Sex and the clerics

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 15 ­— Last week, Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim was convicted to five years’  jail under an anti-sodomy law that originated from the UK, where sex between males itself has been decriminalised for decades.

Despite all the push towards Islamic laws and against colonial laws, the section in the Penal Code was perhaps retained only because it provides for some sort of “prevention” against a crime feared since Biblical times.

Alleged political persecution aside, the case against Anwar was motivated also by so-called injustice towards his sexual partner Saiful Bukhari Azlan.

Protesters had gathered in Putrajaya during the verdict, carrying placards with words such as “No one should get away with sexual molest at work” [sic].

While we should not easily dismiss a victim of male rape, it is equally important that the issue of consent plays little role to convict someone of performing sodomy (rather than receiving it).

Regardless, it was interesting to see the kind of national spectacle that arose when the dignity and honour of a man was allegedly abused by someone in power.

Women can only dream of the same attention being given when they are the victims. But alas, women would just be blamed for it instead.

The myth that women can prevent rape and sexual harassment by covering up has played a big role in perpetuating rape culture.

The latest culprit of spreading this myth was the Selangor religious authorities. Its Friday sermon last week compared women who do not cover up as homes which are left unlocked, and therefore liable to break-ins by robbers.

Unsurprisingly, this demeaning comparison of women to property earned the ire of Muslim women and rights groups.

Instead of recognising this valid concern, the inspector-general of police (IGP) decided instead to order an investigation of Penang state exco member Chong Eng for sedition and allegedly questioning sensitive issues pertaining to Islam.

Chong was just one of the many who criticised the Selangor religious enforcers for trivialising rape and sexual harassment. She also happens to be a lawmaker with opposition party DAP.

Is the attitude of Islamic authorities beyond reproach?

More importantly and disturbingly, what does this say about our police’s attitude towards rape and sexual harassment?

Anwar arrives with his wife Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah for the verdict in his final appeal against a conviction for sodomy at the Federal Court in Putrajaya on Tuesday. — Picture by Reuters­­
Anwar arrives with his wife Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah for the verdict in his final appeal against a conviction for sodomy at the Federal Court in Putrajaya on Tuesday. — Picture by Reuters­­

By siding with the view of Selangor enforcers, does the IGP mean to say that the police agree that women victims should be blamed because of their attire?

And you wonder why rape and sexual assault cases are severely under-reported in this country.

The best way to curb rape is to dismantle the rape culture, and education plays an immense part. It is disheartening to see so few in power interested in it.

And when the women’s ministry mooted a sex education module in schools, we have people like the clergy wing of PAS, who insisted that the whole country should subscribe to its moral values, urging that the module should follow the “Islamic mould”.

Instead of minimising harm, PAS clerics prefer instead for all Malaysian kids to practise abstinence ­— a practice that for hundreds of years, has failed to stem harm that comes from lack of sex education.

Not only that, we also have the federal Islamic authorities Jakim unilaterally deciding that the sex module should be referred to the body before it is given approval, supposedly much like any other policies in the country.

If ever there is any doubt that the country’s policies are being determined by an entitled religious quarter, it should be dispelled by now.

The same morning when Anwar’s verdict was read out, Putrajaya had obliviously launched a Malaysian Shariah Index, claiming it would “scientifically” measure how compliant the country is with the Islamic moral code, and its seriousness in doing so.

What if I mention that this was not even the first index of its kind, as it was touted to be towards the masses?

Back in 2009, Putrajaya had funded a similar Shariah Index by the Cordoba Initiative, led by New York-based cleric Feisal Abdul Rauf.
Whatever happened to the money spent back then?

And how much more was given to the International Islamic University of Malaysia (IIUM) and the Islamic Missionary Foundation of Malaysia (Perkim) to develop this second new index?

It is painfully obvious that the index might be nothing more than pulling wool over the eyes of the Muslim populace, in a bid to prove the holiness and piety of Umno leaders in power, without ever addressing how the administration translates Islamic values.

After all, Malaysia ranked 33rd in the Economic Islamicity Index last year, a study of 208 countries to see how closely they match with Islamic economic teachings, developed by Iranian-born professor Hossein Askari.

Malaysia was ironically the highest-ranking Muslim-majority country in the list, which were topped by Ireland, Denmark, Luxembourg and New Zealand.

In Hossein’s Overall Islamicity Index in 2010 that measured a wider range of social rules and human rights, similar results had emerged. Malaysia was ranked even worse in that, at 38th.

It seems if you cannot beat ‘em, just invent a new one-horse race.

* This is the personal opinion of the writers or organisation and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.

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