Locking the gate after the horse has bolted

Raja Petra Kamarudin

Last Friday, a cell-phone salesman was charged in court for having pornographic material in his notebook computer. The hapless man had downloaded the porn from the Internet. Let this be a lesson to us all. Never download the stuff into your computer. Just view them online and clear your history and delete the temporary internet files from your browser after that so that no one can detect what sites you have visited

Earlier, the government announced it would install special software in its computers to prevent its employees from visiting porn websites. They have been blocking government servers from being used to visit anti-government or Reformasi websites for years. How come they cannot block porn sites? Why the need for ‘special software’? Or is another crony company about to get a multi-million Ringgit contract for something worthless the government is buying?

Anyway, this seems to be the general practice in Malaysia. The government always locks the gate after the horse has bolted. Porn has been available in Malaysia for the last two generations. Why only now the desire to clean up the act? Is it because of late some prominent politicians have been appearing in these porn movies? So is this move more about preventing Malaysians from seeing their elected leaders in the flesh (pun intended) rather than to turn Malaysia into a more moral upright society?

Let us take this scene at one of the VCD stalls on the streets of Kuala Lumpur.

VCD seller: VDC! VCD! VCD! Hello Johnny (all Caucasians are called ‘Johnny’)! You won buy VCD?

Tourist: Are these pirated VCDs?

VCD seller: Pirate? Noooo…Not pirate! All original!

Tourist: Originals?

VCD seller: Yeeees…original copies! Computer software also got.

Tourist: Great. Do you have…well…you know…under-the-table VCDs?

VCD seller: Under the table? No need to sell under table. Can sell on top of table. Got all latest ones. MAS stewardess. Paris Hilton. All got one. This one Malaysian minister. Here. You see.

Tourist: Oh. But these are all X-rated movies.

VCD seller: Yes. All triple-X. This one very good. Latest one. Got animals also inside. Woman and horse. Woman and dog.

Tourist: No. I don’t want these types of movies. I want the other type.

VCD seller: What other type some more you won?

Tourist: You know. The Reformasi VCDs. Anwar Ibrahim, street demonstrations, and all that.

VCD seller: Oh…that type of under-the-table VCDs. That one very dangerous to sell. Police will arrest and confiscate all the VCDs. That one cannot sell openly.

Tourist: But do you have any or not?

VCD seller: Sure gooot…why not got? But must come behind. Cannot show in open. If police see, aiyah! Die lah.

Tourist: You can sell pornographic VCDs openly but Reformasi or Anwar Ibrahim VCDs you have to hide and sell?

VCD seller: Of course! This is Malaysia what!

Tourist: Hey! That man is shoplifting! He just walked away with your VCDs without paying.

VCD seller: No. Not shoplifting. We give him free.

Tourist: Free?

VCD seller: Yes. He is government authority. Enforcement officer. We give him VCD free. His commission.

Tourist: I see. To leave you alone is it?

VCD seller: Of course. If not he kacau us. If not how can we sell original copies VCD so openly?

One does not need to go onto the Internet to see pornographic movies. In fact, the Internet is too slow if you have a dialup connection. Pornographic material is available openly on the streets. The only snag is you have to pay for it; it is not free.

I remember one senior police officer telling me in the 1970s that a certain judge who went on to become the top judge was fond of such pornographic movies known then as ‘blue films’. Then, VCDs were not yet available. Neither were VHS videos. The blue films were in the form of traditional celluloid films and you needed a movie projector to watch them.

Whenever the judge read in the newspapers that the police had conducted a raid and had confiscated some blue films, he would phone the OCPD and ask that the evidence be sent to him for viewing. He wanted to ‘study the evidence’ before the trial to determine whether a crime had in fact been committed.

“Every time we conducted a raid and confiscated any blue films we would try to hide the information from the press lest the judge read about it in the newspapers and ask that they be sent to him,” said the police officer.

“It is not that we mind sending them to him. But he would keep them so long that we could not proceed with the case until the movies were returned to us.”

In the 1970s, blue films were easily available even in places like Terengganu, a predominantly Muslim state. All you needed to do was join one of the private clubs where you could also play poker and drink your beer without any hassle from the religious department. One such club even had strip-tease shows and it was a riot seeing the police officers and magistrates ogling at those naked girls gyrating on the dance floor. The religious department’s moral squad would raid the beaches and hotels looking for lovers but the private clubs were out of bounds. In fact, one of the notorious religious department officers much feared by the locals would himself frequent these clubs to indulge in the very thing he was supposed to be stamping out. And the head of the religious department, a certain Datuk, had one of the best collections of blue films in town.

Incidentally, the latest rumour in town is: a leading Terengganu politician and State EXCO (Executive Councilor) Member was arrested for khalwat (close proximity) in a state-owned hotel three days ago. It is further rumoured that the Chief Minister, Idris Jusoh, has sacked the religious department official who made the arrest and the chap is now taking the state to court over his dismissal. But these are mere rumours and are probably not true despite the fact that, in Malaysia, 90% of rumours always end up as fact in the end.

Anyway, back to Terengganu of the 1970s. It was well-known that if you needed to indulge in any ‘under-the-table’ activities all you needed to do was visit one of the government officers’ clubs or the police inspectors’ mess. The police inspectors’ mess was in fact the safest place and if you had any girls you needed to ‘party’ with that would be the best place to go as no one would disturb you there. Just make sure there are enough girls to go around though.

Now, 30 years later, the government is trying to ‘clean up’ the country. It is a bit too late now. Blue movies and much more are already part of Malaysian ‘culture’, even amongst the Muslims. You can raid the discothèques and arrest the patrons. You can arrest those with pornographic material in their computers downloaded from the Internet. You can arrest lovers in parks and hotel rooms. You can create this illusion that Malaysia is a morally upright Islamic country in the spirit of Islam Hadhari. But you can never change Malaysian culture.

Today, things are more open compared to Malaysia of 30 years ago when one would need to indulge away from public view. But making it difficult for those who wish to indulge would only mean they would revert to how it was in the 1970s: they would just go ‘underground’ again.

I say this again: this is like trying to lock the gate after the horse has bolted. As the Malays would say: nasi dah jadi bubur (the rice has turned into porridge). And porridge can never be turned back into rice.