17 December 2015

Many think it means the right to absolute freedom rather than basic rights such as the right to life, to dignity, to a nationality, to education and to work.

OCCASIONALLY you get a request from someone from a country so new to you that you can’t resist agreeing to a meeting. That was how I sat down today with a young PhD candidate from Estonia to chat about our two countries.

Admittedly I had to begin by asking him where Estonia was. It is a tiny country neighbouring Finland and Latvia in eastern Europe with only about 1.3 million people, less than the population of KL.

We are both interested in the issue of human rights in our countries and noted many similarities, particularly in misunderstandings of what human rights means.

In Estonia, much as in Malaysia, people think that human rights means the right to absolute freedom rather than the very basic rights that all human beings should enjoy, such as the right to life, to dignity, to a nationality, to education and to work, among others.

Those who argue against human rights think that it means people have the right to walk naked in public or to take drugs or some other anti-social behaviour.

Without proper education on what human rights actually is, both Estonians and Malaysians have the same negative perceptions about it.

Estonians and Malaysians also seem to have similar attitudes towards migrant workers and refugees. Being part of the European Union, Estonians are able to work without much difficulty anywhere in Europe.

At the same time there is a huge debate there on whether to let Syrian refugees in based on as yet unfounded fears such as that they will take jobs away from Estonians. Given that Estonia is only slated to take in 300 refugees out of the hundreds of thousands washing up on European shores, the fears seem to be exaggerated, possibly by politicians out to make a quick vote.

What is more, Estonia is hardly the first choice of any migrant worker from other parts of the world.

Indeed, research showed that people who leave the country for jobs elsewhere outnumber those who come into the country for any reason by some 25,000.

Equally puzzling is the proposed ban of the hijab and niqab (face-covering) by the Estonian government.

Considering that their Muslim population is only about 1000-strong, most of whose women wear neither the hijab nor the niqab, one has to wonder about the logic of this proposed ban.

Some of the advocates of the ban said that while there is no need for it now, it was necessary to have it to prevent the so-called future influx of hijabed and niqabed women, presumably among the 300 refugees they are taking in.

Isn’t it wondrous that politicians everywhere practise the same kind of logic?

If one were a student of the illogicality of politicians, one would have had a wealth of material last weekend.

There was the fellow who, obviously thinking himself very original, declared that the uniforms our national airline’s female flight attendants have worn for the last 30 years are in fact “Jewish” designs and therefore should be abolished.

Considering that these uniforms were designed by the UiTM School of Fashion, this seems a rather awkward accusation to make. Besides, I don’t know many Jewish women who wear the sarong kebaya.

Then there was the fellow who said our leader is appointed by God. And since God makes no mistakes, our leader cannot be bad or wrong.

It makes you wonder why they even have elections for their leaders. Why not just wait for a giant arrow from above to point out the Right Guy, preferably accompanied by a bright light and some Arabic music?

I am just waiting for the day when the Arrow suddenly alights on the head of the Right Girl. Then all hell will break loose and they will decide that elections are still the best way because then you can fix it to pick the Right Guy.

After a whole convention baying for race and religion, one of our leaders then asks Muslims to show that Islam is a religion of peace in order to counter Islamophobia. He must have gone to the same school as right-wing Estonian politicians.

Apparently, when you say nasty things about other people and faiths, that is a peaceful act. It is only when you take up arms against them, that you’re not being peaceful and should be arrested and incarcerated.

In the former act, you are merely exercising your human rights while in the latter, you’re just being unsociable and even crazy.

Meanwhile in the real world, Jews in the United States are protesting against Islamophobia, Muslim Palestinians are donning Santa Claus outfits and singing carols along with their Christian friends and Germany is taking in 300,000 Syrian refugees.

I am looking forward to roast turkey, mince pies, peace on earth and goodwill to all humankind.

Merry Christmas everyone!