Whipping of three Muslim women

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We should not let the powers-that-be divert us from the ongoing struggle and demands for reform and accountability in all areas of Malaysian politics and governance, argues Zaharom Nain.

Three women are secretly whipped, evidently for the first time in Malaysia’s history, for having sex out of marriage, the Home Minister gleefully announces a week or so later on 17 February.

But, hang on, they weren’t whipped; they were caned said the minister. And, immediately, the sycophantic Malaysian media embraces the term.

But there’s more from this minister of keris fame.

“Even though the caning did not injure them, the three women said it caused pain within their souls,” he declared.

I see. So, it’s yippee, three cheers and all that, then?

Indeed, we are all supposed to see and celebrate the ‘fact’ that the ‘caning’ was physically harmless but, nonetheless, pained their souls? And, perchance, cleansed these lost souls?

But, of course.

And, like the many typically horrendous PR campaigns this regime is notorious for, some regime lackey next calls a press conference to reveal all this.

The poor women are trooped into an office in what looks like a heavily-manned police station and talk of their experience.

Coerced? Come on, how could they have been coerced in the safety of a police station, I ask you?

And what follows, especially in the Bahasa papers, are accounts of how these poor women believed they ‘deserved’ their punishment, that the caning was ‘good’ for them and, of course, that they had repented.

While many may mock this form of punishment, perhaps what is more important is that we address the more fundamental issues at stake.

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First, does this form of action by the regime go against the Malaysian constitution, as some have argued most eloquently?

And if so, what does this say of the value of the constitution in the eyes of the regime, a regime that has sworn to protect it?

Second, is this incident and development a reflection of the increasing erosion of the rights of Muslim women under an increasingly conservative regime, out to politicise religion further in order to regain lost ground in the Malay heartland?

Thirdly, does this erosion of rights have a class angle to it, where the more vulnerable, perhaps legally-challenged, working class women (and men) are the ones being earmarked for punishment?

If all these are indeed the case, as I believe they are, then the comments of Kuala Selangor MP, Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad, surely need to be heeded.

“It is obvious the canings are politically motivated,” he says in an interview in the Malaysian Insider (Sunday, 21 February, 2010).

But what is more important is his reminder in the same interview that “true teachings of Islam mean a system of justice and fairness for all, without the cruelty and corruption, the cronyism and abuse of power, the looting of the country’s coffers, and the abandonment of ethics and principles that are now the signature of the current administration.”

Indeed, there is a need for us to see and condemn what is viewed as barbaric acts of ‘caning’ for the political maneuverings of an apparently bankrupt regime that they are.

And we should not let them divert us from the ongoing struggle and demands for reform and accountability in all areas of Malaysian politics and governance.

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Zaharom Nain is an Aliran member.

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