What we have lost over 40 years

Malaysia’s future lies not only in good governance, transparency, an end to corruption, and whatnot. These are of course important. More importantly, Malaysians must learn to respect the individual’s right to his/her beliefs and choices. This is what we have lost and what we had back in the 1950s and 1960s.


Raja Petra Kamarudin

Five couples nabbed in early Valentine’s Day raids

(The Star) – Five couples were nabbed during the early hours of Valentine’s Day for alleged khalwat (close proximity), in raids conducted by the Selangor Islamic Affairs Department (Jais) and Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ).

In the raids that began at 12.30am Tuesday, enforcement officers swooped in on the couples, who were found in budget hotels around Kota Damansara and Bandar Sri Damansara here.

The men and women were aged between 20 and 30.

Some covered their faces with towels as they were escorted from hotel rooms into the Jais vans.

The operation, known as the Petaling District Level 6th Anti-Vice Campaign, was conducted by a total of 85 enforcement officers from Jais, MBPJ, the Immigration Department, district land office and police.

The couples were released on bail and will be charged in the Syariah court as soon as possible.

The raid ended at about 4am.

Under the Selangor Syariah Criminal Enactment 1995, khalwat is an offence which is punishable with a jail term of up to two years or fine up to RM3,000 or both, upon conviction.


The last time something like this happened in Selangor we blamed PAS. We blamed Hasan Ali, the PAS man in charge of religion who we called an Umno mole, a Trojan horse, an ex-BTN operative, and whatnot.

Well, Hasan Ali is gone. He is history. Religion now comes directly under the Menteri Besar, a PKR and not a PAS man. But it is still business as usual.

Now, this is not merely a Pakatan Rakyat problem. This also happens in other states, which are not Pakatan Rakyat ruled. In fact, it happens all over Malaysia. The woman who was arrested and caned for drinking beer happened in Pahang, Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s home state.

No, today I am not talking about corruption. I am not even talking about religion. I am talking about civil liberties. 

I know that as a Muslim I should not be talking about this, especially in opposition to it. If I do want to talk about it I should be in support of any move to eradicate sin and vice. Nevertheless, I did say in my interview some time ago (which you can see on Youtube) that if I want to talk about civil liberties, then I would have to remove my Muslim cap and put on my civil liberties cap. I can’t be wearing both caps at the same time just like when I want to talk about the third estate (the rakyat) I need to remove my Pakatan Rakyat cap (which many of you hate when I do that).

Now, this will probably give you an impression that Islam is not compatible with civil liberties. Actually, it is not only Islam. All the Abrahamic faiths are not compatible with civil liberties — although nowadays heresy and apostasy are no longer punishable by death in England, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, etc., like, say, 400 or 500 years ago.

Note though, it was not that long ago that witches were still burned alive at the stake in America. So we really don’t have to go that far back in history to see what we would today call barbaric practices.

MCLM, when first mooted almost eight years ago, was not supposed to be involved in politics or the elections. It was supposed to be a purely civil liberties movement to uphold the right of Malaysians to decide how they want to live their lives and what they would like to believe or not believe. This, of course, would include the right to even not believe in God, if that is what you wish to believe.

I may not believe that Jesus died on the cross and came back to life three days later. But if that is what you believe then you have a right to believe that — and whatever else you may want to believe and practice.

Anyway, somehow, MCLM ended up becoming a political movement and people started perceiving MCLM as a political party that aspires to contest the elections. Maybe that is our fault for talking about quality candidates and about helping Pakatan Rakyat look for such candidates and offer these candidates to them for the next election. That overshadowed everything else that MCLM was trying to do.

We have since abandoned all talk about elections and candidates. MCLM will soon be holding its first annual meeting and elections. Anyone who is a member is eligible to contest (we have slightly over 1,000 members). And I hope MCLM will soon see a new committee that can chart its course and focus on issues involving civil liberties.

The talk about forbidding Santa Claus hats, barring gay singers from performing in Malaysia, banning Valentine’s Day, and much more, are issues involving civil liberties. No doubt Malaysia practices Shariah laws and under these laws Muslims are forbidden from doing many things and are obligated to do many others.

But what if you are not a Muslim? Must you also be subjected to the same taboos? And, more importantly, what if you are a Muslim? Does the state have a right to interfere in your lifestyle, beliefs, sexual preferences and whatnot?

This is a debate that will never see a consensus. You can’t debate when you apply two different value systems. One debater will be talking from religion’s point of view and the other from the civil liberties point of view.

Do you know that the First Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, used to go to the horse races every weekend? He also gambled with his Chinese friends (played cheekee) and would drink like a fish (not sure if fishes do drink). That was one of the issues Dr Mahathir Mohamad used against him when he wanted to oust the Tunku (read Dr Mahathir’s letter to the Tunku: you can Google it).

But then, in spite of what many, today, would view as a most ‘immoral’ Prime Minister, Malaysia was a peaceful place. There was no racism and religious intolerance. In fact, the Tunku used to say that he was the happiest Prime Minister in the world.

Then the Tunku became heartbroken and was no longer happy. Until the day he died he still cried whenever he talked about the matter (read ‘The Tunku Tapes’ by K Das). And the issue that brought him to tears was the blackest day in Malaysia’s history, May 13.

The Tunku asked, why did God allow him to live to see the day when Malaysians would kill fellow Malaysians? He would rather have died than see that day. The Tunku was devastated and not long after that he resigned as Prime Minister. He seldom smiled again after that, not even when we threw him an 80th birthday party and launched the University Malaya Tunku Abdul Rahman Chair of International Law with a launching grant of RM1 million as his birthday present on 8th February 1983.

(Incidentally, how many of you lawyers out there are beneficiaries of this foundation?)

The Tunku was probably Malaysia’s first civil libertarian. And he believed that you decide what you want to believe and how you would like to live your life. And not only was the Tunku the happiest Prime Minister but we Malaysians of the 1950s and 1960s were the happiest people in the world.

Then the politicians decided they would end all that. Led by Tun Razak, Dr Mahathir, Datuk Harun Idris, and those of their ilk, they triggered May 13 and attacked the Tunku. The Tunku was blamed for May 13. It is because he was too ‘soft’ to the Chinese, they alleged.

And, since then, Malaysia has never been the same again.

Can we reverse all this? I really don’t know. But that is what MCLM will have to explore. It may be possible or it may not. Only time can tell. But MCLM must be absolutely apolitical and non-partisan. It must also be brave enough to speak out against any religious ruling that is opposed to civil liberties even if the religionists accuse them of being heretics and apostates.

Malaysia’s future lies not only in good governance, transparency, an end to corruption, and whatnot. These are of course important. More importantly, Malaysians must learn to respect the individual’s right to his/her beliefs and choices. This is what we have lost and what we had back in the 1950s and 1960s.