Self-censorship among non-Muslims ‘unhealthy’, say academics

by Gan Pei Ling, 13 Jan 2018 © The Malaysian Insight

A GROWING culture of self-censorship among non-Muslims in Malaysia to avoid offending subjective Muslim sensitivity is unhealthy, said social scientists.

“It has become ingrained in non-Muslims to respect Muslim sensitivity, but what is sensitive is often subjective,” Universiti Sains Malaysia political scientist Azmil Tayeb told The Malaysian Insight today.

He was commenting on the practice of non-Muslim business owners to avoid the depiction of dogs, animals considered unclean by Muslims, in shopping malls and stores as Chinese Malaysians prepare to usher in the Year of the Dog on February 16.

“It’s definitely not healthy. It’s ridiculous. The tolerance is one way. This is due to years of intimidation (from some authorities). It’s overboard.

“Because non-Muslims have been told so many times not to offend, they think this is the best way to be safe than sorry,” said the expert on Islamic politics in Southeast Asia.

Malaysian Chinese Muslim Association president Taufiq Yap Yun Hin said personally, he does not feel offended by canine images but he can understand other Muslims may not feel the same.

Wary of public backlash, businesses in Malaysia have often been careful not to offend Muslim sensitivities.

Earlier this month, the Giant Hypermarket courted controversy from netizens for selling a T-shirt of the 12 zodiac animals, but the dog and pig images were replaced with characters spelling out the animals’ names.

In October 2016, pretzel chain Auntie Anne’s was asked to rename its “Pretzel Dog” to “Pretzel Sausage” by the Malaysia Islamic Development Department (Jakim).

The same year, a half-man, half-pig character in the Chinese New Year blockbuster Monkey King 2 was removed from its original posters. The film distributor, Golden Screen Cinemas, said it modified the poster on its own initiative.

The book launch was jointly organised by independent book distributor Gerakbudaya and Institute of Malaysian & International Studies (Ikmas), Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.

In conjunction with the launch a panel discussion was held.

Azmil, Taufiq and International Islamic University Malaysia Islamic expert Maszlee Malik were part of the discussion panel on a book on Chinese Muslim cultures in Indonesia authored by Ikmas research fellow Hew Wai Weng.

Ikmas Associate Professor Helen Ting moderated the discussion.

Maszlee said the cultural dominance of Malay Muslims in Malaysia has prompted many Chinese Muslim converts to feel the need to assert their Chinese identity.

“A lot of them find Malay supremacy disturbing… The moment they become Muslims, they feel they have to show that they are still Chinese. I bet Taufiq never went around wearing a traditional Chinese shirt before he became a Muslim,” he quipped.

Maszlee added that he has observed Chinese converts here finding various ways to retain their ethnic culture, including learning Mandarin.

He said Malaysians need to respect and appreciate, and not just tolerate the cultural and religious diversity in the country and around the world.

For instance, he said Chinese Muslims in northern Thailand see themselves as distinct from the Muslims in Bangkok, southern Thailand and mainland China.

“The word tolerance is very dirty. It means you could dislike something or someone but you tolerate it. In your heart, there is still disgruntlement. That’s not the way forward.

“We must not neglect the basic essence of humanity, which is mutual respect. If you don’t respect others, people won’t respect you,” he said.

Wang Kelian case a test of police integrity, says Paul Low

by Gan Pei Ling, 21 Dec 2017 © The Malaysian Insight

POLICE must start an internal investigation into the alleged cover-up of mass killings and human trafficking along the Perlis-Thai border in 2015 to restore public confidence, said Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Paul Low.

Low, who is in charge of governance, integrity and human rights, told The Malaysian Insight the cabinet discussed it in its weekly meeting yesterday and will get to the bottom of it.

“Such incidents shouldn’t have had happened. They undermine public trust and confidence in the police as an institution responsible for the protection of citizens and non-citizens in the country.

“The police themselves must launch their own investigation. Who is involved? Were the officers and syndicates working together? Why are there discrepancies in (the police’s internal reports)?” he said.

Police’s Integrity and Standard Compliance Department (JIPS) must conduct an independent internal probe, but the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission can only step in if there is a complaint, he said.

“This will be a test of the police’s institutional integrity and capability.”

The former president of corruption watchdog Transparency International Malaysia said cabinet discussed the New Straits Times’ expose yesterday and Putrajaya wants action taken against those responsible.

“This is a high-profile case. Many lives were lost, a great deal of cruelty and human rights violations were committed. The DPM (Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi) also said we need to get to the root causes,” said Low.

The discovery of mass graves along the Thai-Malaysia border in 2015 caught international headlines.

Sixty-two people in Thailand, including public officials, were prosecuted while in Malaysia, four foreigners were charged with human trafficking offences.

Human rights group Lawyers for Liberty urged Putrajaya to convene a royal commission of inquiry to probe into the alleged cover-up.

Fight overzealous religious authorities with knowledge, say Muslim intellectuals

by Gan Pei Ling, 17 Dec 2017 © The Malaysian Insight

MODERATE Muslim groups in Malaysia should not get embroiled in unproductive debates over labels with local religious authorities, said a US-based Islamic scholar today.

“My advice to you is not to get locked into a debate as to whether you are a liberal or not, and whether your accusers are extremists or fundamentalists.

“That type of debate is unproductive and gets you nowhere. I would recommend that you try to shift the conversations away from labels and focus on values.

“What values do we as Malaysians hold dear that should be the foundations of the creation of a just society?

“Do we believe that all Malaysians have a right to participate in public decision-making? Do we believe as Malaysians in free press, accountable government and free and fair elections?” Dr Nader Hashemi, the director of Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver, told the forum “Is Liberty an Islamic Value” at Concorde Hotel in Kuala Lumpur this afternoon.

The Canadian-born scholar of Iranian descent was answering a question from a member of G25, a group made up of top former civil servants.

On Tuesday, G25 member Noor Farida Mohd Ariffin had urged moderate Muslim groups that have been demonised by the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (Jakim) as a threat to Islam and the country to sue the federal religious authority for defamation or lodge a police report.

A fellow panelist and prominent Muslim feminist Zainah Anwar from Sisters in Islam (SIS) said such attacks from the religious authorities are inevitable and the only way to counter them is through knowledge.

“These attacks are inevitable… You’re entering a territory that others feel is their territory. What right or authority do you have to speak on Islam? You don’t know Arabic. You haven’t studied 20 years in Egypt or Saudi Arabia.

“In a democratic country where Islam is used as a source of law and public policy, everyone has the right to engage, debate how Islam is used as a source of law (and public policy),” said the feisty former journalist.

She said Putrajaya should take Islam out of law and public policy if it does not want to deal with disagreements on interpretations.

“When you want to use the whole coercive power of a modern state to impose a single understanding of Islam on everybody, and those who disagree will be charged, persecuted, questioned, issued a fatwa against or have their books banned, then everyone has the right to challenge that,” said Zainah.

The forum on whether liberty is an Islamic value was jointly organized by the Islamic Renaissance Front, the University of Nottingham and G25.

Dr Chandra Muzaffar from the International Movement for a Just World (JUST) and Emeritus Prof Clive Kessler from the University of New South Wales were also part of the panel.

Give female refugees work to reduce domestic violence, Tenaganita tells Putrajaya

by Gan Pei Ling, 13 Dec 2017 © The Malaysian Insight

FINANCIALLY independent refugee women are more resilient in the face of domestic violence, says human rights group Tenaganita executive director Glorene A. Das.

“Refugee women who are breadwinners are more respected in their communities,” Glorene told reporters after an event to commemorate the global 16 days of activism against gender-based violence at Tenaganita’s headquarters in Petaling Jaya today.

She said even community leaders in local refugee communities respected women who provide for their families.

Malaysia only allowed Rohingya refugees from Myanmar to seek legal work in Malaysia on March 1.

There are 150,204 refugees and asylum seekers from 59 countries registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Malaysia as of May 31 this year.

Burmese (133,725) make up the bulk of number, followed by refugees and asylum seekers from Pakistan (3,548), Sri Lanka (2,328), Yemen (2,095), Somalia (2,062), Syria (1,980), Iraq (1,461), Afghanistan (1,082), Palestine (698) and Iran (440).

Although Malaysia now allows Rohingya refugee women to work, cultural beliefs remain a formidable barrier towards economic independence and a life free of violence.

A study conducted by Tenaganita and University of Colorado Institute of Behavioural Science between March and May this year found all 30 Rohingya adults from a community in Gombak, Selangor, believed women should obey their husbands and need their permission to work.

More than 90% of the 15 women surveyed said they have been physically or verbally abused by their spouse.

Only 40% of the women believe it is a woman’s fate to be abused but 73% of the men believe so.

Sixty percent of the women and all the men believe there is no point in telling others about such abuses.

The findings are from the first stage of a two-year study funded by the US Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.

The remaining three stages of the study involve designing a communication campaign to empower Rohingya women in Malaysia.

Defying Sarawak’s ‘White Rajah’ has paid off, says activist

by Gan Pei Ling, 3 Dec 2017 © The Malaysian Insight

DESPITE stepping down as Sarawak chief minister almost four years ago, Abdul Taib Mahmud is far from forgotten, at least for one environmental activist, who is determined to ensure the “White Rajah” is held accountable for the alleged embezzlement of billions of ringgit during his reign.

Dr Lukas Straumann, the executive director of Swiss-based environmental watchdog Bruno Manser Fund (BMF), has spent much of the last decade trying to track down and convince Malaysian and international authorities to look into the Taib family’s immense wealth.

In 2012, following years of investigation, BMF published a groundbreaking report estimating that Taib’s family had amassed assets worth US$21 billion (RM86 billion) worldwide.

In that report, Taib’s family was linked to real estate in the US, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia, and hold stakes in more than 400 companies in 25 countries.

The wealth, claims Straumann and many of his colleagues, are proceeds from illegal and unsustainable logging, and he is trying to convince international prosecutors to look into the allegations and return the money to Sarawak.

“Taib was very smart. He didn’t put all his eggs in one basket. He went to different places as a safe haven for his money.

“He bought the Hilton Hotel in Adelaide (Australia) worth US$50 million today. Sakto in Canada, maybe US$200 million.

“The FBI building in Seattle is worth US$50 million today. Luxury properties in London.

“We are trying to get legal assistance in these countries to have these assets frozen,” he said.

Straumann’s soft-spoken nature belies his ferocity in following the trail of Taib’s wealth, leading some people to accuse him of having a personal vendetta against the Yang di-Pertua of Sarawak.

It’s an accusation he takes in his stride, insisting that he is motivated only by the desire to seek justice for the people of Sarawak.

“We have often been accused of being against the government.

“I think it’s important to see that we are against certain policies and corruption, we are not against certain people because they are them,” Straumann told The Malaysian Insight.

The historian and former journalist said as a Swiss-based organisation, BMF could access information and release documents that would be difficult for a Malaysian-based group to do.

“Taib is still around as governor. No one wants to touch him. Many people are scared.

“Some people are also compromised because they helped him. It’s a bit easier for us from the outside. We have more access to information. We are not living within these political systems,” he said.

Taib served as Sarawak chief minister for 33 years. After stepping down in February 2014, he became governor.

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) had investigated Taib in 2011, but the trail has since gone cold.

In response to allegations that his wealth was amassed through the awarding of illegal logging concessions, Taib claimed that his family acquired the wealth through his daughter Jamilah Taib Murray’s business acumen.

In an interview with The Malaysian Insight, Straumann speaks about the BMF’s latest efforts to convince international authorities to investigate the Taib family wealth.

TMI: Can you share what happened after your book was published in 2014?

Straumann: The book (Money Logging: On the Trail of the Asian Timber Mafia) made the connection between unsustainable logging and money being taken out of the country. It’s very telling when you go to the logging concessions in Borneo. You see lorries full of timber going out. If you think of timber in terms of money, a lot of money is being taken out. The question is where is the money?

Our task was to follow the money. So we spent a long time investigating the Taib family. We found real estate they own in Canada, England, Australia, and the US worth several hundreds of millions.

We wrote to governments, and asked them to open criminal investigations or freeze the money and bring it back to Malaysia. Then we found out no foreign government nor public prosecutor in these countries would do anything.

They were either not interested, or they said there was not enough evidence or they didn’t have enough resources.

Like in London, the biggest financial centre in Europe, we filed a police report in 2014 against the company subsidiaries with proven links to Taib’s family. The National Crime Agency said there was nothing it could do at this stage.

Q: Why do you think this is the case?

Straumann: We don’t know why. [But] one of the reasons could be because Malaysia is not cooperating. They cannot get mutual legal assistance from Malaysia.

With these international cases, you need mutual legal assistance from the country of origin.

We know for instance that the Swiss attorney-general requested legal assistance from Malaysia on the 1MDB (1Malaysian Development Bhd) investigation but Malaysia did not provide legal assistance.

Q:Have you tried the MACC?

Straumann: We sent them a letter back in 2011. We sent a letter to the MACC, IGP (Inspector-General of Police) and the attorney-general, sharing information we have collected on the Taib family, and we asked them to arrest the Taib family on criminal conspiracy. They didn’t reply.

Q: Any follow up since 2011 with the Malaysian authorities?

Straumann: We didn’t follow-up in Malaysia because we realised they are not interested. The institutions are not independent in Malaysia to handle politically sensitive cases.

That’s why we decided to go to the countries where the money was transferred. Anti-corruption and asset recovery legislations have advanced a lot in the last 10 to 15 years.

We are (still) trying to get legal assistance in these countries to have (Taib family’s) assets frozen.

We found out later there is an instrument called private prosecution. If the state fails to prosecute a crime, you can come in as a private citizen or institution to assist the public prosecutors.

We have to prove beyond reasonable doubt that money has been laundered in Canada, which has been stolen by corrupt officials. We filed a court case in Canada last July. Litigation is ongoing. BMF and a Sarawakian living in Canada are the plaintiffs.

Q: Have there been moments where you just wanted to give up?

Straumann: Yes of course, when I first heard about the 12 dams being planned. First you came with logging, and then plantations, and now you want to drown everything. That was a bitter moment.

But then we realised the communities could do something about it. It was a big victory for the communities and the environmental movement when they successfully stopped the dam. It pays to be persistent.

Some of the old village headmen, they tell me it’s worth being defiant. Defiance has paid off.