates – Muhammad Hilman bin Idham, Muhammad Ismail bin Aminuddin, Azlin Shafina Mohamad Adzha and Woon King Chai – have been asked to appear before the University’s disciplinary board to answer charges that they “expressed support or sympathies” for a political party during the recent Hulu Selangor by-election in an alleged violation of section 15(5)(a) of UUCA.

The Malaysian Bar views section 15(5)(a) of UUCA as being inconsistent with Article 10 of the Federal Constitution in that it renders the rights of students to express themselves, to assemble peacefully, and to form associations, ineffective and illusory. It is neither a reasonable restriction permitted under Article 10(2) nor a law proportionate to the democratic needs of Malaysia.

To bar Malaysian students from taking an active role in politics during the course of their tertiary education is repressive, unjust and illogical. The continued existence of the many stifling UUCA provisions denies university students the opportunity to fully participate in the nation’s democratic process, thereby serving to hinder valuable social discourse as well as the students’ intellectual and spiritual growth.

The Malaysian Bar calls for the formation of a credible Parliamentary Select Committee to conduct a comprehensive and meaningful review of UUCA with a view towards bringing it in line with current developments and repealing the many provisions that curtail the democratic freedom of students.

Pending such a review, the Malaysian Bar calls on UKM to drop the proposed charges against the four undergraduate students.

Ragunath Kesavan
Malaysian Bar

2 June 2010

Parking power to the people


I NEVER would have thought it. Here I am, a 22-year veteran of academia in the field of architecture, writing about ... parking lots. But, actually, they do have something to say to us, especially if you consider their implications for democratic architecture.

Basically, the simple message I want to convey is that in democratic architecture, parking must be designed to adequately serve people who visit government buildings.

Most Malaysians have learnt that it is impractical to drive themselves alone to a government hospital or to a bangunan perseketuan (federal building) because there is generally nowhere to park close by.

We all know we have to be dropped off at the entrance while the car would have to be driven off to either be parked miles away or driven in circles in the vicinity as the poor driver waits for you to finish your task. If there are any parking spots nearby, chances are they will sport “Kakitangan Sahaja” (Staff Only) signs.

Let me share two contrasting parking lot stories with you.

The first story is about the Wisma Persekutuan in downtown Johor Baru. If you want to renew your passport or register your son’s IC, you have to go to this building, which offers two parking choices: one is just a stone’s throw away but space is limited, it costs RM3 to park, and it charges by the hour; at the other lot, you only pay RM2 for the whole day, but it comes with a 150m-long walk in either the hot sun or a deluge.

Where do the kakitangan park? Well, in the architecturally designated space, of course, right next to the building, where else?

Now, I am not going to fault the architect (or administrator) who wrote the brief for the building with a requirement of only a certain number of parking lots. He probably never imagined a day would come when an office boy would be driving his Kancil or second hand Unser to work – all thanks to the wonderful New Economic Policy, of course.

Here’s my second parking lot story, about the lot at a shopping mall near my home in JB. My niece worked at the mall for two years, and she used to drive her Kancil to work. She told me that the mall’s kakitangan were not allowed to park either in the shaded areas or in the open air parking lots close to the building. These places were reserved for customers.

I never failed to get parking at the mall (except when there’s a mad card member sale!); and parking was free then.

Now the mall has upgraded the open air parking lots, covering them with metal roof decks to provide shelter from the sun and rain. We now have to pay RM1 to use those lots, which seems eminently reasonable to me. Pretty good deal and service, in fact.

Why did this happen, I asked? Well, it seems the mall feels strongly that “the customer is our business”. An unhappy customer makes for zero business. In other words, the bottom line speaks!

So how can those who design and build government buildings learn from this mall? Simply that the business of the civil servants employed by the Government is to serve the “customer”. The government would have no “business” if there were no “customers” to serve. Who are these customers? You got it. They are us, the loyal citizens of Malaysia, the rakyat.

So my message to the architects and administrators of Government buildings is: get your calculations right and give thought to the customer first and the kakitangan last. No two ways about it. If we are to forge ahead into a new 1Malaysia, “Citizen” must be spelled with a capital “C”. And the signs should read “Untuk Rakyat Malaysia” (For Malaysian Citizens).

You see, even the humble parking lot can give a building a vocabulary of democracy if the designers and administrators actually understand the meaning of that word.

Source: The Star

1Malaysia pageant vs fatwa

By Jacqueline Ann Surin and Shanon Shah

DURING a press conference in 2003, then Perlis Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim tried to defend the state’s decision to loosen conditions for polygamy. Perlis had decided that Muslim men did not need to seek their first wife’s consent to marry another woman.

At the press conference, which Jacqueline Ann Surin covered, the Perlis mufti stressed that according to hukum syarak, men were allowed to be polygamous. He would not answer the question by a women’s rights activist about whether such a move by the state was fair and just.
Nearly all of the Muslim journalists were silent. In fact, after the press conference, one woman journalist declared loudly that the women’s rights activist had no business asking the question about justice and fairness. Presumably, hukum syarak could not be questioned.

When Surin asked her Muslim colleagues what hukum syarak meant, she was told not to worry if she didn’t understand what it meant. “Even as Muslims, we sometimes don’t understand,” was the reply.

That was the moment Surin decided that if Muslim journalists were not going to step up to the plate to understand their religion, then it was critical for non-Muslim journalists to do so. This was especially when Islam was being used to determine public policy and life.
Furthermore, how did it come to be that Muslims in Malaysia believe that questioning the administration of Islam amounts to questioning, or even insulting, the religion?

Stark differences
This was clearly demonstrated during a Sisters in Islam workshop for the media in 2004, where only three journalists indicated that they were comfortable reporting on Islam. They were Surin, Shanon Shah (a Muslim), and another non-Muslim senior journalist from a traditional print publication. Many of the Muslim participants would have left the room if they could. One of them explained, “I cannot question my religion, because I answer to Allah, not my editor.”

What is amply clear to us, having written about Islam in Malaysia, is that syariah laws and fatwa are products of human interpretation. They are not divine truth, as the Muslim authorities in this country would have us believe.

Kartika For example, if it were such a crime for Muslim women to participate in beauty pageants according to a fatwa gazetted as law in Selangor, how is it that Muslim women could participate in a 1Malaysia pageant in Putrajaya?

If it was so Islamic to cane Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno for having drunk alcohol, how is it that the Quran doesn’t actually stipulate the penalty for alcohol consumption?

And if polygamy was such a God-given right to men as claimed by the likes of Shahidan and the then Perlis mufti, why have other Muslim countries banned or restricted it?

It follows that if human interpretation is involved, shouldn’t such interpretation also be subject to human critique and criticism?

Here is what Egypt’s highest official fatwa-making authority, Grand Mufti Sheikh Ali Gomaa, concludes about a fatwa:

“[The] conclusion of a mufti is one of opinion and therefore always open to dispute. This follows a principle of Islamic law that whoever is in tribulation due to an issue in which there is a difference of opinion, they are allowed to follow whichever opinion takes them away from their tribulation.”

Furthermore, Gomaa stresses that a fatwa is but “a non-binding legal opinion that serves to guide [Muslims] out of their difficulty”.

How flabbergasting, then, that in Malaysia, a fatwa, once gazetted, carries the force of law. Indeed, that was how five Muslim women were arrested by religious authorities for participating in the Miss Malaysia Petite contest in 1997. They were subsequently charged and fined in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur under syariah laws. The incident created an uproar, and a memorandum was submitted to then Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad over the need to reform syariah laws that undermined fundamental liberties.

Despite the memorandum and advocacy, however, little has changed. In fact, to question or disagree with a fatwa remains a crime under the Syariah Criminal Offences (Federal Territories) Act. But why the stark discrepancy between fatwa in Malaysia and Egypt?

Reclaiming the debate

What is clear is that there are differences in opinion and interpretations of Islam throughout the world, even among Islam’s highest authorities. What needs to be constantly pointed out, therefore, is that it is a fallacy to talk about what “Islam” says, or what “Islam” preaches and forbids. “Islam” is not monolithic or homogeneous, whether in intellectual history, current practices, or political systems.

The truth is that people with different interests often speak for Islam. And so it is important to question exactly who is speaking for Islam when they say “Islam forbids this” or “Islam prohibits that”.

Thus it bears asking, are the people who claim certain absolutes about Islam representatives of certain Islamist political parties? Or are they state-appointed Islamic functionaries? Are they even independent Islamic scholars and ulama?

Furthermore, to extend Gomaa’s logic, if public policies and laws are determined based on certain interpretations of Islam in Malaysia, why should there not be open public debate and deliberation on them?

Self-styled guardians of Islam will label these debates an insult to the religion. On the contrary, these debates could actually help identify and clarify the gaps between the ideals and actual practices of Islam, and will help name the various interest groups that use “Islam” for particular agendas.

Hence, shouldn’t lay Muslims be able to participate in these discussions? Shouldn’t non-Muslims be able to participate as well? Isn’t it our collective responsibility in the interest of upholding the spirit of Islam?

Imagine how much embarrassment and misconception about Islam could have been avoided if Muslims were allowed to contest the fatwa on beauty pageants. We definitely would not have the contradictory situation we do today with regard to the 1Malaysia pageant and the previous Miss Malaysia Petite contest.

What is even more troubling is that Muslims are repeatedly told they cannot question even when the most atrocious decisions are made in the name of God. And when non-Muslims speak up in the interest of justice and compassion — the core ingredients of Islamic teaching — the mob is ever ready to lynch. No wonder then that most Muslims and non-Muslims in Malaysia feel disempowered to question the imposition of Islamic law and ill-informed fatwa as laws in Malaysia.

But if we remain silent, it only means that Islam will continue to be held hostage by those who claim to have the power alone to interpret it for others. No matter that their interpretation could appear illogical and unIslamic, even to other Islamic experts.

Disclosure: Shanon Shah is an associate member of Sisters in Islam.

Making progress in Urban Transport


The GTP aims to raise the public transport modal share to 13% by 2010 and to 25% by 2012 during the morning peak period and apply successful initiatives to Penang and Johor Bahru.

Malaysia is at the crossroads of change and the Government Transformation Programme (GTP) forms the roadmap to transform Malaysia into a fully developed nation by 2020.

The GTP’s goals are not just economic but also encompass political, social, spiritual, psychological and cultural dimensions of development.

Although the country has progressed by leaps and bounds since Merdeka, it is in danger of becoming stuck as a middle-income nation and losing competitiveness amid rapidly developing economies.

Under the GTP, major areas of necessary change were outlined as the six National Key Results Areas – the NKRAs.

The NKRAs are reducing crime, fighting corruption, improving student outcomes, raising living standards of low-income households, improving rural basic infrastructure and improving urban public transport.

These are the priority areas for the nation to overcome in order to become a developed nation. They impact the people directly and have bearing on how safe people feel, how competitive they could become and the level of comfort that Malaysians across the board enjoy.

As Performance Management and Delivery Unit (PEMANDU) of the Prime Minister’s Department chairman Senator Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon said: “We must achieve our national vision of a developed nation that is prosperous, peaceful, safe, and united, with social justice.

“To do so, the Government will champion the spirit of 1Malaysia, put the people first, and perform and deliver results in the best interests of the people. This roadmap provides the way forward to address the basic concerns of the people.”

Under the main NKRAs are the equally important underpining ministerial KRAs,” he said.

These MKRAs include targeted outcomes that the rakyat can see and feel (such as faster responses to public complaints and reducing the number of road traffic accidents).

Similar to the NKRAs, MKRAs and Ministerial KPIs (MKPIs) continue to be refined and improved over time and accountability for delivery rests with each respective minister.

The Prime Minister has also committed to reviewing the progress of all ministers every six months to ensure their performance is on track. The first reviews took place between November 2009 and January 2010.

Log on to www.pemandu.gov.my to get a clearer idea of how the GTP will guide the public and private sectors to collectively achieve a paradigm shift to bring the country to greater heights for all Malaysians.


High peak period congestion, often unreliable service with frequent delays and cancellations, poor connectivity between modes in certain areas and poor access to public transport services (e.g., only about 61% of Klang Valley’s population lives within 400 metres of a public transport route).

These, in combination with continued growth in the number of private vehicles, has contributed to public transport modal share in Klang Valley falling steadily from 34% in 1985 to 20% in 1997; today it is closer to 10–12%.

Overall, the GTP aims to raise the public transport modal share to 13% by 2010 and to 25% by 2012 during the morning peak period of 7am to 9am in Klang Valley and apply successful initiatives to Penang and Johor Bahru.

Improving reliability and journey times, enhancing comfort and convenience and improving accessibility and connectivity such that the percentage of the population living within 400m of a public transport route increases from 63% to 75% in 2010.

In meeting these KPIs (key performance indicators), four steps will be taken between 2009 and 2012 and one beyond 2012 to secure and extend targeted improvements.

By 2012, capacities of the KTM Komuter and LRT lines will be increased by up to 4.0 times (depending on specific lines).

This will involve refurbishments and purchases of rolling stock and trainsets such as 35 new four-car trains for the Kelana Jaya LRT line.

Dedicated rights-of-way for buses will also be introduced across 12 major corridors in Klang Valley by 2012 starting with four in 2010.

These 12 corridors will in total carry 35,000 to 55,000 passengers during the morning peak hours, or 6% to 9% of total public transport ridership by 2012.

The existing bus fleet will be boosted by 850 buses by 2012. This will improve services on current routes and provide service to 53 new routes to address currently unserved areas.

Initiatives to stimulate demand to attract people to use public transport include introducing an integrated ticketing platform and fare structure such as the 1Ticket, 1Seamless Journey concept across all 16 operators in Klang Valley.

Parking problems will be mitigated by adding roughly 6,800 new parking spaces by 2012 across 14 rail stations outside the urban core, enhancing feeder services into rail stations and upgrading high-traffic stations, terminals and bus stops.

Physical connectivity between modes such as enclosed walkways will also be increased.

Enforcement and monitoring efforts will be critical to ensure operators adhere to minimum service and operational standards. In order to achieve this, backend IT systems will be integrated with joint on-the-ground enforcement efforts, across all major enforcement agencies – the 10 local authorities, Commercial Vehicles Licensing Board (CVLB), JPJ and PDRM.

Heavy vehicles will be diverted from the central business district to reduce congestion.

To do this, three major integrated transport terminals (ITT) outside the city core, beginning with ITT-South in Bandar Tasik Selatan in 2010.

This will be supported by ITT-East in Gombak by April 2011 which will divert more than 350 inter-city buses from the east to the city centre every day and then a third terminal will also be built to serve the northern inter-city express buses beyond 2012.

Within the city centre, there will be two types of public transport hubs – first, the intra-city terminal at Pasarama Kota, Hentian Putra and Pudu to facilitate the flow of traffic from the suburbs into the city, and second, 14 Hentian Akhir Bandar that will facilitate the movement of passengers and public transport vehicles within the city centre to reduce congestion and streamline overlapping routes.

The current system of having 12 ministries and various agencies involved in different aspects of public transport will be funneled into the proposed Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD – Suruhanjaya Pengangkutan Awam Darat).

A prerequisite for success will be the creation of a single point of accountability for policy planning and regulatory oversight.

Beyond 2012, once public transport modal share is above 25% and the public transportation system has been improved in terms of reliability, journey times, comfort, accessibility and connectivity, initiatives will be implemented to increase the relative attractiveness of public transport vis-à-vis private vehicles.

One example is congestion pricing, which has been implemented successfully in London and Singapore. A series of detailed initiatives have been formulated to support the achievement of the KPIs.


Realignment of 45 RapidKL routes has reduced passenger transfers, saving time and costs, and improving coverage in November 2009.

Optimising deployment of trainsets on highest traffic segments in the same time also reduced KTM Komuter headway from 20 minutes to 15. These are on the Sungai Buloh-Kajang and Kuala Lumpur-Shah Alam routes.

Launch of RM 150 RapidKL integrated travel passes also allowed unlimited travel on all Prasarana services including Rapid KL buses, Kelana Jaya LRT, Ampang LRT and Monorail.

A set of 10 four-car trains were also added to the congested RapidKL Kelana Jaya LRT line since December 2009.

Source: The Star

Academics fear for the future of Islam

FRI, 28 MAY 2010 23:51
By Stephanie Sta Maria

PETALING JAYA: Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak's Wesak Day message for Malaysians centred around religious tolerance, and the Buddhist teaching of following the middle path and avoiding extremism.

His message came hot on the heels of a recent panel discussion on Islam, which had both Muslims and non-Muslims shifting uneasily over the misrepresentation of Islam in Malaysia.

Oganised by Sisters In Islam (SIS), the discussion followed a screening of the documentary “Mencari Kartika” (In Search of Kartika) by new filmmaker Norhayati Kaprawi.

The documentary was inspired by a Merdeka Centre survey which revealed that many Malaysian Muslims supported the caning of Kartika Dewi Shukarnor.

Kartika was sentenced to caning after being found guilty of consuming alcohol, which is forbidden in Islam. Her sentence was later commuted to three weeks of community service, but her case had attracted criticism from local and international quarters.

According to Professor Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi of the Mara University of Technology, the “Talibanisation” of the Malay society is currently taking place. He warned that this is cause for great concern.

“Talibanisation means too much emphasis on symbols – wearing the hijab, growing a beard and discrimination against women – than substance,” he said. “In certain instances, Malaysia has crossed over into extremism, which is very disturbing. But our leaders don't seem to recognise this.”

“The Muslims who supported the caning of Kartika somehow find an appeal in violence, vengeance and watching other people suffering. They think this is part of Islam but it isn't. These are the fringe aspects of Islam that have become mainstream. And Kartika has become a symbol that has led to a call for the revival of the hudud law.”

Wayward perception

Professor Norani Othman, a sociologist at Universiti Kenagsaaan Malaysia and a founding member of SIS, places the blame for this wayward perception of Islam squarely on Malaysia's education system.

She didn't mince her words when she said the intellectual culture of Malaysian Muslims has suffered a great dumbing down and they have failed to bring themselves into the 21st century.

“When (prime minister) Najib (Tun Razak) was Education Minister, I appealed to him to review the education format of religious schools,” she recalled. “The students were learning by memorising and critical thinking was not encouraged. I told him that he needed to appoint a committee of experts and scholars to provide feedback on how to improve our education system but he didn't grasp the importance of this.”

“Indonesia set up such a committee because education wasn't part of the state. The Suharto regime may have been an authoritarian one but it still laid off Islam and, to some extent, Islamic education. So the intellectuals invited the late Islamic scholar Fazlur Rahman for a conference.”

“Only then did they begin to implement modernisation and a reformation of their religious education. This is why Indonesia has far more thriving and intelligent debates on the implementation of Islamic law.”

Both professors also noted with dismay the reluctance of the “right-thinking people” to speak up against the “extremists”. Calling it a tragedy of the country and the Malaysian Muslims' social, religious and moral life, Shad warned that continuing to keep silent would give more power to the “lunatic fringes”.

He pointed out that the agenda of Islam is currently being dictated by this group who force others into silence for fear of being confronted with tough questions. In his opinion, the Malay society has adopted the feudalistic mindset of blindly following the leader. Norani fully agreed.

“Under the federal constitution, we are all citizens of Malaysia,” said Norani. “If we allow the state too much freedom to politicise Islam, then we are encouraging the 'Talibanisation' of Islamic laws to cow people into silence.”

“It's time we all stood up and stop saying that it has nothing to do with us. We shouldn't be afaid to speak up against Jabatan Agama Islam Selangor (JAIS), Majlis Agam Islam Selangor (MAIS) and Perkasa because they are terrorising us into silence.”

Marina Mahathir, who was also present at the discussion, voiced anxiety over the future of Islam in Malaysia.

“I believe in an Islam that upholds justice and equality and everything that is good,” she said. “But today both conservative Muslims and non-Muslims view it as a religion that punishes people and oppresses women. I fear that the true Islam will one day be completely wiped out from Malaysia.”

A well-locked closet

Gays are under attack in poor countries—and not just because of “local culture”
May 27th 2010

THEIR crimes were “gross indecency” and “unnatural acts”. Their sentence was 14 years’ hard labour: one intended, said the judge, to scare others. He has succeeded. A court in Malawi last week horrified many with its treatment of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, a gay couple engaged to be married. The two men are the latest victims of a crackdown on gay rights in much of the developing world, particularly Africa.

Some 80 countries criminalise consensual homosexual sex. Over half rely on “sodomy” laws left over from British colonialism. But many are trying to make their laws even more repressive. Last year, Burundi’s president, Pierre Nkurunziza, signed a law criminalising consensual gay sex, despite the Senate’s overwhelming rejection of the bill. A draconian bill proposed in Uganda would dole out jail sentences for failing to report gay people to the police and could impose the death penalty for gay sex if one of the participants is HIV-positive. In March Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, who once described gay people as worse than dogs or pigs, ruled out constitutional changes outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation.

In many former colonies, denouncing homosexuality as an “unAfrican” Western import has become an easy way for politicians to boost both their popularity and their nationalist credentials. But Peter Tatchell, a veteran gay-rights campaigner, says the real import into Africa is not homosexuality but politicised homophobia.

This has, he argues, coincided with an influx of conservative Christians, mainly from America, who are eager to engage African clergy in their own domestic battle against homosexuality. David Bahati, the Ugandan MP who proposed its horrid bill, is a member of the Fellowship, a conservative American religious and political organisation. “Africa must seem an exciting place for evangelical Christians from places like America,” says Marc Epprecht, a Canadian academic who studies homosexuality in Africa. “They can make much bigger gains in their culture wars there than they can in their own countries.” Their ideas have found fertile ground. In May this year, George Kunda, Zambia’s vice-president, lambasted gay people, saying they undermined the country’s Christian values and that sadism and Satanism could be the result.

Discrimination against gays, in Africa in particular, risks undermining the fight against HIV/AIDS. In February, those suspected of being gay were targeted in Kenya in mob violence at a government health centre providing HIV/AIDS services. Bishop Joshua Banda, chairman of Zambia’s National AIDS Council, said that donor countries’ efforts to speak out against violations of gay rights were against Zambia’s “traditional values”. The increasing crackdown on gay rights in Africa will be a disaster for public health, according to Mr Epprecht, as gay people go underground and do not get treatment for HIV/AIDS.

The problem goes beyond Africa and is more than one of state-sponsored homophobia. In Iraq, for example, homosexuality is legal. But in 2009 Human Rights Watch described the persecution that men suspected of being gay there face, including kidnappings, rape, torture and extrajudicial killings. In the aftermath of the 2003 invasion, there has been a growing fear of the “feminisation” of Iraqi men. The Mahdi Army, a Shia militia, has played on these fears and, claiming to uphold religious values and morality, offered violent “solutions”. Members of the Iraqi security forces have also been accused of colluding in the violence.

South Africa was the first country anywhere to ban homophobic discrimination in its constitution. It is the only country in Africa to allow gay marriage. In formal legal terms, it is a beacon for gay rights, says Mr Tatchell. But the growing phenomenon of “corrective rape” both there and in Zimbabwe, where women are assaulted in an attempt to “cure” them of lesbianism, suggests these laws often fail on the ground. As worrying to campaigners as the violence itself is a reluctance by the authorities to acknowledge that the attacks are motivated by homophobia. In April 2008 Eudy Simelane, a South African football player who was a lesbian, was gang-raped and stabbed to death. Two men were convicted of her murder but, in his sentencing, the judge denied that Ms Simelane’s sexuality played a part in the crime.

Hopes rose a little in June 2009 when India overturned its 149-year-old sodomy law but since then the global trend seems to have been in the opposite direction. Campaigners argue the proposed laws have implications beyond gay rights. How countries treat one particularly vulnerable group is a good measure of how they will act towards the rest of their citizens.

Source: Economist

Boys, aged 10 and 11, guilty of attempted rape

Sam Jones

Two boys aged 10 and 11 were today found guilty of attempting to rape an eight-year-old girl, but were cleared of raping her.

The boys, who have sat next to their mothers in the well of a court at the Old Bailey for the last two weeks, were among the youngest ever to be charged with rape in England and Wales.

A jury found them not guilty on two charges each of raping the girl in Hayes, west London, in October last year. They were later found guilty of two charges each of attempted rape, by majorities of 10 to two.

As a concession to the defendants' age, the judge and counsel dispensed with wigs and gowns and reporters were asked to spread out around the court rather than congregate in an intimidating huddle on the press bench.

Proceedings were also kept short to help the boys follow what was going on; the day was divided into two 40-minute sessions in the morning and two 30-minute sessions in the afternoon to mimic a primary school timetable.

Opening the case almost a fortnight ago, Rosina Cottage, prosecuting, told the six-man, six-woman jury that they would hear evidence of a most serious crime.

"This case concerns rape by two boys still at primary school of a girl even younger than them," she said.

"Together they took her to different locations near where they lived in order to find a sufficiently secluded spot to assault her. The events leading to the alleged rapes all took place in and around a block of flats and they ended in a field."

Cottage told the court the girl had been playing with a five-year-old friend near her home in Hayes on 27 October when the defendants arrived and suggested visiting another friend.

But Cottage said that when the four children arrived at the block of flats where the friend lived, the defendants pulled down their pants and those of the girl.

After the scene was repeated in the lift of the block of flats, the girl and her younger friend were trapped by the older boys in a shed that held rubbish bins, Cottage said.

Once again, said Cottage, the girl's pants were pulled down and she was sexually assaulted before eventually being taken to a nearby field and allegedly raped.

The jury was then shown a recorded interview shot by specially trained police officers the day after the alleged assaults.

In it, the girl played with a teddy bear she had named Mr Happy while she told one of the officers how the boys had exposed themselves, pulled down her pants and raped her.

However, the girl's story changed radically when she was cross-examined via a videolink.

She said she had lied to her mother because she had been "naughty" and was worried she would not get any sweets.

In a series of questions, she was asked if any parts of her body had been penetrated by the boys. She replied each time: "No."

She also admitted that she had agreed to play with the boys and had pulled down her own underwear while the boys exposed themselves to her.

Linda Strudwick, defending the older boy, asked her: "Did you ever tell your mum it was not you but it was [the boys] who took your knickers down? You didn't want your mum to think you had been naughty?"

The girl replied: "Yeah."

The judge asked what the girl had been worried about and she replied: "No sweets if it [sic] found out I had been naughty."

The problem, as one of the defence barristers told the jury, was that everything hinged on the girl's testimony.

"Apart from saying that the girl said it had happened so it must have, Ms Cottage provided you with absolutely nothing to support the allegation of rape and attempted rape," said Chetna Patel, counsel for the younger boy.

"No useful medical evidence, no DNA evidence and no forensic evidence: nothing."

Strudwick said that her client was "a normal boy … not a monster", adding that a children's game appeared to have got out of hand.

"What this case is about is not a serious crime," she said. "It is about children. There is a game called 'You show me yours and I will show you mine'.

"Maybe it went too far, maybe it went to touching, maybe they were doing something they had seen on television, maybe they were playing that age-old game, doctors and nurses.

"They are kids. If [my client] had been a few months younger, he could not have been charged."

But in her closing speech, Cottage warned the jury not to trivialise what had taken place.

"On the face of it, wouldn't it be so much easier and so much nicer to believe that this was all a case of innocent sexual experimentation, a game of you show me yours and I will show you mine, a case of [the girl] misunderstanding what had happened and innocently exaggerating it?" she said.

"Just because it would be easier, just because we don't really want to consider that these things really did happen, is not the way to decide this case. You have to look at the evidence."

Source: Guardian

Rising Use of Emergency Contraceptives Raises Alarm

By Manipadma Jena

NEW DELHI, May 21, 2010 (IPS) - When Sunita Sanyal (last name changed) complained of intense headache and vomiting, her mother presumed it was just pre-examination jitters. After all, Sunita’s business management finals were just a week away.

At the doctor’s clinic, however, the startling truth came out: Sunita, 25, had been taking emergency contraceptive pills (ECPs), often as many as eight times a month – a high overdose – or after every tryst with her boyfriend.

Reproductive health communications expert Usha Rai recalls the case of a 12-year-old in Patna in eastern Bihar State, who was repeatedly abused by her brother-in-law and made to take several doses of ECPs. The girl was already five months pregnant when she underwent medical or surgical abortion.

New Delhi-based health activist Jaya Velankar says, "the rampant and unscientific use, over-the-counter sales and misleading advertisements on emergency contraceptives like iPill and Unwanted-72 have raised huge health concerns for young women (taking these pills)."

The latter is known to prevent an unwanted pregnancy provided it is taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex.

"Over the past year iPills and Unwanted-72 have been moving fast," says Aurobind Das, owner of Mahashakti Medicines store in a posh locality in Bhubaneswar city in eastern Orissa state. These are mostly purchased by young male college students, apparently for their girlfriends, usually as often as twice a week, he says.

Das says he usually explains to these young men the danger of taking an overdose of ECPs and advises them to buy regular oral contraceptives instead. "They just shrug it off and say if there are side effects, the girl will handle that," says the chemist.

Kalpana Mehta of Saheli’ (translated as ‘a woman’s friend’), a nationwide non-governmental organisation based in this capital, describes emergency contraceptives as "fraudulent products."

She explains: "Since oral contraceptives like ‘Mala-D’ are made available by the government freely and widely in India, there is no need for a dedicated product that is costly and out of reach for most, at 80 to 100 (Indian) rupees or around 2 U.S. dollars for a single dose."

Five years ago, India included the promotion of ECPs in its national health programme. The government specifically allowed the distribution of these pills through its social marketing campaigns.

ECPs, also known as ‘curb abortion’ and ‘morning-after’ pills, contain high concentrations of hormones, usually levonorgestrel or estrogen. They have about eight to 10 times more estrogens compared to a regular contraceptive pill and thus are known to pose serious health risks to women, especially when taken in high doses.

A two-pill dose taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex – the second pill taken 12 hours after the first – disrupts the uterus lining, thereby suppressing or delaying ovulation and averts pregnancy, says Dr Sarojini Sarangi, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the Sriram Chandra Bhanj (SCB) Medical College in Cuttack, the foremost government-funded university hospital in Orissa.

"One dose within one menstrual cycle can be tolerated, but women take three to five ECP doses in one menstrual cycle, which interfere with the fertilisation process," says Dr Sarangi. "Often patients come to me in their second or third month of pregnancy, mistakenly thinking a missed menstrual cycle is due to the ECP pills."

Adds Dr Sujata Kar, a gynaecologist and owner of an upmarket clinic in Bhubaneswar: "Indians are a pill-happy people. Women conveniently forget the ‘emergency’ prefix in the ECP and use it as an easy means of contraception."

"If high doses are continuously taken over the medium and long term, conception ability could be impaired," warns Dr Sarangi. Other potential side effects are migraine and pelvic inflammatory disease.

"In developed countries, chemists warn buyers to look out for blood clotting and ectopic pregnancies, but not in low-knowledge India," says Mehta of the NGO Saheli. Such abnormal pregnancies, which develop outside a woman’s uterus, arise from reproductive or contraceptive failure.

Since unwanted and unplanned pregnancies are common in this south Asian country of more than a billion people, there is a high incidence of abortions.

Of the 6.4 million abortions performed in India in 2002 and 2003, 56 percent, or 3.6 million, were unsafe, according to a 2004 study by the Mumbai-based Centre for Equity into Health and Allied Themes and Healthwatch Trust.

Almost 20 percent of patients seeking abortion are unmarried, says Dr Kar. In some clinics in Patna, the percentage of such women is even higher, half of them from rural areas.

Many come for abortion in their school uniforms, writes journalist Usha Rai on the incidence of abortion in Bihar in an unpublished 2009 study titled "Rural Women Continue to Opt for ‘Clean Up’".

India legalised abortion in 1971 through the passage of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Medical Termination of Pregnancy, which stipulated certain conditions for its execution.

Women in general are forced to bear more children than they desire, in part because of the phenomenon of son preference, which has deep cultural roots in India, or because men generally refuse contraception, says Dr Saraswati Swain, a retired professor of obstetrics and gynecology who has worked with grassroots communities.

Used right, ECP is an empowering tool allowing women more control over their reproductive lives, says Dr Kar. Therefore, they need to be made available over the counter, doctors say.

Yet, awareness of the dangers of excessive and indiscriminate use of ECPs must be stepped up significantly, says Velankar, the health activist. And this necessarily extends to consumers, particularly youth, and even drug store owners.


Source: IPS

I am what I believe

Aston Paiva

MALAYSIA has seen a fair share of cases involving religion. These include cases of people wanting to convert out of a religion, bodies being taken by religious authorities for burial and citizens being charged with spreading “deviationist teachings”.


Article 11 of the Federal Constitution states that every person has the “right to profess and practise his religion”. But what does that mean? What is “to profess”? And what is “to practise”?

The word “profess” is often associated with religion. The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines “profess” as “to affirm, or declare one’s faith in or allegiance to (a religion, principle, God or saint, etc.)”. I think this is a good definition. Other synonyms of the word in a number of dictionaries include “claim”, “acknowledge”, “state”, “avow”, “assert”, “annunciate”, “enunciate”, “aver”, “pronounce” and “announce”.

A few things can be derived from these definitions:

> I determine my own religious views;

> No one else defines my religious views; and

> I am free to believe in what I want to believe in.

It is therefore my opinion that for someone to renounce her religion, following the Federal Constitution, she merely has to make an open declaration of that fact, so long as that declaration is meant seriously, with free will and has not been retracted.

So if I were to ask a person: “What do you profess?” – and he says: “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is His Messenger” – he would be a Muslim.

To me, Freedom of Religion and Article 11 is as simple as that. It is what that person says she is – not what other people say she should be.

An individual shapes her thoughts which determine her beliefs, while her conscience directs her life. Any action compelling her to believe in a certain religion whether through administrative red tape (for example by denying her the right to change her religion on her identification card) or whether through force (for example by putting her in a “religious rehabilitation centre” to indoctrinate her), would be a violation of her freedom of religion.

What about “practice”? It is a distinctive word that is also related to religion. “Practice” would reasonably mean a manifestation of what one professes; it is the actions that arise from one’s beliefs. It is the manner in which you worship, your prayers, the rituals you perform; how you celebrate birth and how you mourn death. It is the aspect of your life that exists because of your faith.

In my opinion, in the event one does not declare his religion, we can ascertain what religion he adopts by considering his “practice”. If we see him convert to a new faith, that is sufficient to indicate that he has left his previous religion and his open declaration of faith will be unnecessary.


In Malaysia, the Federal Constitution only defines who a “Malay” person is in Article 160. The constitution does not define who is a “Muslim”.

It is nonetheless stated within the Ninth Schedule, List II of the constitution that Islamic Laws are only to apply to “persons professing the religion of Islam”.

A “Muslim” is instead defined by the Administration of Islamic Law (Federal Territories) Act 1993 (and all other state enactments) in Section 2 as (a) a person who professes the religion of Islam;
(b) a person either or both of whose parents were, at the time of the person’s birth, Muslims; (c) a person whose upbringing was conducted on the basis that he was a Muslim; (d) a person who has converted to Islam; (e) a person who is commonly reputed to be a Muslim; or (f) a person who is shown to have stated, in circumstances in which he was bound by law to state the truth, that he was a Muslim.

A cursory reading of the definitions would show that provisions (b) - (f) are not in line with the constitution. Provisions (b) - (f) hinders a person in professing the religion she wants to by labelling her a “Muslim” based on circumstances that are beyond her control, for example by her parents’ religion, her upbringing and the perception of others. These provisions also seek to bar her from thinking, contemplating and changing her mind on her religious world view.

Your religion and beliefs cannot be determined by someone else arbitrarily. It can only be determined by you. Nobody knows you better than yourself. Nobody has the right to force you to believe in something you do not want to. It would be interfering with your individuality, your uniqueness and your freedom.


The present position in Malaysia since the Federal Court case of Lina Joy is that a Muslim wanting to leave the religion has to get a syariah court order. In some states, it is a syariah criminal offence to be an apostate. Why should a person be compelled to face imprisonment or a fine in order to leave the religion?

This matter can easily be resolved by state governments enacting clear provisions to enable people to convert out of Islam without any restrictions. This used to be the case in Malaysia, for instance by Section 146(2) of the now repealed Perak Administration of Muslim Law Enactment 1965 which allowed a person to state to the syariah court that he had decided to leave the religion, and the court must make a declaration of it. Some states used to maintain a register for those “converting out” – a purely administrative task.

Profession of religion in Malaysia is a question of fact. It is a constitutional issue and a matter for the individual’s conscience.

This nation can only progress if its citizens learn to inculcate a culture of understanding, pluralism and broadmindedness.

Source: The Sun

Titik Merah Jambu

Three Saturdays ago, 4000 Singaporeans gathered at a park dressed in all known and unknown shades of pink, acessorised with pink umbrellas, pink balloons and pink pets. No, it is not a Hello Kitty convention. It was a gathering of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) individuals, and their friends, families, lovers and ex-lovers.

This event, Pink Dot, took months of campaigning involving straight-identified celebrities speaking out on popular media, viral videos featuring interviews with parents of GLBTs, mainstreaming the phrase “freedom to love”, and more. They employed every creative outlet within their means and created an event that was quintessentially Singaporean by design. I mean, how more Singaporean can you get than expressing the freedom to love as a dot?

A friend of mine in Malaysia was inspired. He wanna try something similar here. A pride march in Malaysia? I am happy just to be able to hold my boyfriend’s hand in public without having to worry what others think. But yes, I too dream of a day when we can gather as a titik merah jambu, or a jalur pelangi gemilang, either in Dataran Merdeka or Tasik Permaisuri, and celebrate the life of a free Malaysian.

Alas, I don’t think Malaysia is ready. Because darling, we have not sufficiently laid the yellow brick road over this rainbow yet. If we went and tried something like this now, Perkasa, UMNO Youth, PAS Youth and a whole load of other very vocal very conservative groups, plus the police, the FRU, RELA members, will surely join us on the field and it won’t be to join us in the chorus of “YMCA”.

Most of the media, with the exception of a few, are not expected to do much apart from report in the biased manner they are used to doing — “Demo Songsang”. And what if the gathering consists of only those 10 openly gay people of Malaysia — myself included? The public would just say, look, it is only a small minority of western-influenced deviants. We all know this country is full of deviants, but have we done enough to get them to join us on the merdeka side?

These are a few things I feel that probably need to be in place before something public.

Enough public support

According to this survey, you can see that Malaysia’s acceptance rate of homosexuality is one of the lowest at 8%, or one in every 12 persons. Yes, Mali & Egypt are even lower at 1%. Sweden, where same-sex marriage is legalised, is the highest at 86% (which also nicely refutes the claims that homosexuality and its acceptance causes social collapse). Interestingly, Israel’s acceptance is at 65%, with openly gay politicians, even though it is Judaism that gave us the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, from which laws against homosexual acts have been derived and sustained in countries whose official religions are the very ones which evolved from Judaism.

For some reason, Singapore is not on that list.

What does public support entail? It means any number of celebrities, artists, media, leaders, lawyers, doctors, politicians, parents, and even members of the public, are able to speak up for us. If the media dares print an iota of negative press about the GLBT community, if the authorities unfairly targets GLBTs with homophobic policies, hoardes of folks will rise to defend us. Presently we have Marina Mahathir, a few regular letter writers and bloggers, maybe the ADUN in Penang who recently spoke about helping transgender, but not many else. Perhaps the difficulty in getting well known figures and celebrities is their fear of possible backlash to their careers, even if many of them work with GLBT people or have a huge number of GLBT fans.

Another good place to start is with parents. But when we ask folks to invite their parents to a function, it is hard to get anyone. We have so far met only 3 parents. Maybe most GLBT individuals are not out to their parents, or their parents are not comfortable to meet their friends. Younger GLBTs are lucky, they get to come out to their friends and splash their status all over facebook with no qualms. Parents however don’t have many opportunities to talk about their GLBT children, and therefore remain lonely and socially awkward when dealing with these subjects. What then can we do to get our parents to support us more publicly?

This beautifully edited video of this year’s Pink Dot offers this quote from a mother: “This is god’s gift to them. I think to tread this road alone is not easy for anyone. So as mothers, we should stand by them to overcome social prejudices.”

For a while now, I have been able to bring my boyfriend home for family dinners. But it wasn’t always so. When I first came out to my mother, she couldn’t accept it. Is this her fault? she wondered. She imagined a life of loneliness, humiliation and misery. She thought of Leslie Cheung jumping to his death. She didn’t want that for me. But I told her, my misery begins and ends with you. I can face anything, I said, if I know my mother loves me and blesses the person I love. It took a little time and a lot of tears, but she came around. I hope one day I can take her to something like the Pink Dot and show her how much respect there is among respectable people.

Enough communal support

But before the public can learn to accept GLBTs, perhaps the GLBT communities need to come together. We need to have a sense that there is even a community, and want to be a part of it. Sure, many different small groups already exist, including LPG (which organises sport games), groups which meet through online profile sites, BigBoysMalaysia (for chubby guys and those who like them), OutDo (for gay women), etc. Even PT Foundation, which does work in HIV/AIDS, has 6 communities. But I refer to something bigger, something more akin to a collective movement.

Because we have long been so marginalised by the legal system and silenced by homophobic policies of Malaysia, GLBT individuals, instead of fighting back, tend to ignore politics all together. Many are happy to live a life of contented resignation, just going to work, hoping our bosses don’t find out who we really are, sneaking into a gay massage centre occasionally, hoping the police doesn’t come raiding. How did we ever learn to accept this as a tolerable life? To get used to being afraid of losing our homes, our families, our livelihood, just because of who we love? And that is if we don’t give up and just pretend to love somebody of the opposite sex, or worse, jump off a building somewhere? It is my sense of outrage as I see my brothers and sisters subject themselves to such a life of inequality that eventually led me to believe something needs to be done.

One of the projects we have carried out is Seksualiti Merdeka, an annual sexuality rights festival organized collectively by various groups and individuals. Seksualiti Merdeka is an indoor event and is not a pride parade or a Pink Dot. Though in my estimation, it is as good as it gets for now. We have successfully held it at The Annexe Gallery for two years already.

The first year we had about 400-500 people. The second about 800-1000 people. Some of the activities we had done at past Seksualiti Merdeka fests include workshops on legal rights, forum on violence against transgender, talks on history of the sodomy law, debate on moral policing, lecture on history of alternative sexuality in the region, launch of Malaysia’s first queer anthology, sexuality rights training, storytelling, theatre and concerts. This October, we hold our third one. You can find out more by joining us on Facebook: look for Seksualiti Merdeka.

Besides creating an opportunity for heterosexuals and queers to work together, we also try to bring together gays and lesbians and bis and trans, which have tended to keep their own till now.

We are also joined by many human rights groups which love justice as much as they love acronyms: SUARAM, EMPOWER, KRYSS, JAG, PTF. Significantly the Malaysian Bar Council’s Human Rights Committee is also an ally. Lots of love to go around. Malaysian activists recognise that sexuality is one of the last frontiers of the human rights battle not fought yet and have decided to jump aboard. In Malaysia, everybody’s rights are screwed. We need to look out for each other’s asses. When we fight for the rights of our fellow Malaysians, we become a vital part of the social fabric, harder to ignore, harder to cut down. Already a few GLBT individuals work in civil societies, fighting for orang asli, for refugees, for women — I hope there will be more. Before we can think about gathering in public, perhaps we need to support those who are fighting the Illegal Assembly legislation. I subscribe to the self-serving altruism: when we help others, we are helping ourselves.

Part of the multi-layered planning we do involves figuring out how to protect those who come, to prevent a backlash, to work within existing laws and yet push them, to strike a balance between the confrontational and non-confrontational strategies. But as pointed out by someone, while we do our best to look out for each other, there is no guarantee there won’t be trouble. The reason we even need to do what we do is simply because we live in a country that sucks for human rights. Progress is not a natural byproduct of history – as some people assume when they say, “Things will get better.” No they won’t. Not if we stay silent to injustices.

For something more regular, there is a monthly film screening called Queer As Films: we show a GLBT film with socio-political perspectives, followed by a discussion after. This is helpful in giving folks the language to articulate and defend their own identity. The first step is sometimes as simple as finding the right words, to stop using disempowering words, or to subvert the existing negativity.

Speaking of which, there is nothing like a mainstream film to affect public opinion. My sincere wish is that Malaysian artists (and artistes) will be able to come out, if not as a GLBT then as a GLBT-supporter, and make a difference. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, we are all a part of the Malaysian landscape. But who will tell our stories? Yes, the current film censorship guideline that stipulates gay characters need to repent or die, but surely as artists we can creatively tread around that barrier. There is nothing like seeing our stories represented. As gay actor-director Harvey Fiernstein (Torch Song Trilogy, Mrs Doubtfire) said, “The hunger I felt as a kid looking for gay images was not to be alone.” Sometimes I look at Malaysians, and all I see is that hunger.

Enough Out Individuals

While we obviously don’t need a 50% acceptance rating before we declare a movement, we should at least aim for double of what we are now, a modest 16-20%, one in every five or six persons within the next five years. Studies have shown that changing social acceptance is partly the result of more members of the public knowing someone who is GLBT personally.

So we need more GLBT folks of Malaysia to start coming out. Of course I am not forcing everybody to come out. It is truly nobody else’s business what we do in our bedroom — as long as we are not hurting anyone, not doing it with minors, and not preventing anyone else from doing whatever they want to in their bedrooms. But in so far as the state makes it their business what I do in my bedroom and continues to get on my case about it, then I will make it their business what I do in my bedroom, until it is really, truly, legally, nobody’s business what I do.

Before society becomes more accepting, GLBT folks need to come out. Before they can come out completely, they need to come out bit by bit. Before they can even think of coming out to others, they need to come out to themselves. It is a loooong process.

In my opinion, empowering community and shifting public opinion is a 5-10 year project. Within this first 5 years, we should focus on enlarging the community, empowering more individuals and creating platforms for advocacy. Within these 10 years, we should aim for more public figures speaking up for us, mainstream movies or songs that portray us, if not positively at least a little more truthfully, getting families and friends to support us, get more positive media coverage, etc. When the time is right, to repeal those laws that criminalise us, as well as create anti-discrimination laws and privacy laws.


So when is the right time for us to do something like Pink Dot? When we have enough openly GLBT individuals from members of the public to well known figures. When we have a sense of community, supportive networks, countless allies both non-governmental as well as governmental. When we have more public support. I suppose there is no way to know when for sure. We will just have to keep working until we all agree the time is right.

The Pink Dot wasn’t something decided upon impulsively. Some years ago, there was the popular outdoor circuit party catering for gays on Sentosa Island on the eve of Singapore’s National Day. When this was banned, they started organising the InDignation pride festivals aimed at expressing outrage and gathering the community. It was a momentum to which Pink Dot was a natural outcome. Perhaps it took an event getting banned first. Perhaps Malaysians need all our rights robbed before we start doing something. I hope not.

So before we step onto the Dataran Merdeka, let’s step out of the closet first. After that, let’s join the movement to free this country of its chains. Malaysia can still be a country where we can fall in love and not be afraid to love.

Source: Arteri

Whose interest does the UUCA serve?

By Jacqueline Ann Surin

AS an editor, I’ve sometimes had to remind journalists who merely copy and paste from a press release that they are paid to think, question, and make sense of the issues they are writing about. A journalist’s role is not to be a stenographer. It’s to be a public intellectual that interrogates the information in hand and helps connect the dots for readers.

I’ve been reminded about the roles individuals and institutions play in society because of the potential disciplinary action that Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) is about to mete out on four undergraduates. The students’ offence? They allegedly campaigned in the Hulu Selangor by-election.

Here then is a question I’d like to ask our government and UKM. I’d also like the same question asked of any other university that thinks it is right that UKM is doing what it is doing as provided for under the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA). What role are universities meant to play? And by extension, what roles do our government and local university administrations expect university students and the university itself to play?

Centres of learning
I doubt that anyone would disagree that a university is a centre of learning. Historically, universities, which began in Europe, were communities of teachers and scholars. In a nutshell, the role of a university is to promote learning. And learning best occurs when thinking, querying and the testing of ideas takes place.

As pedantic as that sounds, I believe Malaysians need to revisit the question of what role universities are meant to play in light of the UKM issue. After all, UKM is not the first nor will it be the last Malaysian university which will invoke the UUCA in reining in students from the brink of thinking and participating in public and political life.

Indeed, when I was an undergraduate in Universiti Malaya 20 years ago, we experienced the same oppressive controls over thinking made possible by restrictive and ill-formed laws such as the UUCA. I remember how as orientation week helpers, a group of Christian seniors approached the student affairs department in 1991. We wanted to request for Christian freshies to have time off to attend church during the week-long orientation. After all, Muslim undergraduates were allowed time to pray five times a day. The department head’s response? “Who put you up to this? It must be external agents instigating you.”

I can’t remember if we were more flabbergasted or insulted. To be certain, that wasn’t the only instance that students in my graduating year experienced pressure from the university authorities to conform, follow the rules, and not question. In another instance, a faculty mate faced tremendous challenges when trying to get approval for a human rights exhibition on campus.

And so, nothing much has changed in the past 20 years. At least not in terms of the authorities’ ideas about how a university should be run and how they will, or rather will not, cultivate critical centres of learning.

What was the crime?
After all, how was it a crime or even offensive that the four final-year political science students from UKM were interested enough to go to the ground to understand the country’s politics and political process? How is it offensive for undergraduates, no matter their faith, to legitimately ask for time to pray during a university-organised week-long orientation programme? How is it wrong for students to be aware of violations and to want to raise consciousness about human rights among the student body?

It can only be offensive and criminal if university administrators don’t believe that university students should be thinking, enquiring and acting in tandem with their conscience as citizens.
To be certain, it’s not just university administrators such as UKM’s vice-chancellor Prof Tan Sri Dr Sharifah Hapsah Syed Hasan Shahabudin whose positions need to be interrogated. Ultimately, the people most responsible for this state of affairs in universities are those in government who refuse to review and dismantle the UUCA. To have a sense of how anti-democratic and anti-thinking the UUCA is, consider this: If found guilty, the four students can either be expelled or suspended for exercising their democratic right to associate and express.

Who’s speaking up?
It is for that reason that both Pakatan Rakyat and MCA leaders have called on UKM to desist from taking any action. These parties, including Gerakan, have also called on the government to either review or completely dismantle the UUCA because they understand how detrimental the law is in encouraging young citizens to think and exercise their rights in a democracy.

Conversely, it was the Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin, from Umno, who warned university students that the UUCA would be used against them if they were in Hulu Selangor during the by-election campaign.

What I find really curious is this. How does the Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) government expect the nation to embark on creativity and innovation if university students are not allowed to think, engage and explore beyond their classrooms? How does the government expect the nation to achieve Vision 2020‘s goal of being a fully developed country in 10 years if university students are not allowed to mature in their thinking and perspectives? How can we even imagine that Malaysia will experience a brain gain, instead of the current brain drain, if universities cannot and will not create spaces for learning, independent thought and enquiry?

I think it’s timely to ask our Umno-led government what role they think universities are meant to play in the nation’s interest if not to cultivate thinking, learning, experimentation and questioning.

From the evidence, it is clear that the UUCA prevents universities in Malaysia from playing that role. Indeed, the UUCA was clearly formulated in the early 1970s by the same BN government as a way to curb student organisations that were vocal in holding government and power accountable.

How then can the UUCA be in the nation’s interest? And how can any government, politician, political party or university administrator, who supports the UUCA and its use, be acting in the nation’s interest? Indeed, it is obvious just who is sabotaging Malaysia’s potential and abilities to become a developed, mature and competitive nation.

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