We don’t know 1MDB but cost of living bites us, says housewife

by Gan Pei Ling, 27 Jan 2018 © The Malaysian Insight

RISING goods prices have hit semi-rural households hard, Amanah Bentong chief and former school principal Norhaizan Abu Hassan told the Pakatan Harapan state convention in Pahang today.

“As a housewife, we control and manage all household expenses, we are like the internal minister at home.

“We may not understand the 1MDB scandal fully and its long chronology but increasing petrol price, GST (goods and services tax) have made everything more expensive,” said the 59-year-old mother of five in Kuantan.

The former principal at SMK Tembangau, Triang said homemakers in semi-rural areas in Pahang are struggling to make ends meet as prices of rice, flour, cooking oil, sugar and other basic food items have increased since Barisan Nasional gradually removed their subsidies in 2010.

“Before this, I could buy 10kg of 3A rice for RM18, now it’s RM28.

“If before we can buy 5kg of cooking oil for RM13.50, now it’s RM23,” she said.

Norhaizan added she has received a lot of complaints from housewives in areas like Chemomoi, a Felda estate about an hour from Bentong town.

“Many of them are upset. They tell me they don’t know whether they should continue to support BN.

“A lot of housewives who sell nasi lemak or goreng pisang to supplement their household income are complaining they are not making money anymore.

“What they earn is just enough for them to cover their living costs, they cannot save for the future and their children,” Norhaizan told The Malaysian Insight on the sidelines of the convention.

She hopes Pakatan Harapan can return the subsidies on basic food items to relieve the people’s financial burden, especially for poor families.

“Please make sure basic food items are sold at stable and reasonable prices.”

Norhaizan spoke during a morning session allocated for representatives from various segments of society in Pahang to air their views and grouses at the PH state convention.

Other representatives include from the Orang Asli, varsity students, environmental NGOs and Felda.

Orang Asli still marginalised after six decades of BN rule in Pahang

by Gan Pei Ling, 27 Jan 2018 © The Malaysian Insight

ORANG Asli still lack recognition for their customary land rights and access to basic infrastructure such as electricity, roads and water till today, representatives said at the Pakatan Harapan convention in Pahang today.

“We know the Malaysian government can rob our land in future. We are afraid our children may not have homes to take shelter in and lands to feed themselves,” said Singgol Oleh, 43, from Kampung Tual, Pos Sinderut, Kuala Lipis.

“We are afraid future generations of Semai people will be forgotten because of the lost of our ancestral land. This has to change.”

He told the 200-odd audience that their ancestral lands around Cameron Highlands have been gazetted as permanent forest reserve.

“This means that the land belongs to the Malaysian government. It also means we have lost our customary land, and our identity as natives is threatened,” he said.

Pos Sinderut is home to some 14 Orang Asli villages with about 1,200 people.

Singgol said he hopes a new government will return the Orang Asli their customary land.

Zainal Kaptar, 36, from another village in Pos Sinderut, said the lack of electricity supply in makes it difficult for their children to study at night.

“We often hear that Malaysia is becoming an advanced country, with skyscrapers, luxury hotels, highways… do you know that a lot of us still live without electricity?” said Zainal.

He added that when it rains, some villages are totally cut off from the outside world as the roads are destroyed by landslides.

“There is a stark difference between the infrastructure given to the Orang Asli compared to other races. Why does this difference exist? Aren’t we Malaysians too?” said Zainal.

Norhadi Nordin, 25, also from Pos Sinderut said many Orang Asli children want to further their studies but lack the opportunity.

“There is only one primary school in Pos Sinderut. Some pupils still don’t know how to read, write or calculate properly after six years of education.

“Whose fault is it? Whose responsibility is it to teach the children in schools? Our village chiefs have spoken to the school a few times but our appeals fell on deaf ears,” he told The Malaysian Insight at the side of the convention.

Norhadi added that it is still difficult for Orang Asli youth to get a place in vocational colleges.

“We hope the future Malaysian government can take education for Orang Asli seriously,” he said.

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.