This is a question I cannot answer even today.
Paternalism has always been present in governance and indeed, philosophy, since the early days of civilisation.
However, the idea that the government decides what is good for me or not, certainly gives me the creeps, not because I am a rebellious sort, but simply because governments are often seperti ketam mengajar anaknya berjalan lurus.
The government takes the role of our parents in telling us what’s supposed to be good for us and not. They make it into law and hey, it becomes and offence….provided you are caught doing it.
Which brings into discussion the issue of enforcement, and enforceability of such laws. I mean, any type of gambling is not allowed for Muslims in this country. That means they can be charged. But they still do it, despite the signs at your neighbourhood Kuda Toto Magnum shops that say Muslims and those under 18 cannot buy the numbers.
Now, looking at it from the paternal point of view, gambling benefits few. And the cost, both in money and social terms, is quite disproportionately high.
There is an urban legend that goes around saying how the hotel windows in Genting Highlands can only be opened a few inches, because in the past, too many losers threw themselves out the window after saying bye bye to all their money and sometimes their shirt.
I don’t know how much of this is true, but gambling has a serious social cost that leads to broken families, poverty, suicides and crime.
Hey, even those folks at Genting recognise it. You must have passed the lightboxes in the casinos advertising their gamblers’ helpline some time. I saw them. So it is clearly a concern.
So, gambling is supposed to be bad for society. Yet, a large part of Malaysian society wants the choice to go destroy itself. And the government allows it. It doesn’t want to be paternal here because I guess, of the potential political fallout.
Choice. You as an individual, say that the authorities do not have a right to dictate how you live your life. That’s your own bloody business, you say.
But no, that is no longer quite true. Unless you live in a cave, alone, with no ties to the outside world whatsoever, you are deemed as a cog in the huge wheel called society. Whatever the choices you make in your daily life, it will have some effect on your surrounding. Remember the Butterfly Effect?
So, the question is more, like the title of this post suggests, how far do we go, who should be bound by the rules dictated by this school of thought and, most importantly, WHO SHOULD DICTATE THE TERMS?
Like Jesus suggested, none of us have clean hands, for us to cast the first stone of righteous punishment or sanction. In fact, most of our so-called society and political elders have dirty, even bloody, hands.
In a plural society that often is part of the same political unit, imposition of rules that affect all must get the consensus of the majority. If it doesn’t, you get at best disenchanted grumbles and at worst riots and even civil war.
Take the much-talked about yoga fatwa for instance. The fatwa looks to me like the Muslim elder statesmen in this country telling their brethren that it is against the tenets of Islam to practice yoga and hence, Muslims who do, should stop it.
Whether they are right or wrong to impose the ruling is a question for the Muslims in this country to discuss or argue.
So I feel that in this case, Malaysia Hindu Sangam president Vaithilingam’s saying the Hindu community is hurt is somewhat misplaced. His statement takes the issue on a different trajectory of how the minority groups are often trampled when policies are declared for the majority. Business as usual in Malaysia, but that is not the point here.
In any case, today, all this is moot because the fatwa is “overruled”. The Prime Minister stepped in and basically said
“I wish to state that a physical regime with no elements of worship can continue, meaning, it is not banned. I believe that Muslims are not easily swayed into polytheism,” he said when contacted by Bernama here.
And then the Royals came into the picture and reminded the National Fatwa Council of its place in the pecking order.
Here’s a sample.
The Regent of Perak Raja Dr Nazrin Shah has again reminded the National Fatwa Council that its primary role is to decide and issue a fatwa or edicts after referring them to the Conference of Rulers. — reported here
The Regent of Negri Sembilan has joined his royal brothers in Perak and Selangor in proposing the National Fatwa Council consult the Conference of Rulers before issuing edicts in future. reported here
The Sultan of Selangor too made his stand clear on this issue.
However, it had more to do with jurisdictional authority over Muslim matters than the applicability, relevance or whether it was the right thing to do.
All the brouhaha over the yoga fatwa made me look closer at fatwas in general. I was struck by this article .
Zainah Anwar writes..
A young friend googled fatwa and found in every piece of writing she read that fatwa is an advisory opinion only; how has it come about in Malaysia that it becomes a criminal offence to violate a fatwa that has been gazetted, she questioned?
This echoes my own uneasy realisation that here in Malaysia, the NFC can issue an edict that becomes law. That means the NFC is a law-making body, making rules that don’t need debate and discussion before it is gazetted to become law.
That means, my friends, you have laws being created with impunity, that you or your elected rep wasn’t consulted on, which will and does affect you.
Don’t you want to know about it?
Granted, as a non-Muslim, it will not apply to me, but it alarms me that most of my Muslim friends are not aware of the equal enforceability of fatwas.
Here’s more cause for concern, from the same article..
As early as 1997, Sisters in Islam (SIS) submitted a memorandum to the then Prime Minister about the shocking provisions in the Syariah Criminal Offences Act (SCOA), many of which have no precedence in Islamic legal history and practice, violate constitutional provisions on fundamental liberties and conflict or overlap with the Penal Code.
Among the most outrageous are two provisions which state it is a criminal offence to defy, disobey or dispute a fatwa, or to give, propagate or disseminate any opinion contrary to any fatwa that is in force! This really tantamounts to thought policing that criminalises differences of opinion! Not even Saudi Arabia makes it a crime to violate or dispute a fatwa.
Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamed ordered the Attorney-General’s Chambers to review the SCOA. But we don’t know the outcome of that process, or if it ever took place.
SIS commissioned two research papers examining the SCOA on constitutional and Islamic juristic grounds. Both experts concluded that the SCOA is a deeply flawed piece of legislation. We have submitted our report to the Government.
The late Tan Sri Harun Hashim who sat on the Syariah Technical Committee said he had recommended to the committee that criminal law be taken out of syariah jurisdiction and all criminal matters should come under the Penal Code. That was why the SCOA was not submitted for review in the government exercise to establish uniformity of all state Islamic laws in the late 1990s.
But it is obvious that over the past few years, the strategy is to expand syariah jurisdiction, not limit it according to law.
I think Muslims in this country should sit up and take notice. They should have a serious look at this trend of banning this and that without reason.
Most of my Muslim friends, I know, are confident enough in their faith without having to ikut telunjuk some myopic elders. This is a case of paternalism taking an ugly turn.
Not so long ago, Foreign Minister Datuk Rais Yatim, an intelligent man who is somehow, inexplicably, prone to spew some really idiotic stuff, said that young single girls should not travel overseas.
Sure, it was in response to so many young Malaysian women becoming drug mules and ending up behind bars in foreign countries, but isn’t it rather shortsighted of Rais to say that?
Censoring the Internet was mulled in its early days. Hell, our own Mat Tyson was a proponent. Of course, some 10, 12 years later, it was the blogs they wanted to censor because it is deemed to incite people to be anti-government.
I was laughing to myself when the powers that be, in its worst imitation of paternalism, blocked public access to Malaysia Today. Then it occurred to me, paternalism in Malaysia is just an extension and a tool of political expediency.
I mean, they always mess with the likes of Malaysiakini and Malaysia Today, but ain’t it funny that no one bothers to block access to porn sites?
Alternative political views are more evil compared to pornography. Go on…snigger away. It is true, in Malaysia at any rate.
Why not a fatwa against domestic violence? A fatwa on violence against women and children? A fatwa against Muslim men who abandon their wives and kids and don’t pay alimony?
Kak Zaharah whose husband abandoned her with six kids to raise on her own (she was heavily pregnant with the last one when he left) would appreciate a fatwa like that. Paternalism would have helped there.
But then in Bolehland, bullshit walks proud while reason suffers terminal weariness.