29 June 2013

How can we call ourselves moderate when after 56 years of never whipping women we now want to engage in public spectacles of such a barbaric nature?

SOME time last week, one of our state religious departments proudly announced that it had subjected 24 women and 17 men to a whipping for the “crime” of incest and sex outside of marriage. They even recommended that the next round should be done in public because the sight of the agonised faces of the victims is apparently sure to induce fear in anyone watching, thereby lessening these crimes.
Actually, if anyone has ever watched public spectacles such as canings and any sort of public humiliation of individuals, the last thing that happens is that the audience feels empathy for the victims. Instead they tend to take the side of the punisher and encourage them even more, partly in the belief that this makes them seem more righteous. Few ever put themselves in the shoes of the humiliated, believing that it will never happen to them.
So the logic that such a punishment will act as a deterrent is faulty, just as the death penalty has never deterred anyone from trafficking drugs in our country. Those who say that without these laws, things would have been worse have never been able to provide the evidence for it.
It’s interesting that our morbid interest in public punishments only extends to women and only for sexual crimes. Why not for murder or drug trafficking, where the perpetrators are more likely to be men? Would that not deter men from such crimes?
More faulty is the logic behind punishing women for incest. As in statutory rape, incest is equally a problem of power dynamics, where one party, usually the woman, is unable to refuse sexual overtures from someone who has more power than her. In this case, the person is her father, uncle or brother.
Often the abuse has been happening for years effecting all sorts of trauma for the victims. Why compound it by punishing her, and then multiplying it by wanting to do it in public? Why do we shake our heads in disgust at Western men who lock up their daughters in basements in order to rape them and yet feel nothing when the same happens to our girls?
In this case, the “partners” in these crimes were also whipped. However, there were considerably less men punished than there were women, and the media chose to highlight only the women. Perhaps this is because they were keenly aware that our Federal Constitution forbids the whipping of women and therefore, despite the entreaties of our authorities, immediately sensationalised the case.
What sort of a country do we live in when, after 56 years of never whipping women, we now do so? How is this progress? How do we call ourselves moderate when we want to engage in public spectacles of such a barbaric nature?
If my 13-year-old daughter reads that women are being caned for incest, what do I tell her? Don’t commit incest so you won’t be whipped? Does that make sense when it is unlikely to be her fault?
Our society has such an aversion to serious self-reflection that we fall back on the most medieval approaches to any issue even though none have been proven to work. Instead of the hard work that it takes to truly do prevention, instead of the care that should go into the protection of women and children from abuse, we choose the easy and lazy route. It must surely be the victims’ fault and we must therefore punish them.
Then we wonder why, when we allow the true perpetrators of such crimes to get away, the issue keeps recurring. Does it occur to no one that if we have harsh, and unjust, punishments for victims, it will send the message that they can never hope to get justice for the suffering they have undergone? What would be the incentive then to report the abuse that is happening to them?
Unless of course our leaders do not think this abuse is serious or warrants much concern. How else do you explain the silence with which our political leaders have greeted this barbaric act by the state religious department? Apart from women’s groups, no women politicians have said anything about this. Are the women who were whipped and their families not voters? Does winning allow impunity?
This shameful whipping episode illuminates the illness that besets our society today, where the fear of what others think overrides the fear of being unjust to another. Indeed, the injustice being perpetrated is not just against 24 women but all Malaysian women who now feel that the state is the last place to go to for help.

15 June 2013

Politics is not going to solve all our problems. Our dirty toilet habits are our own and we only have ourselves to blame, not others, nor the Government.

ONLY in Malaysia can I talk about toilets and still get a political response.
I was visiting Japan and commented about the super high-tech toilets there that do everything except make coffee (although that may well be coming soon) and some people still responded by blaming the Government for our dirty public toilets.
It’s enough to make any person get off social media before we lose our sanity permanently but this obsession with everything political is surely unhealthy and often misplaced.
Our dirty toilet habits are our own and we only have ourselves to blame, not others, nor the Government. Even if the Opposition became the government, we are not going to turn overnight into conscientious public toilet users.
That is, pun intended, a pipe dream.
Any visitor to Japan will not help noticing the extreme civic consciousness that the Japanese have.
On every train, there are signs and announcements reminding you to not talk on your mobile phones because it is likely to annoy others.
There are reminders that smoking can be irritating to non-smokers, even in special smoking rooms.
There is no litter to be seen anywhere and public toilets have special sound effects to mask your personal sounds, should you have any.
The service in restaurants and stores is beyond exemplary.
I left something in a restaurant restroom and only realised this an hour later.
A quick call to the restaurant elicited a promise to look for it once they get a chance (it’s a very popular restaurant).
An hour later, I got a call back to say that they found it.
On another occasion, the hotel concierge walked us to a nearby restaurant so we would not get lost.
Any question we asked was responded to with excruciating detail so we could not possibly misunderstand instructions or directions.
Sales assistants walked us out their front doors and bowed us farewell, even if we bought very little compared to others.
All pavements have yellow pathways for the convenience of the sight-disabled.
It is enough to make any visitor to Japan want to return often.
It is safe, clean and hassle-free.
Trains and buses arrive and depart at exactly when they say they will.
The only problem with Japan is the language.
If you don’t speak Japanese, you miss a lot of fine details.
Still, there is more English spoken and written today compared to when I lived there 27 years ago.
Furthermore, all you have to do is to look lost and someone is bound to offer help in perfect English.
The other problem is cost.
No matter how you look at it, and no matter what economic crisis Japan goes through, it is an expensive country to visit.
It is possible to eat and move about cheaply but by Japanese standards, not ours.
Still, for the many advantages of visiting the country, it’s probably worth it.
Which brings me back to our own. What would it take to become a country like Japan?
If it’s a lack of corrupt leaders, Japan has its fair share.
If it’s a political system that keeps one party in power, except for a brief stint out of power recently, they have the LDP back.
They are governed by a bunch of men in dark suits, and diversity among them is a distant dream.
Japan is one of the most conformist societies in the world; everyone wears a uniform of some kind.
Perhaps it is the simple Japanese need to get along when so many people are squeezed into a small space, and constantly face threats both natural and unnatural.
If you have to share that space with 127 million others every day, then perhaps it makes you work harder at getting along with one another.
What more, when at any time, an earthquake, volcano or tsunami may suddenly strike and everything you have is gone.
Being all in the same predicament, I suppose, makes you more considerate of each other.
Our problem, on the other hand, is perhaps that we are geographically lucky, having a relatively small population with still a lot of space around us.
Having suffered no major disasters, we live our lives just for ourselves, caring little about how others feel.
We dirty public spaces, drive dangerously, provide sullen service and treat our inferiors, especially if they are from poorer foreign countries, like slaves.
When we say we want change, it has to be about more than politics. Politics is not going to solve all our problems.
Corruption or election cheating has nothing to do with dirty toilets or road bullying, for example.
Maybe we should just own up to responsibility for our own behaviour before we can really change.
And we can start by simply being mindful of others.