Friday, February 19, 2010

We Cane Women in Malaysia

Today’s and yesterday’s The Sun headlined front-page news about Malaysian Muslim women being caned! Wow, this is happening in Bolehland, supposedly a moderate and even progressive Muslim country. Already in the news for quite some time is Malaysian Muslim model, Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, who faces a syariah-prescribed caning for the crime of drinking a beer. And all this while, people were upset about this particular case – when, in reality, the authorities had already imposed hush-hush caning on three hapless women.

We only came to know when our keris-waving Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein disclosed on Wednesday (i.e. February 17) that three Muslim women have been caned for syariah offences at the Kajang Prison on February 09! He was also quoted to have said “Based on the interview with the three women offenders, it was found that they accepted the punishment with an open heart, had a realization and repented for their offences. Although the caning did not result in any wound on their bodies, they admitted it had a deep impact on them. They hope other women would refrain from doing things which are against Islam” (The Sun, February 18, 2010, p 1). This reminds me of my schooldays when I was caned. I may have accepted it (no choice wad!) but I don’t think I have repented! In fact, I think it made me more rebellious! So what is he talking about? Balderdash. Crock. Flummery.

Still, many Malaysians would feel a sense of deep shock at this revelation – hence today’s headline in The Sun “Outcry over caning”. But why should they? We are a Muslim country, no matter what everyone else says. In August 2007, at a conference on the role of Islamic states in a globalized world, Najib Razak himself had declared that Malaysia has "never been secular because being secular by Western definition means separation of the Islamic principles of in the way we govern the country." Najib said Malaysia did not want to be stereotyped with the Western definitions of a secular and a non-secular state, but rather, would apply the fundamentals of Islam to its governance, even as it protected the rights of those with other religions (Webpage, accessed February 19, 2010).

But NGOs and others are up in arms over this caning issue because they question why Muslim women were whipped in ‘secrecy’? As Sisters in Islam (SIS) executive director Dr. Hamidah Marican said in a statement that the punishment meted out for illicit sex under syariah law violates human rights while discriminating against Muslim women in Malaysia. “Whipping of women under Syariah Criminal Offences legislation contradicts civil law where women are not punishable by caning under Section 2898 of the Criminal Procedure Code”, she highlighted. “To do this surreptitiously implies that the government wanted to hide this degrading and unjust treatment from public scrutiny” (The Sun, February 19, 2010, p 1).

And the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) said the existence of a plural legal system in Malaysia has led to different standards of justice for the citizens. JAG spokeswoman Maria Chin Abdullah said constitutional guarantees of equality and non-discrimination are not extended to Muslim women due to the conservative understanding of Islam. “It is, therefore, of utmost urgency that the authorities review the contradictory laws that exist in our country,” she had said (ibid, p 2).

Another news source, The Malaysian Insider (Webpage, posted today) meanwhile reported that the Malaysian Muslim Lawyers Association (PPMM) rebuked parties questioning the syariah caning on the three women because it demonstrated they did not understand the dual legal system practiced in the country. PPMM president Zainul Rijal Abu Bakar regretted the media statements issued by these NGOs, saying: “It must be stressed again that the syariah caning is different from the civil caning. The syariah caning does not cause injury to the offender compared with the civil caning which leaves a scar”. I find this amusing. If the caning does not cause injury nor leave a scar – it means, the caning doesn’t hurt, right? Today’s Star also revealed one of the women who was caned as saying “the caning was not painful” (p N25). And if this is so, what’s the point of caning? I have said that I am not new to caning – it bites and it stings and it smarts. But if anything, I didn’t feel remorse. No, I wasn’t sorry one bit! And a slap on the wrist – if this syariah caning is what it is described to be – is not gonna change anything, will it?

So what’s the point in all of this? Nothing really, except Malaysia Boleh! Duh!

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