Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Two Faces of Malaysia

Ask any foreigner what he thinks of Malaysia and he waxes lyrical about our beaches, food, adventure holidays and shopping. Malaysia is a popular tourist destination but are ‘outsiders’ aware of our darker side?

For every satisfied tourist, another would have experienced Malaysia’s other claims to shame – dirty toilets, poor taxi-service, litter or terrible driving habits.

Try and look into every facet of Malaysian life.

We want to be a global nation but we ignore the importance of English. We desire a high income economy but we import low unskilled labour.

We want healthy citizens but place importance on medical tourism at the expense of good affordable medical care for our own people. We want to reverse the brain drain but we do not make it attractive for our skilled people to return.

We pride ourselves on our tolerance but allow extremist groups to vent their anger on the goodwill of peace-loving people by calling for certain races to ‘return where they came from’?

The constitution says everyone is free to practice the religion of his choice and yet some people violently claim ownership of one word, ‘Allah’. When a Muslim insults someone of another faith, he appears to be let off with minimum punishment, if at all.

The country is facing economic hardship and the people have been told that various items will be dearer, and yet the government has found time and resources to publish a book where Prime Minister Najib can ‘refute the various slanders’ directed at him and his administration.

The Penan have been turfed out of their ancestral homelands, but we are told to rejoice as our king will soon have a new palace built at RM800 million.

The people in Sabah and Sarawak suffer because their states lack money and yet they see their country’s resources making their ministers wealthy. These poor people are told that they need a dam but they still can’t afford electricity and drink from water that is polluted and murky from the activities of logging companies or oil palm companies.

The indigenous people are encouraged to promote traditional weaving but the state destroys the jungles in which the raw materials for their handicraft grow. They scrounge a living from government hand-outs but read of billions being siphoned by their leaders to offshore accounts.

The 1Malaysia is supposed to bind us but the deputy prime minister is not committed to this concept.

With an imminent robbery, BN politicians can summon the police immediately and have the thieves killed. When ordinary folk want a basic investigation into the murder of their father, or assault on their relative or a house burglary, they wait endlessly, without any further action.

Corruption is a cancer in our society and yet few big fish get hauled to court.

Muslims are even more confused. Polygamy is permitted under certain circumstances and yet our lawmakers break the law with impunity.

Single mothers who kill their babies now risk capital punishment. Unmarried underage teenagers who have sex must marry so their baby is not born illegitimate irrespective of whether the girl and boy are mature enough to start a family.

The international community praises our judiciary for quickly clearing the backlog of court cases and yet our views about the judiciary, such as suicide notes appearing with incredulity, are in stark contrast to this Bernama report.

Anwar Ibrahim was unsuccessful in his effort to strike out his sodomy charge, following an allegation that a member of the prosecution team had romantic relations with the complainant.

Even a casual follower of the popular TV series LA Law or Perry Mason will know that the prosecution’s integrity is compromised once it was revealed that the DPP was accused of having an affair with a complainant.

It is obvious that Anwar’s court case is on ‘autopilot’; The authorities are hell-bent on finding him guilty as charged.

But the allegation of the DPP’s sexual liaison must be true, otherwise why have her removed?

This is the Malaysian court's unique method of ascertaining proof and certainty - after the disclosure appeared on a blogsite.

However, cast your mind back to three girls who made the news, last February for having illicit sex. They were whipped, fined and had their reputations tarnished. These three girls never had a chance, as the authorities wanted to show the world that they were not afraid of whipping women.

Now if these three women were whipped and fined for having a sexual liaison, why has DPP Farah Azlina Latif not been whipped and fined as well?

Is this the kinder face of Malaysia or the hypocritical one?

* The views expressed here are those of the writer: Mariam Mokhtar
17 August 2010

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Supposed 'hero' vs a 'true hero'

Supposed 'hero' vs a 'true hero' Mariam Mokhtar 12 August 2010

The former chief of Bukit Bendera Umno, Ahmad Ismail, was honoured with titles and proclaimed a ‘Malay hero’. He was conferred two heroic titles: the Wira Bangsa Melayu and Bintang Perkasa Melayu Jati.

After an hour long wait, typical of people who have little respect for others, the arrival of the ‘hero’ resembled a wedding procession complete with bunga manggar and the drum-beat of the kompang. The only thing that appeared to be missing was the bride.

The night’s jollity which was attended by around 150 delegates from 23 branches included a silat performance and the obligatory sheathing and unsheathing of the keris.

Boys will be boys and they will show off their weapons in an act of assumed bravado.

To the uninformed, the controversial Ahmad Ismail, our new ‘hero’, was suspended by Umno in late 2008, for three years, after he referred to non-Malays as “pendatang” (foreigners).

He described Malaysian Chinese as ‘squatters’ and cautioned them not to emulate the ‘Jews in America’. As expected, the suspension was later lifted by Umno, last December.

His racist comments aroused the memories of inter-ethnic tensions and threatened the government led by Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, at the time. Badawi suspended Ahmad and barred him from any political posts as punishment.

There were protests from members of the BN coalition who threatened to withdraw their membership. Even the armed forces chief warned that ‘stern action must be taken to prevent’ racial conflicts.

As a consequence of Ahmad Ismail’s ill-timed, ill-judged and unacceptable comments, the journalist who reported his comments was taken away by the police under the orders of the Internal Security Act ( ISA), ostensibly for her personal safety.

The supposed hero, Ahmad Ismail, managed to threaten the security of a country, challenged the authority of the Prime Minister at the time, almost wrecked the BN coalition, caused strife and anger in the Malaysian public, caused the army to be on possible alert, insulted various people (Jews, Americans, Chinese, Malays), rekindled horrific memories of racial riots, threatened the fragile peace and security of a nation, exposed the hypocrisy of the police actions and the political abuse of the use of the ISA.

Is this Bukit Bendera’s idea of a hero? Someone who divides, insults and is unapologetic in his actions? Someone who has no respect for others? Someone who was prepared to hold his leader and his country to ransom? Someone who is ignorant of history?

Please allow me to show an example of a ‘true hero’ .

My choice of a hero is Dr. Karen Woo, a British doctor who was murdered by the Taliban and the Hizb-i-Islami group last Thursday. She was killed, with eight other doctors as they returned from months working in the Nuristan region, a remote area in the north east of Afghanistan. They had gone to set up a clinic and provide free medical help to the people there. They did not have 5-star accommodation or even luxury cars. They lived a spartan life and conducted part of their journey on horseback.

Dr. Woo gave up a lucrative career in private medicine to join a humanitarian aid effort. She combined her love of travelling with her medical work. Before Afghanistan, she had also worked in hospitals in Australia, Papua New Guinea and Trinidad and Tobago.

Although she had joined the International Assistance Mission, a Christian charity, Dr. Woo found time to make a documentary about Kabul, a city which she grew to love. She even started the Bridge Afghanistan charity with Firuz Rahimi, a journalist, to improve the lives of ordinary Afghan people.

According to Dr. Woo’s family, she was “a humanist and had no religious or political agenda. Her motivation was purely humanitarian. She wanted the ordinary people of Afghanistan, especially the women and children to receive health care.”

Dr. Woo, who once dreamt of being a professional dancer, was briefly a model and even joined a flying circus performing stunts strapped to the wing of a biplane.

Encouraged by her mother, a psychiatric nurse, she turned to medicine and worked in various places around the world. She returned to London and worked as a surgeon and as a medical director in private medicine, before embarking on the humanitarian work in Afghanistan.

Her life was full of inspiration, adventure, travel and charity. She, like her other colleagues who died alongside her, were committed, caring, compassionate and courageous. She helped women and children who were in need of medical attention.

She bridged the gap between the sick and the healthy, the east and west, the criminals and caring people. Dr. Woo, who I am assuming is possibly a non-Muslim, helped the Muslim people in Badakhshan and Nuristan provinces.

In two weeks time, 36 year-old Karen Woo would have been married to her fiancé. His last act of love was to identify her body, which had been shot twice, and then to bury her.

She leaves behind her parents, an English mother and Chinese father, and her two brothers to mourn their loss, in England. A whole nation which depended on medical programs, provided by humanitarian workers like her, is in jeopardy. Thousands of people are now, unable to receive a continuation of her medical expertise.

The tragedy of this young woman was that in helping to save lives in remote, Taliban infested, Afghanistan, she made the ultimate sacrifice.

If you ask me, Dr. Karen Woo is my ‘true hero’.

* The views expressed here are those of the writer.