MCA’s Islamic blind spots,UMNO’s Malay blind spots no Muslim votes


 Far from being slapped with a suspension of its publication permit, The Star announced that two of its editors had been suspended “indefinitely”, following yet another offensive material published by the MCA-controlled daily.

The paper said it had appointed Rozaid Abdul Rahman and Shah A. Dadameah to replace its ‘Star2’ section’s senior editor Lim Cheng Hoe and deputy editor Daryl Goh.

According to the daily, which is no stranger to controversies involving the Muslim community over its publication of features and materials deemed offensive, Rozaid and Shah would also have the “extra duties of overseeing and guiding the newspaper on issues pertaining to Muslim sensitivities”.

The picture of Erykah. [The offending tattoo images as appeared in the Star are blurred by us -Ed.]



nly less few hundred traitors united to share enemy’s left over, while more than 99% were cursing you and family for harms done to community. Even your own Women Chief deserted you by resigned from minister post please don’t try to con yourself and MCA members! If MCA is as strong and united as you … Read more

The move came following its publication on Monday of a picture of American singer Erykah Badu flaunting a tattoo with the Arabic calligraphy for ‘Allah’ on her bare chest, alongside an article to promote her upcoming concert in Kuala Lumpur, which the government has since been forced to cancel after protests generated by her picture.


Oversight, again


Hours after a Harakahdaily report on the matter sparked outrage among netizens, the staunchly anti-PAS daily published a short apology on its website, claiming it was as an “oversight”. This was despite the fact that there were hundreds of other photographs of Erykah minus the tattoos to choose from!

The tiny apology however failed to end the raging debate over the paper’s latest faux pas, especially against the backdrop of two other instances last year when it angered Muslim readers, even those who were not reading between the lines.

During Ramadan last year, the paper included pork dishes in its ‘Ramadan Delights’ supplement, resulting in its staunchly pro-BN editor-in-chief Wong Chun being summoned by the  Home ministry.

And earlier in February of that year, the paper landed in hot soup over an article by its managing editor P Gunasegaram questioning Islam and its laws in the wake of a whipping sentence meted out by the Shariah court against three women for the charge of adultery.

In both instances, the daily took pains to tell readers that they were not deliberate. Though it convinced the Home ministry by not slapping it with a ban, like it had done on the 60-year old Sarawak Tribune in 2006 for publishing caricature insulting Prophet Muhammad, many Muslims harbour strong suspicion of the paper’s political agenda, vis-a-vis its spirited campaign against PAS by giving wide coverage to Islamophobic comments from MCA leaders.

Only recently, the paper, in its frenzy to depict PAS as intolerant and extremist, pre-empted a statement by PAS Youth leader Nasrudin Hassan, saying he had urged the government to ban Valentine’s Day celebrations. Later, it turned out to be false as Nasrudin had never made any statement when the report was published. No apology there.


Passionate plea, typical praise


This time around, like in the past, the daily again made a similar plea to readers, invoking the Malay phrase “niat jahat” to stress that it had no malice.

Yet, even in making this passionate plea, the pro-BN daily was eager to shower praises on its political bosses.

“It is not easy to govern a country that is as complex as ours and we appreciate that from the time of Merdeka, our leaders have taken a moderate line in grappling with sensitive issues, especially with regard to race and religion,” says its opening paragraph.

While there is no prize for guessing why the paper saw it fit to ingratiate government leaders even in this laborious task of convincing the Muslim community, it will remain to be seen if the precedence set by the Home ministry in 2006 in the Sarawak Tribune issue would be followed.

It will also be interesting to watch in the days to come whether its two new Muslim editors would succeed in educating its staunchly pro-MCA top editor Wong Chun Wai (pic, left) alongside his immediate colleagues, who have made Islam-bashing into an art by disguising it as PAS-bashing.

That is, of course, provided that the paper is again let off with a ‘slap on the wrist’ by the Home ministry, whose deputy minister Lee Chee Leong is himself part of the MCA leadership that has a stranglehold on the paper’s editorial policies.


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How long does it take to win an ideological war? A confrontation between the armies of ruling elites is conventional and therefore comprehensible: it lasts as long as the powder is dry and the will of the subaltern to fight for the interests of his general can be sustained.A war of ideas is circumscribed by different ponderables and imponderables: conflicting definitions of justice; a vision often compromised by power pitched against a dream stretched into fantasy by a surreal sense of self. The ideological Armageddon starts in the mind, so it is difficult to know when it began. But since it descends to the street we generally know when it ends.Dr Chua’s jibes against Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat during the debate but continued to maintain that under Dr Chua’s leadership, support from the Chinese community had nosedived.He said he was not given to political posturing and would “call a spade a spade” even if his words were to ruffle the feathers of those within the party.Repeatedly pointing out that he was now no longer a person of stature within MCA, Ong continued to stand by his reading of the community’s support for the party, saying it was based on his personal observation.“There should be sufficient latitude for anybody, including you, to interpret what I said. But I do understand that in our kind of partisan politics, people can hardly swallow the truth.

Here is Former MCA president Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat who could have brought back dignity to their ranks but they brought him down!What went into their heads? What was going through their minds? Mind you, I don’t think every MCA When asked to explain further on his statement yesterday that he had more names to disclose of those involved in the Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ) scandal, however, Ong declined to elaborate but merely explained his role in the probe during his tenure as transport minister.Ong also dismissed talk that he might leave MCA due to his repeated clashes with Dr Chua, saying that if he did, he would be betraying his personal ideals when he joined the party in 1981.“In 1981, when I joined MCA as an ordinary member, I did so not because of Dr Chua or any individual but because I was convinced by the ideals of the party.“If at all I were to leave the party because of Dr Chua, it would, in a way, betray my commitment and conviction towards the party’s ideals.

“What really [concerns] me more today is my constituency work,” the Pandan MP firmly said.Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat is the only visible MCA leader today who dares to call a spade, a spade. And you MCA people can’t appreciate nor treasure that? Just recently one of your leaders lied through his teeth aboutthe Tung Shin teargas incident (I should know, I was there!) and now with the 1 Care controversy that’sgoing to rob us blind, he’s still around?Please, MCA, look at what you have reduced yourself to? You, the present crop of leaders wantto compare yourself to others. Only two of you are facing trial for the PKFZ debacle, on charges ofcorruption. How many from the other side have been incarcerated for upholding the truth? How manyof them had their health compromised, dignity stripped and years taken away because of the injusticeinflicted, something you were party to, for just keeping quiet. Unlike the rest of you, Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat exposed corruption and how did you reward him? What does it say about the MCA when a leader is broughtdown by his very own people for upholding the truth?

There’s an increasingly sensitive tripwire between faith and policy these days. To question the latter is to incite charges you’re denigrating the former.

It’s especially difficult when you’re talking about the Catholic Church — which, yes, has failed miserably in its handling of abuse, but has done so much over the years for so many.

So let me put this out there right at the beginning: I love the power of faith. I respect those who embrace it. I applaud those who feel its comfort.

But policy based on a narrow interpretation of faith — that’s a whole other issue, especially when policy with roots in Biblical times is wedged into modern realities.

The Catholic church managed to shake the volatile mix of faith, policy and reality when it took on the Obama administration’s directive that church-related organizations must offer birth control benefits. Never mind that many of these organizations — colleges for one — have been quietly doing it all along. Never mind that vasectomies don’t seem to have entered the conversation.

The more you try to understand the issue, the more you wonder why any women would heed the rules of men whose personal stake in the policy is their right to make it — in an organization that blocks all women from meaningful power.

You wonder, too, about the forces that ferociously keep in place a policy that is so clearly and sadly out of step with the times. The church is railing against something that 98 percent of their members practice.

Perhaps it’s simply the age of the power structure.

The Pope is 85, and the average age of the College of Cardinals is 75. Men who are ten to twenty years beyond retirement age for virtually any other organization are not likely to be a bubbling fountain of bold initiatives.

The go-to answer, of course, is: Biblical says so — which brings you close to that line between questioning policy and denigrating faith.

If you want to take the Garden of Eden literally, fine. But the command to “be fruitful and multiply” has a little different implication when you’re the only two people in the world — as opposed to the seven billion people walking the earth, and the additional billion that will join us over the next two decades — most of them in places that can’t support what they have now.

As with the Christian right’s problem with gays and lesbians, there are ample anti-contraception verses there for the plucking. Self-serve justifications let you pick the ones you like, and avoid the ones (don’t touch pigskin or own slaves from your own country) that might be inconvenient.

We can all interpret these as we will, in and out of historical context, but it’s uncanny how selectively the sex and gender-related ones find their way into policy debates.

Faith-warped policy has real-life consequences — like unplanned, unwanted children born into uncertain lives.

George Bush’s laudable anti-AIDS initiative sent billions of dollars to Africa. But supported by the religious right (The Pope has said condoms will make the problem worse), program policy prohibited any of it going to family planning or counseling.

While the HIV-AIDS fight was a victory, the ban on contraception and counseling, veteran relief works believe, fed Africa’s unsustainable population boom — including babies born with the disease.

We all, of course, must be free to embrace our respective faiths. But when the interpretation of faith is used conveniently and selectively to create policy — people suffer.

New York, NY – In the wake of the Quran-burning by troops at the United States’ Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan, protests continue to escalate and the death toll mounts. In the process, three US blind spots have become obvious.

One is that of the US media, whose coverage simply underscores – and amplifies – the stunning cluelessness that triggered the protests in the first place. Professional journalists are obliged to answer five questions: who, what, where, why and how. But, reading reports from The Associated PressThe New York Times and The Washington Post among others, I searched exhaustively before I could form any picture of what had actually been done to the Qurans in question. Not only did accounts conflict; none offered a clear notion of who had allegedly done what, let alone why or how.

Were Qurans burned, as one US report had it, under the oversight of US military officials? Or were they brought by soldiers for incineration, as another versionmaintained, as part of a haul of “extremist literature” and prisoners’ personal communications, with Afghan workers alerting others at the base to the nature of the material?

Al Jazeera speaks to Afghan political analyst on Quran protests

These murky accounts – with no clear subjects or actions (The New York Times, incredibly, managed not to describe the burning at all) – reflect what happens when major news outlets appear simply to take dictation from the Pentagon.

The second US blind spot is the politicisation of this terrible affront. Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has called Obama’s apology a “surrender”, while another Republican contender, Rick Santorum, is offended that anyone is suggesting that the US should bear any “blame”.

This absence of perspective reveals the cultural ignorance that has turned recent US foreign interventions into political catastrophes. I, too, come from an Abrahamic religion, Judaism, which shares strong roots with Islam. In both faiths, sacred texts are treated as if they are, in a sense, living beings. Jews, too, give them “burials” when they are too old to use and treat them ritualistically while they are “alive”, using silver pointers to avoid profaning them with human hands, dressing them in velvet jackets and kissing them when they fall to the ground.

Burning a conquered people’s sacred texts sends an unmistakable message: you can do anything to these people. As Heinrich Heine put it, referring to the Spanish Inquisition‘s burning of the Quran, “Where they burn books, so too will they in the end burn human beings”. Jews understand that very well: from the Inquisition to Cossack massacres to Kristallnacht, the aggressors destroyed Torahs as a logical and well-understood precursor to destroying Jews.

The third blind spot is almost too painful to bear having to address – which, on a charitable interpretation, might explain why not one mainstream US media report has done so: the burnings were not carried out on some street in Kabul, but at Bagram. That is, Qurans were burned at a US facility that meets the dictionary definition of a concentration camp.

Bagram versus Guantanamo Bay

In 2009, Spiegel Online ran a portrait gallery about Bagram titled “America’s Torture Chamber”. In “The Forgotten Guantanamo“, it reported that 600 people were being held at Bagram without charge. All were termed “unlawful enemy combatants”, allowing the US to claim that they have no right to the protections of the Geneva Conventions. A military prosecutor said that, compared to Bagram, Guantanamo Bay was “a nice hotel”.

Afghan protests continue over Quran burning

Indeed, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, invariably described in the US as “the self-proclaimed chief architect of 9/11”, told the Red Cross that at Bagram he had been suspended by shackles and sexually assaulted: “I was made to lie on the floor. A tube was inserted into my anus and water poured inside”. Another prisoner, Raymond Azar, testified that 10 FBI agents had abducted him, shown him photos of his family and told him that if he didn’t “co-operate”, he would never see them again.

The BBC collated testimony in 2010 from nine prisoners, confirming that human-rights abuses continued at Bagram. The prisoners independently described “a secret prison” inside the prison, called “the black hole”. Prisoners were still being subjected at the time to freezing temperatures, sleep deprivation and “other abuses”. One testified that a US soldier had used a rifle to knock out a row of his teeth and that he was forced to dance to music whenever he needed to use the bathroom.

Another investigation confirmed similar allegations in 2010 and last month, the BBC reported that Bagram’s prison population had reached 3,000, while an Afghan-led investigation found still more allegations of ongoing torture, including freezing temperatures and sexual humiliations.

Of course, since the US military can detain anyone in Afghanistan and hold him or her without charge in these conditions forever, the entire country lives under the shadow of torture at Bagram. The Quran burnings are a potent symbol of that systemic threat.

So, while Obama should continue to apologise for the Quran burnings, we must understand that Afghans’ rage is a response to an even deeper, rawer wound. Obama should also apologise for kidnapping Afghans; for holding them at Bagram without due process of law; for forcing them into cages, each reportedly holding up to 30 prisoners; for denying them Red Cross/Red Crescent visits; for illegally confiscating family letters; for torturing and sexually abusing them; and for casting a pall of fear over the country.

The Quran forbids that kind of injustice and cruelty. So does the Bible.


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