Is the unlawful moral policing by Ipoh Municipality harassing young couples holding hands in public a precursor to the eventual establishment of a special section of Peeping Toms and moral snoopers in every municipality in the country?

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling JayaSaturday):  The unlawful moral policing by  the Ipoh Mayor in the past few months, persecuting young couples who hold hands in public,  is one direct consequence of the UMNO-PAS contest to out-Islam each other after the  last general election, undermining the very fundamentals of the 46-year Merdeka Constitution and nation-building  of Malaysia as a tolerant, democratic, secular and multi-religious nation with Islam as the official religion but not an Islamic state. 

Its genesis can be traced to the arbitrary, unlawful and unconstitutional “929 Declaration” made by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad at the Gerakan national delegates conference on Sept. 29, 2001 that Malaysia is an Islamic state, which has led to an increasingly long list of measures at various levels of government insensitive to the rights and diversity of ways of life in plural Malaysia. 

It must be a matter of national concern to all Malaysians that the first three years of the new millennium have seen a marked decrease of social tolerance in multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-religious Malaysia, reflected not only in the harassment and victimization of young couples in Ipoh holding hands in public, but also  the new ruling implemented this year by the Johore Bahru municipalities requiring the written consent of  Muslim neighbours before applications for renewal or new dog licences would be issued, the ban on  sale of pork in open-air markets by the Kajang Municipal Council, the  removal of liquor and beer signages and advertisements in coffeeshops and restaurants and the crackdown on Karaoke  and other entertainment outlets in the various Selangor municipalities. 

Last July, PAS Terengganu Mentri Besar, Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, announced  that the Terengganu  state government would set up its own religious police to implement its Syariah Criminal Offence (Hudud and Qisas) enactment, raising  the spectre of Malaysia having its version of Saudi Arabia’s mutawwa’in (religious police) which would represent a great setback to human rights, social tolerance, multi-religious goodwill and national unity for our plural society as well as frighten off foreign investments.


The mutawwa'in or the state-sanctioned religious police in Saudi Arabia imposes a reign of terror in Saudi Arabian society and epitomizes the fundamental flaws of a country where, in the words of Amnesty International(AI), "Every day in Saudi Arabia the most fundamental human rights are violated, yet this fact is rarely publicized". 



Malaysians will still remember the horror of reading about  the tragic fire at a girls' school in Mecca early last year where 15 girls died because the mutawwa'in,  as the Committee to Propagate Virtue and Prevent Vice, barred male rescuers from entering the burning building and stopped fleeing girls from leaving because they didn't wear veils.


In Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to walk in the street without being in the company of an immediate male relative (Mahrim), or to mix with men of no immediate family relationship.  Breaching these codes could give rise to suspicion of prostitution and may result in arrest, brutality, and torture by police, particularly the mutawwa'in, who patrols the streets monitoring, among other things, women's conduct or

dress or behaviour. 

In Malaysia, the “Islamisation race” has become so intense and ubiquitous that it has resulted in the  unlawful moral policing through non-religious laws and by-laws, like the Parks (Ipoh Municipal Council) By-Laws 1985, harassing and persecuting young couples holding hands in public.  Is the unlawful moral policing in Ipoh harassing young couples holding hands in public going to be a precursor to the eventual  establishment of  a special section of peeping Toms and moral snoopers in every municipality in the country? 

The rise in the incidence of  greater social intolerance and insensitivities in our  plural society, aided and abetted more and more by those in authority who are caught up in the UMNO-PAS contest to out-Islam each other, is a grave threat to the basic principles of the 46-year Merdeka Constitution and the fundamental cornerstone of nation-building of Malaysia as a tolerant, democratic, secular and  multi-religious  nation with Islam as the official religion but Malaysia is not an Islamic state. 

This slide towards greater social intolerance and insensitivies in our plural society must  be arrested and reversed, and  we must learn from  such disturbing developments in other parts of the world – such as the  breakdown of social tolerance in France pre-eminent institution of Eastern language studies, which should be serious food for thought for Malaysians concerned about the future of Malaysia. 

The French publication reported on Monday (June 2, 2003)

( that

France's preeminent institution for Eastern language studies (INALCO), commonly known as "L'Ecole des Langues O.", “is falling prey to an unprecedented Islamist surge in its Arabic department” with students describing “unimaginable incidents -  students wearing burqas, women refusing to pass exams with male professors”, etc.

L'Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales" (INALCO) (The National Institute for Eastern Languages and Civilizations) has been described as  “the perfect example of a successful melting pot” - “People of various traditions, cultures and customs rub shoulders in the establishment. At times, the coexistence nears perfection. Turks, Armenians and Kurds study Turkish together. Jews and Arabs mingle to learn Arabic or Hebrew. One person may converse with another in a dialect of the Maghreb, while the other responds in Judeo-Arab. Hundreds of individuals jostle at the gates for a chance to immerse themselves in the cultures and languages of Japan, China or Russia.”

The main campuses are in Dauphine, Clichy and Asničres, and it is in the last where a host of problems have recently cropped up. Asničres, where 1,200 students are registered, is home to the school's Arabic department. A small minority of students – 2% to 3%, according to school president Gilles Delouche – are creating significant problems for the administration, professors and students.

The report said  “An astonishing climate has settled upon the place” which speaks of an “oppressive climate  which allows for no dialogue’”  where it is not uncommon to see “women completely covered except for their eyes, a few burqas and even clerics”.

Some of these developments in the Asnieres campus reported by the French publication include:

  • Students, who are no longer content with simple headscarves, are showing up at classes and exams with veils. They refuse to show their faces to men for identity checks and demand that women carry out this task.
  • Some female Muslim students, who do not necessarily wear a headscarf, refuse to pass oral exams with male professors without the presence of another individual.
  • Some female students refuse to speak in language classes, even at the request of the professor, under the pretext that the Koran considers the act of using their voices to be immodest for women.
  • During the month of Ramadan, a young Muslim woman wearing lipstick was taken to task by some individuals because they said she might break her fast by ingesting particles from her lips. Last year, again during Ramadan, a group of students wiped makeup off the face of a young woman of North African origin.
  • A professor of Near Eastern contemporary history was told by some students that she did not have the right to quote or interpret the Koran during her classes. Their argument was that she is not a Muslim and therefore cannot talk about the holy book. Her classes touch upon sensitive issues in places like Israel, Palestine or Iraq. After her class, some students handed out partisan documents refuting the elements of her course.
  • A dozen students left an Arabic culture course given by a professor of North African origin. She had been illustrating a point by making the class listen to classical Arabic music. The departing students argued that the Koran forbids the faithful from listening to music. After the course, one of the students told her that since they paid tuition, they had the right to demand that their faith be respected. The students walked out of another class during which an Egyptian film showing courting couples was screened.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman