From Sweden with love: Other introspections

FEB 27 — There’s this Malaysian teacher on trial in Swedish, and she’ll most likely go to jail along with her husband.

The quick summary as repeated in local press reports:

“Malaysian teacher Shalwati Norshal and her husband Azizul Raheem Awaluddin, a Tourism Malaysia official based in Stockholm, were charged with committing gross violation of integrity against their four children — aged between seven and 14 years — and with assault.” (Read here for more)

Today, we won’t be talking about corporal punishment (enough people already are), but rather about cultural relativism and general decency or the lack of it towards migrants in our tolerance-challenged nation.

For you see, everyday discussions in some circles are already skewed towards abandoning consistency to champion jingoism.

Children of Malaysian Muslim couple Azizul Raheem Awalludin and his wife Shalwati Nurshal with Malaysian Deputy Foreign Minister Datuk Hamzah Zainuddin  after they arrived at Kuala Lumpur on February 1, 2014. — AFP pic
Children of Malaysian Muslim couple Azizul Raheem Awalludin and his wife Shalwati Nurshal with Malaysian Deputy Foreign Minister Datuk Hamzah Zainuddin after they arrived at Kuala Lumpur on February 1, 2014. — AFP pic

Read local reports and the spin appears to be that Sweden has a problem and inadvertently dragged a piety filled, traditionally inclined family unnecessarily into a moral vortex.

Why wouldn’t we? We have before unequivocally celebrated the story of a determined man who decades ago forcibly removed his children from their home in Australia away from his divorced wife, back to Malaysia. Last year that man was elected to Parliament.

Though that older story and the present developments in Sweden would have more dimensions than what third parties can recount in news reports, it is the absolutist view held against non-Malaysians and their way of life which confounds me.

Malaysians in the general alternate their views based on how their equation works out for them. Methods are rotated till they match what was the preferred summary.

To some the system is right when it punishes those they do not associate with and upholds their own sense of correctness; but if the expected verdict turns against them the same group insists on a special dispensation to exclude those they support, or they agree if their “friends” just ignore the system’s requirements.

In short, there is a time to espouse “it may sound silly but while you are in Malaysia, you better follow the laws” or to admonish “the narrow-mindedness of these white people unaccustomed to our personal beliefs which are not meant to be adjudicated by foreign/secular laws”.

Some truly believe the appropriate Malaysians can have their cake and eat it too.

Lock me up in Malmo, not Jinjang

Ministries and political bureaus here are racing past each other to assist the accused — parents of four — in a Swedish lock-up, more than 9,000km away but remain indifferent to Malaysians, many of them, who die in local jail cells, apparently due to natural causes. (Read more here)

Swedish Krona are being bought with our tax ringgit to fund a defence for the couple while government agencies here in Kuala Lumpur are disinterested to unearth the truth behind “killer lockups” directly under our system’s care. 

The Muslim children were rushed back to Malaysia at the earliest opportunity because they were with non-Muslim caregivers, which is unfortunate but incomparable to the nightmare detainment places suspects are placed here.

It does suggest that the reason there is an over-reaction on the Swedish case is that Malaysia’s authorities believe that when a legal system in Europe rules on our citizens’ actions it is also ruling on Malaysia’s way of life. A critique like that is far worse, and therefore needs more effort to overcome, than improving facilities and processes so proven “reprobates” survive better inside unsanitary and cruel jail cells.

I do think Malaysia should care for its citizens abroad, help them in an appropriate way and fund their return, but if as a state we are nasty to our citizens in our own jails then all energy expended to assist Malaysians abroad, does appear like a public relations stunt and extremely hollow.

If there was a survey, Malaysians asked where they would like to be incarcerated if they have to go to prison, I doubt many would say Malaysia. I doubt many would be opposed to Sweden, if it came to it.

When they live with us

Often friends tell me foreigners in Malaysia should not be upset by constant checks by the police and being penalised for not carrying their passports on their persons daily. It is the law after all. But how many Malaysians living abroad carry their passports daily?

If the law is the defence for ridiculous requirements, then perhaps Malaysians already living a fair period in Europe should not smack their kids if that is the law.

Still, blue-collared economic migrants in Malaysia would laugh at the extent of the pain experienced by the Malaysian couple in Sweden.

There are detention camps all over the country for foreigners and our enforcement agencies are the least bit concerned about their cultural tenets and personal integrities are protected. Which is why ever so often, the inmates set the camps on fire or break out en mass.

All ASEAN and South Asians have enough horror stories about staying in Malaysia, that they naturally transmit the stories back home. Which is why for example it does not take too much for Indonesians to be antagonised by things we do involving their people and culture.

And this week the health minister said that foreigners will pay full fees at government medical facilities. A large part of the Malaysian economic model is about low-cost labour attracting low-tech industries, and that labour being primarily foreign. 

Government and corporations co-operate to keep the blue collar wages low, without burdening their manpower suppliers who already secure profits with each recruited worker. Underpaid, overworked and sheltered inhumanely there is good money on them getting sick more and with less coverage they would resort to cheaper healthcare means rather than government hospitals.

This is a ticking bomb, but the powers that be see this only as prudent behaviour akin to a person getting more out of the tube of toothpaste. We will know soon enough.

There is also the “sum of all our fears” scenario: One day if the rest of them catch up and exceed us economically, they would really look forward to our people entering their jobs markets to work as menial labourers.

Mothers and children

While appearing to be well-meaning, politicians wax lyrically about how cruelly Shalwati and Azizul have been separated from their children over a misunderstanding, the same emotions can be extended to both apprehensions to foreign laws and foreigners in our midst.

For it is by thinking parents should protect not terrorise their children that the Scandinavians are trying the duo, they feel love rather than fear must permeate in a home, even for guests.

And that all the low-income migrants in Malaysia, the majority of them away from their own families, are away from their own mothers. That perhaps the host nation can treat them as people with mothers. Nothing ostentatious required, but they would greatly appreciate not living with persecution just a RELA sighting away, which is massive as there are more than half a million of those paramilitary personnel with batons before there are the police, immigration and local councils.

Respect other societies when we are there (even learn from them), and be kind to those who live with us and endeavour to build our economy. Sounds about right to me.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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