31 December 2018

A wish for less politicking
by marina mahathir
Sunday, 30 Dec 2018

I DOUBT if anyone has noticed but I’ve been away quite a bit in the last three months. “Away”, though, is a theoretical word in this age of social media. I may be physically absent, but it means very little when every morning, before I even have my first coffee, I get a barrage of messages telling me what is happening at home (various interpretations) and asking what I think of it all.

It’s partly because when I wake up, everyone else has been busy agitating and cogitating (in that order) for at least half a day already and therefore I have at least 15 issues and 30 different viewpoints on the same to consider.

I wonder if the PM feels like I do when this happens: Why not just go back to bed?

You’d think that social media was invented just for Malaysians, given the way we have taken to it. Judicious use of it, however, is not in our vocabulary.

Obviously, intelligence has its limits; or rather, social media does a good job of bamboozling people into believing their eyes and not their brains – if it’s on YouTube, it must be true.

So my pre-2019 policy is this: If I don’t comment on it, it means I don’t think much of it. Or at most, since I don’t want my friends particularly to make fools of themselves, I will post something that debunks whatever fantastic thing they just sent me. Hopefully it stops them from further spreading foolishness.

Which brings me to the cacophony that Malaysia’s democracy has become. People now seem to think that democracy means that you can say what you want, the louder the better.

Taking a digital leaf from the Internet, people now know how to use keywords so that what they say comes up first on Google and they can get their foot in first, so to speak. Often, it’s also their feet in their mouths.

Let me state here that I totally and completely believe in the freedom of expression and speech. Which means that everyone has a right to express their opinion on anything they want, as long as they are not inciting hate towards anyone. (More on this later.)

But it would be really nice if people used their freedom to express intelligent speech rather than the drivel that we are subjected to every day – everything from wild claims about why people are having lunch with certain people, to pronouncements about how allowing children to get married is a good thing and therefore allowing them to have legitimate sex, while at the same time declaring that sex education is bad because it causes people to run out and nuzzle each other or worse.

Mind you, the fact that this doesn’t gel with the number of people actually caught doing more than nuzzling and then being arrested for underage canoodling does not seem to matter to these people.

Even worse are those who fail to exhibit the slightest ounce of empathy with or sympathy for others who have had to suffer natural disasters that, unfortunately, their natural geographical locations make them vulnerable to.

When terrible tsunamis have killed or made homeless thousands in nearby Indonesia – that land that lies on the Ring of Fire with so many active volcanoes – people with not a shred of compassion in their hearts fill the need to declare these disasters the result of immoral activities and therefore a warning to the rest of us to be good and simply pray for our own salvation.

When disasters, debatably natural, occur in their own backyards, those are then pronounced NOT a result of moral decline. Only other people are morally wanting and therefore have God’s wrath visited upon them, WE are constantly pure and blessed. Despite high rates of poverty, unemployment, drug use, HIV, and children given away in marriage. If one were so blessed, you would think that would be a blissful place to live in, where no one needs to travel far to find jobs.

Then there are those who, sitting in their cosy homes, sipping their cups of tea, tap out hate on their news feeds, as if this is their mission in life to gain enough points on their Touch ’n Go cards to heaven’s gates. So what if some people, after reading their exhortations, think it amusing to go out and beat someone to death because they are different and therefore not quite human?

There’s a Malay saying about throwing a stone and then hiding your hand behind your back. That’s what these calls of hate on social media are. They can say that they are only expressing their opinion and are not actually responsible for the actual beating. Donald Trump uses that excuse too every time one of his white supremacist supporters beats or kills a black person.

If we insist on the rule of law, then nobody can beat anyone else without suffering the full brunt of the law. Otherwise, why have laws against such violence at all?

But more than that, we need very clear communication from the government that such violence is unacceptable, regardless of whether you approve or disapprove of someone’s lifestyle, looks, sexuality or national origin. At the very least, Article 8 should be taught in schools: everyone, no exceptions, is equal under the law.

Perhaps the one thing we should wish for in 2019 is not just a freer media but one that is held to higher standards. This is where citizen journalism, where people report what they saw and heard, is important to complement what we read in the media, especially the mainstream media.

News needs to be filtered for political bias, and sometimes even our own biases. When sound bites are picked out over substance, we need to switch our sceptical buttons on.

Finally, in 2019, I think what I, and hopefully most citizens, wish for is an end to politicking. There are people who cannot seem to help airing all their domestic troubles in public until we are all bored or, worse, nauseated by it all.

Can’t they just get on with work, please? Aren’t there other issues to deal with that affect a great many people than whether you’ve got a position or not? Doesn’t everyone have a role in making Malaysia Baru the dream nation that we voted for?

I’d really like to see the Cabinet speak as one, or at least coordinate their communications. Nothing is more confusing and annoying than to hear different ministers saying different things. Some of them really need a good communications person to advise them on optics if nothing else.

Having said that, while we have an imperfect government that’s still finding its way in this new environment, I would still say this: I prefer this current situation than anything this time last year when we were collectively depressed and feeling hopeless.

As flawed as our leaders may be right now, I have no wish to go back to the days of repression, unbridled greed and corruption of the previous regime.

We used our power to change, it’s now our duty to keep our new leaders on the straight and narrow. Not by constantly sniping but with substantive and constructive criticism.

And with that, have a Happy New Year everyone!

06 December 2018

On our own merit
By Marina Mahathir
Sunday, 2 Dec 2018

WHEN I was admitted to a local boarding school as a teenager many aeons ago, I had the misfortune of arriving at school late by two weeks.

The misfortune was mine in several ways. One was that the reason for my delayed entry was an operation I needed to remove an ovarian cyst.

The second I only realised when I finally arrived at school: everyone knew who I was and why I was late.

Perhaps there was a reason why I was singled out for mention at assemblies.

At the time, in the early seventies, my father had gained some public notoriety as the man who defied his leader.

In those days, while this called for disciplinary action, it did not lead to the sort of punitive action and ostracisation that we saw in recent years towards those not toeing the line. Whatever it was, by the time I got to school, I was already known as the daughter of the Defying Man.

Some may see that as a celebratory reception and to be fair, there were a lot of my new friends who were extremely kind to me.

But there were a few who perceived my being there as some sort of affront.

To get into that elite boarding school, you had to excel in your exams and get a certain minimum grade. I qualified well enough.

But there were some who suspected that I was there only because I was the daughter of a famous man, that I could not possibly be smart enough to gain entry were it not for my family connection.

For the two years I was there, I was often reminded that I was not good enough to call myself a pupil of that school.

Students were admitted entirely on merit and therefore they came from many different backgrounds, from the daughters of farmers to the daughters of royalty.

Performance in class was all that mattered; it was totally a meritocracy.

But for some reason there were those who didn’t believe I deserved to be there.

Just before our major exams, the one that would determine our future, one even said to me that she was “worried” for me, afraid that I would not have what it takes to get through them.

I was recalling those times recently, when it was so frustrating to have people think I had an easy pass because of familial connections when I knew that I was no less deserving academically than anyone else.

And I wondered if, in the competitive world out there, anyone else felt equally patronised because some people thought they didn’t really measure up to the requirements of their field.

I am wondering about all those smart Malay kids out there who have had to put up with being thought stupid because their race gave them special privileges.

Undoubtedly there are many who need a leg up in order to give them opportunities and place them on an equal footing as anyone else.

But with so much abuse over the years, where the undeserving have gotten into universities and jobs just because of their genetic make-up and who they knew, where does that leave all those who are actually smart and work hard to get where they are?

I have met so many young Malays who are very good at their studies or their jobs.

More importantly, they are thinking individuals who have very progressive views of the world. But I wonder if the abuses of affirmative action have had a negative impact on them too, especially when they live and work in Malaysia.

Did they have to face the same sort of condescension that I had to face when people thought I didn’t deserve to be in that elite school?

This is the problem when we have policies that are based entirely on race, and where we allow their easy abuse by loosening the rules and regulations.

I have no problem with affirmative action at all because I do think that there are groups of people who need it in order to be able to compete on a level playing field.

But the operative word here is “compete”, not given a gilded shoehorn into education or jobs based entirely on what your DNA is.

We all cry foul when due to the actions of a few, all Muslims are regarded as potential terrorists. But a similar stereotyping occurs when affirmative action policies are abused and the undeserving are given entitlements they should not get: all Malays are deemed also undeserving.

Nobody is seen as actually smart enough to enter university or get the top job, it’s only because they are Malay and/or knew somebody.

Women in particular should recognise this phenomenon. We are rarely thought smart or deserving enough to get the jobs and positions we apply for. Indeed, we are often discouraged from even thinking of applying.

Yet when there are attempts at affirmative action for women in the form of quotas, there are cries of “we only select based on meritocracy, not gender”, sometimes from women themselves.

Many older successful women are afraid that if we have quotas for them, they will have to continually live in a hostile environment where scorn is constantly heaped on their abilities.

But the truth is that proponents of quotas, like me, are not saying that we should choose just any woman to sit on boards, the Cabinet or other positions.

We are saying open the spaces for deserving women, based on their merits, because there are plenty of them out there, if only you would care to look.

By the same token then, Malays who have any pride in their own intellectual capacities and abilities should be just as resentful as those women who dislike quotas.

They should want to be judged on how well they do their jobs, not how well they represent affirmative action.

In our last government, Malays more than fulfilled their quota in politics. But they then did an abysmal job of helping their own people, apart from the ones who polished their behinds every day.

It is supremely ironic that those very same people are now demanding that the quotas they abused should be upheld forever.

It’s time really for the many intelligent progressive Malays to start claiming their right to be judged on their own abilities, to be considered well deserving of whatever achievements they have gained in life by their own efforts.

It’s high time that they pushed back at the inevitable patronising and – let’s call it what it is – racism that arises from a reaction to policies that hand over on a platter all sorts of benefits simply because they happened to be born to Malay parents.

We talk about maruah or dignity of our people all the time. But after the colossal thievery that our own people have inflicted on us, dignity can only be regained through hard work and the determination to do better, to show that we can stand with anyone in the world on our own merits.

That’s the only way for us to gain respect from everyone else.

And indeed, the only way we can respect ourselves.

31 October 2018

It’s easy to do the right thing
By Marina Mahathir
Wed, 28 Oct 2018

THIS is the era of the new. As much as some people hate the idea of anything new, this was what the rakyat voted for last May. Even if it means we have a PM and some Cabinet ministers that aren’t so new.

So let’s see what makes for a new Malaysia.

Firstly, the use of power to do the right thing. Lowering the voting age to 18 counts as one. I don’t know how many times foreigners have been shocked when I tell them that our young people can only vote at 21. We’re one of the last few holdouts in the world; everyone else has recognised that young people must have a say in who decides on their lives. It’s true though that they are more likely to vote against you because you’re the establishment but that can only be mitigated by having policies that benefit them. Again not hard to do.

Second, raising the marriage age for everyone, regardless of religion, to 18. How difficult was that to do? All that shuffling and mumbling and wishy-washiness for no good reason. Eighteen is the minimum age that anyone should be entrusted with making such a life-changing event as marriage. Even then let’s hope that not many opt for it. After all there’s still school and a future career ahead, none of which are helped by the responsibilities of marriage. If we truly care about our children, let us please be strict about this and not allow anyone to slip under the fence, no matter what the reason.

The third indicator of the new Malaysia is the signing and ratifying of all remaining United Nations conventions and the abolishment of the death penalty. This is quite a remarkable change from the old Malaysia. The death penalty is not only cruel and prone to irreversible mistakes, it is also ineffective. Despite the mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking, our country is still awash with drugs and is still a major transit point for traffickers. The money is too big to not take the risk. Besides what is a few hundred dollars here and there to get past official barriers when you can make millions when your drugs reach their markets?

Getting rid of the death penalty is the right thing to do. So many convicted prisoners have been on death row waiting endlessly for their last day. It is hugely cruel. It is also hypocritical. We cannot oppose the killings of people overseas while still killing people at home.

This means that it is only right that we should refuse to hand over refugees who are facing persecution at home, unlike in the old days when we actually put them on planes back to their countries where they faced jail time and possibly even death.

However, it is archaic thinking to have not wanted to say anything about the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi because we want to remain friendly with his government. In the old days, there were also dead people in our own country who were explained away with spurious excuses. Why then do we accept explanations that seem to change every day for this gruesome killing? Are we emulating Donald Trump who is willing to accept any excuse as long as it doesn’t affect arms sales? Let us not forget that those arms are for the ongoing and fruitless war in Yemen which is causing a humanitarian crisis of huge proportions.

It is new thinking to be bold enough to make a stand on this heinous murder and I’m glad we finally did. Thus far, only our neighbouring country and us are calling for justice for Khashoggi. Nobody has the divine right to kill anyone, regardless of who they are.

In the old Malaysia, most positions of power were held by men. Women were excluded from even the most benign of bodies, forum panels were filled with men expounding about everything that affects all of our society, ignoring women’s contributions. When the token women were allowed to speak, they toed the line, deferring always to the men.

The new Malaysia promised a bigger role for women. Some of it has come through, with a DPM and four other female ministers, more than we’ve ever had but short of the promised 30%. We also have a female Governor of Bank Negara and several female heads of GLCs. Two women judges were just elevated to the Federal Court.

But on important panels such as the recent Consultative Council on Foreign Policy, out of 15 members, there are only two women. What, women have nothing to say about foreign policy? Or on the economy or education? It is a fallacy to think that women are only interested in “women’s issues”. Every issue is a woman’s issue, including the heavy-hitting “real” issues.

For example, the issue of women in the labour force should be one for everyone’s concern. Only 54% of women of working age are employed and even then in low-paying and insecure jobs. Women are still paid less than men for equivalent work. Despite there being more female graduates than men, female degree holders are paid 23.3% less than men. Yet the Khazanah Research Institute, in its State of Households 2018 report, hypothesised that if we only raised the number of working women by 30%, we would actually raise Malaysia’s GDP by 7% to 12%. Those are not small numbers and would make a huge difference not just to women but their families and communities, too. Everybody wins if women are employed in decently-paying jobs. But if we discriminate against women, both subtlely or overtly, then everybody loses. Is this something that men are aware of?

Sadly, not everyone has bought into the idea of diversity and inclusion when everywhere else, these two factors are recognised as being crucial to development. When societies recognise that not everyone is the same and that one-size-fits-all policies will actually harm some people, then we will make some progress. Imagine if we never recognised that some people cannot see or cannot walk, how would we have braille numbers in lifts or ramps for wheelchairs? But those are not the only diversities we have to think of. Besides abilities, there’s gender, age, income levels. How would we make parks better, for example, if we didn’t have input from all the different types of people who would use them?

Finally, there is one type of old thinking that we really need to put to rest and that is the sense of entitlement that some people get when they are given a position. We rail at the previous abuses but we then act in a way that’s oblivious to how the public might perceive it. This in a new era where the public is watching everything. Rules for transparency and accountability have been set and we need to stick to them for credibility’s sake.

We have a choice now, to go the same old way or try new things. The old way led us to the brink of disaster so we have to think differently and set some standards for ourselves. The values which underscore everything we do remain the same – don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t steal. Along the way we lost sight of these so we have to recover and regain them. Returning to these old values will be the new way of doing things..

30 September 2018

Shaming the shamers
by Marina Mahathir
Sunday, 30 Sep 2018

WHEN I was a mere schoolgirl, there was a chant that everyone dreaded. If your skirt managed to get hiked up and your panties showed, or if you had a runny nose and no tissues to wipe it with, you ran the risk of the unsympathetic teasing of your classmates.

“Shame, shame, shame,” they would go and you had no choice but to hang your head and bear it. “Shame” in those instances did not mean “what a pity”, which would have had the gist of empathy in it, but in that cruel children’s way of making you feel embarrassed.

In this way, we learnt to guard our dignity in order to never be subjected to such bullying. Being ashamed may have been tightly defined in those days, but it dictated your behaviour nevertheless.

I was reminded of this while pondering the meaning of shame these days. In many ways our society today has not outgrown the schoolyard habit of shaming people. The victims are easy to pick out: just anyone who is different from what is considered the “norm” is fair game.

Worse still, if you’re an outspoken woman or have achieved something that makes you stand out from the crowd, then the crowd – more accurately called the mob – will find something to shame you about.

Hence you’re shamed for not covering your head, for showing more of your body than someone’s arbitrary prescriptions, for being too clever, for not speaking the language well enough (as if speaking in SMS short form is considered superior), for talking about things beyond the defined scope of female interests (mostly fashion and cooking). You’re made to feel embarrassed and ashamed for all these things despite none of it being harmful to anyone else.

It’s amazing to me that while the mob practically screams for blood when anyone seems to defy their norms, few truly feel any shame over the real issues that should embarrass our society.

For example, while decent people are outraged at the very idea of child marriage and want the minimum marriageable to be raised strictly to 18, there are actually people who say that it should be lowered from the already young 16 to 14. You have to wonder what sort of mind and heart the person who suggested this has, to allow such young girls to be married off, despite evidence that this would be bad for them physically, emotionally and educationally.

Worse still, this came from a religious leader who must surely know that we are enjoined always to avoid evil. Perhaps the stunting of a girl’s educational growth is not considered evil to some. But what early sexual activity, even within marriage, pregnancy and childbirth can do to a young girl’s physical and mental states, must surely rank as one of the worst things you can do to a child, at least in this supposedly enlightened age.

Some people may say that easing the burden of poverty of families by marrying off daughters is also necessary. But why is it that it is daughters who are always given away and not sons? Don’t sons eat more?

Poverty is certainly a great motivator for parents to give away their children. But have we noticed that it is often two-parent poor families who do this? There are many single mothers who would never dream of letting go of their children, particularly their daughters, no matter how dire their circumstances, perhaps because they have experienced what marriage can do to young girls.

Yet we punish single mothers desperate to feed their children. Can we speculate that it is almost always poor fathers who make the decision to give away their daughters?

Child marriage is almost always found in very poor communities. This means that if we tackle poverty, we will go a long way towards eradicating child marriage as well. If there are persistent cases of child marriage in one community, region or state, a simple study would uncover the level of poverty in that area.

Which brings us back to the idea of shame. Why is it that some people are not ashamed of how impoverished their people are that they are driven to give away their children in marriage? How come, instead of feeling ashamed that they have failed to ensure the wellbeing of their people, they are hiding behind the cloak of religiosity and “morality”? Is it not immoral to keep your people so poor that they have to do this? I’m looking at you, Kelantan.

Religion should never be the cover for bad behaviour. Just recently we read about a tahfiz principal charged for allegedly sodomising nine of his students.

I recall that a prominent person has gone to jail twice for allegedly sodomising someone. Yet here is a so-called religious person with lots of young students in his charge, totally abusing his authority in the worst way.

Isn’t it funny how the word “paedophile” never surfaces in any story involving supposedly religious persons? I recall some people once getting hysterical about not allowing transgender people to work in kindergartens, even though there are no reported cases of any being employed in that field.

Yet a guy wears a beard and a white cap and we willingly hand over our young children to him without doing any due diligence about his credentials or even the safety of these schools. Somehow, we have no qualms about sacrificing our children in this way.

These are just some examples of the shamelessness with which our society acts these days. There are many more. We’re not ashamed when our universities produce automatons or “professors” who produce anti-hysteria kits or some such mumbo-jumbo. We think that whipping people in public elevates us in the eyes of the world. We consistently display our ignorance by speculating on what LGBT people want instead of asking them what they need. We are so blind to anyone who is different that we think our standard operating procedures can apply to everyone when it is patently clear that they cannot possibly cater to the diversity inherent in any population including ours.

Yet we also have so much to be proud of. If you’re unclear about what those might be, imagine yourself on a foreign TV show having to describe what’s good about Malaysia. Do we talk about how our young girls get married off, or whipping women in public, or how so many of our children are dying in the fire traps known as tahfiz schools?

Even the most wrongheaded of our people would never dare to mention these as a source of pride, which would indicate that they know only too well that these are actually embarrassments.

Many years ago, I recall a visiting religious leader from a country where he is a minority saying that he was happy to be in Malaysia because here, he could say many things that he could not say in his home country. None of the things he wanted to be “free” to say were nice things. They all involved his opinions about women, sexual minorities and all manner of marginalised people who are vulnerable to HIV. He thought Malaysians would agree with him.

Maybe some people would, but I felt ashamed that he viewed Malaysia as the place where he could dump his venom. Instead of being a place that is inclusive, kind and compassionate about different people, he thought this was the place where he could express his hate for certain groups of people and get away with it.

He’s not the only one either. There are others who are given permanent residence and safe harbour for his brand of vileness. As a Minister in the new Malaysia Cabinet remarked, upholding one’s religion should not depend on putting down others’.

We need to renew our concept of shame into one that is not used as a tool for bullying others, but one that is felt collectively when we fail any of our citizens and others within our borders, whether they be poor, minority or differently abled.

We need to feel pride when we succeed in elevating people from the depths of misery by giving them opportunities and choices. We need to make it our mission to reduce the numbers of those left behind and proudly show our successes. We need to stop making excuses for our failures, especially not by dragging religion into it.

Malaysians worked hard to be able to hold our heads up high again, to be applauded wherever we go. But eradicating shame is still an unfinished business.

28 August 2018

Let’s stop the ‘hatewave’
by Marina Mahathir

Sunday, 26 Aug 2018

AROUND the world, climate change is causing heatwaves where people are unused to very warm weather. Back home, due to another type of climate change, we are experiencing a different kind of wave, which I call a hatewave.

There are people who are still unable to accept that the cliched “new dawn” has arrived in our beloved country. A new environment where inclusivity, indeed democracy itself, is the byword for all things from now on. People want to be listened to, want things to be done transparently, want wrongdoings to be punished and justice for everyone. They want the rule of law, which applies to everyone and not where some people are above and beyond the law. Most of all they want to be left in peace and to live in an atmosphere of goodwill and neighbourliness with everyone else.

But some people still have not gotten it into their heads that the reason they lost power was because they totally misread what people wanted. It could even be said that they were so cocooned that they didn’t really know what people wanted or simply refused to believe it.

And so despite it being a failed formula, they are still using the same one to try and gain popularity or if not, to make the current lot in power look bad.

I don’t want to repeat some of the shocking things being said about a community that is comprised of fellow human beings, citizens and let’s not forget, voters. But it takes zero amount of courage to pick on people who cannot really respond without endangering themselves, their friends or families. There are no bravery medals to be handed out for calling for the killing of fellow citizens using pseudonyms on social media. There is no honour in the name-calling of people, especially when hiding behind the cloak of religion.

To say that these are just words and cannot do any harm in real life is a mistake. Recently, a human being who happens to be transgender was set upon by eight (presumably non-transgender) men and beaten up so badly that she wound up in hospital. The photographs of her wounds should horrify any decent person. Apparently those men set upon her for the simple reason that they didn’t like transgender people. Now why would they suddenly get that idea?

The police are investigating the case and hopefully this time they will actually catch and charge the perpetrators. We are supposed to have the rule of law in this country and the law does not allow anyone to beat anybody up, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation. We should all be horrified when people openly defy the law. Once we allow this, where will it all end? In anarchy, where anyone can take the law into their own hands?

I really hope that the police do their duty without fear or favour. That’s what professionals do, regardless of what profession they might be in. (In the latest development, five people have been charged for the crime)

Imagine going for treatment by a doctor and the doctor openly states they don’t like your race/religion/gender/sexual orientation. Would you ever go to that doctor again?

People who spew hate often don’t realise that they can be victims themselves from the same sort of bile. Hate is always directed at the Other, the person whom you perceive as different, and often inferior. In one set of circumstances, you may be the dominant person. But change the circumstances and you become someone else’s Other.

Muslims in particular should be very aware of this. Immediately after Donald Trump was elected, there was a rise in the number of hate crimes towards people perceived as “the Other” – African-Americans, Muslims, Latinos, Jews, anyone who is not white. An analysis of FBI statistics showed that “hate crimes more than doubled the day after the 2016 election, with a 92% spike in average daily hate crimes in the two weeks following the election compared to the daily average from the beginning of the year. Crimes against Latinos increased by the greatest percentage, followed by Muslims and Arabs and African-Americans.”

This spike was because, through his words and actions, Trump seemingly gave permission to white supremacists to be bigots.

For the first time in several decades, people were proud to display their Ku Klux Klan affiliations openly such as in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the President refused to unequivocally condemn them.

As we saw with our own local supremacists in the past few years, if our leaders don’t condemn them unequivocally, they will only become emboldened.

The same thing occurred after the Brexit referendum in the UK.

The Leave campaign promoted the notion that by remaining in the European Union, they would be swamped by refugees, most of whom would be Muslim. The Independent reported that “police figures obtained through Freedom of Information (FOI) requests showed incidents surged by 23% – from 40,741 to 49,921 – in the 11 months after the EU referendum, compared with the same period the previous year, marking an unparalleled rise.”

Is it therefore any surprise that given the hate campaigns against sexual minorities, there has been even more violence against them, especially the more visible transgender population?

The thing for everyone to remember is this: hate comes from fear. And fear comes from ignorance. I have seen so many comments on social media that are fuelled only by hysteria and over-active imaginations. None of them are grounded in reality.

It makes me wonder about the mental health of these commenters, given the amount of time and energy they spend to whirl themselves into hurricanes of hate. Any professional psychologist would recommend meditation to calm them down, preferably five times a day.

The point is, if you can’t even walk outside without the fear of being beaten up just because of how you look, then we don’t have a civilised country. What more an Islamic country, which is supposed to be a peaceful and stable place, a haven for all of God’s creations. What sort of representation of faith is it that is expressed in anger, in slander, in insults and even lies?

There are many people who find it hard to refrain from judging others. That’s probably human. But there are consequences to voicing out those judgements.

Hopefully, you’re not the sort of person who can sleep well knowing what you’ve just said has, at minimum, caused hurt or in the worst of cases, caused that person to be killed. Consideration for the wellbeing of others is a central tenet of most religions, is it not?

Nobody is forced to accept people who they do not approve of.

But non-acceptance surely does not mean condoning violence against them. Non-acceptance surely does not mean letting criminals go scot-free. Non-acceptance cannot possibly mean denying anyone the right to live.

People who think of themselves as good people of faith cannot at the same time avert their eyes from violence against fellow human beings, especially in their own backyard.

There has been equally as much slander about those who defend the weak and marginalised. Apparently being kind and compassionate is also unacceptable. That is the kind of thinking that allowed us to be oppressed for 60 years. If we are to truly celebrate our second Merdeka this coming week, we have to free ourselves from the shackles of the old thinking – especially that we need to be cruel to others in order to be true followers of our faith.

There is a lovely authentic hadith (sayings of the Prophet Mohamad, peace be upon him), recorded by Muslim, which goes, “You will not enter Paradise until you believe. You will not believe until you love each other.” As far as I can tell, there are no conditions attached to this, that you should only love certain people.

Many people want to emulate the Prophet. The Quran describes him thus: “O Messenger of Allah! It is a great Mercy of God that you are gentle and kind towards them; for, had you been harsh and hard-hearted, they would all have broken away from you” (Quran 3:159). Yet, how many refrain from being harsh and hardhearted?

Last May we gave ourselves a new freedom, based on the rule of law, on equality of all Malaysians and on justice. Let’s not be selective about who that applies to.

Happy Merdeka! And Happy Malaysia Day in advance!