Saturday, August 29, 2009

Kartika caning reveals deep irony of Malaysia

Today's Straits Times has a great quote from Clive Kessler, the veteran Australian sociologist, about one of the fundamental ironies of Malaysia, which seems particularly insightful given the Kartika caning furore.

"If you're not a Malay or Muslim, you've diminished rights but a great deal of freedom. If you're on the Malay side of the equation, you've got lots of rights but very little freedom." (A version of the interview is online here.)

So poor old Kartika can get a guaranteed place at university and a scholarship to boot, buy a cheap condo and nab a seat on the board of a government-linked company but she can't crack open a beer in peace.

Meanwhile, her fellow citizens of Indian and Chinese origin can drink to their heart's content but have to go overseas to get a place at university (perhaps not such a bad thing, after all...), shell out more for property and pay off Malays in order to get ahead in business.

In the interview, Kessler also suggests that UMNO, the Malaysian ruling party, has been slow to change because "it has wanted to keep the political world of deference, obedience, favour-seeking and gratitude".

He's right, of course. Furthermore, I'd argue that even those within UMNO who want change are unable to deliver it because, as another academic put it to me recently, "UMNO is corrupted to its core, like India's Congress Party".

1 comment:

  1. Let's put this in perspective:

    1. The caning as it applies in this case comes under Malaysian Syariah Court laws -- the Islamic courts that watch over Muslim citizens, so to speak. This is not the same as corporal punishment caning, which is administered by Federal courts. The difference between the two punishments is simple: one is meant to cause pain, while the other is meant to humiliate. The description of the cane here is the cane used in corporal punishment. The cane used in Syariah caning is little more than a stick, and the actual caning itself is little more than a flick of the wrist rather than a full-out whip. As I said, the intention here is to humiliate the offender, rather than cause him or her pain.

    2. Under the aforesaid Syariah laws, Muslims may not consume alcohol. Regular laws could not care less, however. Malaysia is a clubbing paradise.

    Kartika is simply unlucky enough to be a minor celebrity that the powers that be have decided to use as a case study to deter other potential offenders.