Hogs, values, niceties and other distractions

Homer Simpson with "spider-pig" from Simpsons the movie, courtesy of Fox

This was first seen at The Malaysian Insider, July 2 2009. I’m putting up my old copies up. Some of the information, ideas and thoughts may be dated in retrospect.

DEC 15 — No two persons would agree on most things, with some of those contentions separated by a values abyss. It would seem on the face of it that resolutions for those fundamental contentions would be improbable, if not impossible.

Relationships are never easy, but they are necessary.

Their necessity prompt, nay force, constant efforts to work them out.

Cringing through his marriage, my uncle often tempered his predicament by saying, “You have to go home sometime, somehow.”

If you bought relationship/marriage advice books, or complex geo-political theory dissertations (great reading on “dateless” Friday nights), you’ll find massive agreements in them, surprisingly. And they would both pity my uncle.

Which brings me to the Sepang Town Council meeting last week, and what hogged it.

A night-stall operator in one of the council’s food-courts was about to lose his licence because he was sub-letting the unit to someone else. Part of the action report included an unverified complaint that the sub-let was serving pork.

Some councillors were annoyed that a non-issue was attached to a matter which was straightforward to decide.

So being the one prone to asking the forbidden, I just queried why the council had a rule against pork being served on council premises.

The answer was curt and uninspiring from the council president

“There is a nationwide tradition barring pork in government buildings, in order to respect Islam as the official religion.”

Nodding away, one councillor asked for the tradition to be inked down as a regulation.

I was not as convinced. But more importantly, I felt uninvolved.

It seemed many of the councillors felt like that, but kept a discomforting silence.

A step back please.

Why is government making policies without corresponding legislation or judicial review?

Set aside the emotive effects of the policy, and I’ll try not to advance constitutional challenges.

Why is it that a faith can be disrespected by the mere presence of taboo objects — with no consumption or embrace of the said object?

My colleague’s: “But you can smell it, and that upsets people” leads me to wonder if first was he speaking from a broad conscious consensus or just a phobia he holds, with many others.

Because it reeks of seclusionist think.

A think that shut down China and Japan from the outside world centuries ago by leaders troubled by things different to what they were used to — which both nations rued and suffered for.

A whole slew of populist premises have gone unchallenged in Malaysia for decades, and today we spend our time placating those who hold isolated conclusions from those premises.

That is why it is hard to beat the rationale of many opposing sides in Malaysia, since their conclusions are solid, but their premises at best shaky.

Common premises:

Pork is prohibited by Islam. Muslims must stay away from pork. Pigs are an abomination. Pigs are unclean.

Let us clean them up a bit.

The consumption of pork is prohibited by Islam. Muslims must not consume pork. The abomination bit is a bit over the top, and I won’t argue that pigs are not filthy.

A more reasonable read of the prohibitions would result in policies to inform, involve and engage Muslims on what would transgress their religious beliefs without excluding the wants of other members of society.

We are in a relationship and relationships even at the best of times walk tightropes.

Please disagree with me. It helps.

My own premises might be flawed, and exposing them would help me form better conclusions.

That was what was missing in the council meeting the other day.

Not that having a pork ban was unacceptable, or that knowing Muslims find pork intolerable.

If that is the inevitable truth, then we must amend to live together.

The amending bit is not new or brain-thumping. The typical multicultural Chinese home often passes on serving non-halal food during festivities, because a meal cannot be as important as keeping your neighbours at ease.

Most Malaysians do the amending very naturally, it comes with practice — of being together.

The real strain in my council was in the non-discussion of our various perceived premises.

We did not engage in each others’ premises, misgivings, concerns, fears and hopes.

By not doing so, we collectively short-changed ourselves. We failed to be a community.

The ideal is for us through the exchange of ideas, principles and perhaps even religious scriptures arrive at commonly-acceptable premises.

From those, we as a council can come up with conclusions that best serve the people, and even if we disagree we’d respect each others’ thinking. That respect is from the fact we are all trying to advance ideas through reason and not by sticking to schisms. That would have kept me involved and that would have inspired me.

After all, “we all have to go home sometime, somehow.”

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