Who is Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno and why should you care?

Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno is a rather successful Malaysian model. In December 2007 she did what many westerners would take for granted, and started to enjoy a beer in a hotel lobby. But under Malaysian two-tier legal code, which prescribes one set of laws for non-muslims and another based on their local interpretation of Sharia law for Muslims, she broke the law.

Now beer and other forms of alcohol are widely avaiable in Malaysia, though prohibitively expensive - your average beer costs the same as it does in Ireland, even though wages about 1/3 of what they are here. And Irish drink prices are a legendary rip off to start with. Most drinkers are either foreigners, Hindus or Chinese. Malaysia, like its next door neighbour Singapore, is hugely multicultural. Except when it comes to the legal code.

While many people assume Malaysia is a "moderate" muslim state, quite severe laws exist. Now we know all about this in Ireland. Not enforcing hugely discriminatory laws is not an excuse for those laws remaining on the law books, as Ireland legendarily tried to do in the context of the Norris case in the 1980s. Sure we don't enforce it so we're grand out. Same thing goes on in Malaysia. Unfortunately, with the increasing threat of more extreme forms of islamic political models flooding into south east Asian Muslim states (such as the Aceh province in Indonesia and Muslim-dominated provinces of other countries), previously mainstream and seemingly moderate Muslim states such as Malaysia are starting to pull the law book out of the hat and start to enforce the law.

The fact that Ms Shukarno agrees with her punishment and that she is the first Malaysian woman to be sentenced to caning is no excuse. These laws simply have no place on the law books of a so-called civillised nation. Now there is another side to all of this. Recently, the government, who normally prohibits alcohol related promotions and in particular alcohol sponsored concerts, reversed an outright ban on and then a ban on Muslims attending a Guiness-sponsored Black Eyed Peas concert. Living in a city where local institutions such as the opera house and so-called jazz festival have been drink sozzled to such an extent that the opera house rarely shows opera and the so-called jazz festival is merely a drinking festival punctuated by mediocre live music most of which is not jazz, its a pity to be so inconsistent if not hypocrytical when it comes to protecting innocent minds.

The reality is, very dangerous models of Islamic legal codes are spreading rapidly around the entire globe. They are using and abusing existing institutions and needs in order to establish themselves. In places like the Gaza strip they have effectively ousted the democratically and respectful legitiate Fatah movement (which is secular political movement which respects Israel's political legitimacy) for one which preaches a form of Islam where "freedom" means freedom for men to virtually imprison women and infidels. This movement, unlike its kinder, more established older brother in the West Bank, believes that Israel should be entirely eliminated (they are silent on the plight of its Jewish majority, but I can only assume that some kind of new "final solution" involving mass murder and/or deportation would be considered appropriate). Its extremely depressing to see the extent to which these organisations have built up a support network in the West via anti-Israeli lobby groups. Interestingly, if you read Indymedia Ireland it shows a very clear anti-Fatah bias in favour of Hamas. That Fatah is democratically legitimized and does not conceal its terrorist activities behind "good causes" such as running schools (or should I suggest indoctrination camps?) and hospitals seems beyond the point.

Either way, Ms Shukamo's case remains a valid reminder of why we need to continuously fight the pro-millitant backlash, especially when it hides behind seemingly legitimate causes such as that of the Palestinian states, and read between the lines.

I leave you with this very important link on why you should NOT boycott Israeli goods as a lot of people have been taken in by this policy which does nothing but polarise more extremism on both sides.


paley said…
Well, there is a lot to address here, but firstly, it was Hamas that won the election in 2006 fair and square. This was not accepted by Fatah, Israel or the West generally. The separate position of President is still retained by Fatah, despite the fact that an election is overdue (I can't remember if it is was due in January of this year or of last year). I am not a big fan of state elections per se, but if one accepts them in principle, then Hamas are the legitimate governing party and not Fatah.

Fatah isn't really any kinder or gentler; it has engaged in acts every bit as brutal as Hamas, including suicide bombs. And I would be surprised if Hamas supported a Nazi like “solution”. Undoubtedly there is a lot of rabid anti-Israeli rhetoric and undoubtedly there will be more acts of terrible violence if a solution isn't found soon, but mass extermination is vanishingly unlikely. Much more probable is that Israel will disappear in the way the Soviet Union disappeared, i.e. The State is dissolved, but the bulk of people remain (I would imagine that the richer and more skilled will emigrate; indeed there is some evidence that the latter are doing so already).

Whether one agrees with the existence of Israel or not, I think it's wise to keep a realistic assessment on the actual ideologies of the participants. As a left wing atheist, Hamas are not my cup of tea in the slightest. But they aren't mass murdering Nazis either. As I see it, they are the product – and in their early years, a product of the Israeli state – of the defeat of a long running national liberation struggle.

The secularists and Marxists have clearly failed, not to mention having become notoriously corrupt, with Fatah being by far the worst in this respect. The Palestinians have so little hope, and the prospects are just getting worse and worse, that people are willing to turn to organisations who are far less corrupt and who in some way are preventing their complete collapse as a people.

I know some Palestinians from leftist backgrounds and whose family were active in the PLO (and they themselves were supporters or activists). They don't particularly like Hamas. They aren't fanatical Muslims in the slightest.

But like many Northern nationalists after 1969, when their communities were under direct threat, they turn to the only organisation willing to put up a fight. And just as in the North it by no means entails that they subscribe to the details of the IRA's ideology. It just seems like the only game in town to a desperate people.

The one ideology that hasn't failed is an Islamic tinged nationalism. With the infusions of Islam it has a deep cultural reach that secular Marxism, unfortunately in my opinion, doesn't have.

I'd like to see a one state solution with equal civil rights for all, but as long at the USA backs Israel it's not very likely. I'm not sure what Israel's long term prospects are, however. For sure, it can survive the next 30-50 years fairly easily. But will the USA be strong enough to protect them in a 100 years? 200? 500? Humans don't really think on these time-scales I guess.

Finally, I am supportive of an economic (as opposed to a cultural or sporting) boycott of Israeli goods. Israel, as the stronger party by far, has so far been immune to any pressure to compromise. A boycott that threatens the profits of Israeli companies is much more preferable than bullets and bombs. It is easily lifted when a settlement is reached. Without such pressure, the extremists on the Israeli side have a completely free hand and the militarists on the Palestianian side can make the argument that there is no alternative. The inevitable outcome of both these approaches is more violence at the very least.
paley said…
More generally on Islam and religion, I mostly agree with where you're coming from. My wife is Muslim and dislikes the backward, miserable patriarchical form of Islam that has come to dominate her home country. From working with immigrants, including African Christians, it is clear that the old school patriarchy is alive and kicking in a way that is almost unimaginable in Europe.

But the process towards secularism has to be an organic one and sometimes that takes time. Just as we in Ireland had the painful process of submitting to Rome Rule after the British were booted out, so too will many other countries that are going through a modernisation process follow a similar path. The old religions have a deep hold on the minds of the population. The fact that so many societies continue to be under intense pressure from the Western imperialist powers just fosters a seige mentality that favours the ideologies you can rely on.

The solution is for societies to be allowed to make mistakes, just as we in Ireland did with Christianity. If secularists had imposed secularism in Ireland from the 1920s to the 1980s, the population would still today be yearning to kiss the rings of the bishops. It would only pospone the disillusionment process. Maybe it's better to get that painful process over and done with.

Once the Iranians, for instance, are done with the clerical regime, there will never be a movement of any size to go back to the middle ages. Possibly the main thing keeping the regime in power there is the fear of external invasion.

That's not to say we should ignore travesties of justice such as the one you highlight above. Progress depends on criticism after all. Nor should we retreat in our own countries to accepting traditional practices because they are traditional. But criticism needs to be tempered with self-criticism and in the case of what is essentially a European colony in the middle east, it will be difficult to find listeners for pleas for greater liberty when the audience we trying to engage with is on the receiving end of a jackboot in the face.

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