This column first appeared in The Malay Mail Online. It is reproduced here.
FEBRUARY 5 — Have a look at the date again — the fifth day of the second month in 2015.
Nine days to Valentine’s Day and the naysayers have not started with their tirade over the dual — real or imagined — threat of fornication and layered proselytisation through the reference of a till lately, obscure Christian saint. Phew!
They are starting late this year, but don’t doubt them, they will start even if they sound like broken records — to sympathisers and supporters alike.
(Talking about Valentine’s, I really don’t want to know how ISIS will be observing it this year in order to warn Muslims worldwide away from performing unsanctioned love acts. I can suggest some nasty “ideas” as a joke, but I fear — through the mysterious powers of the Internet— somehow they’d hear about it, and actually carry them out. Those ISIS dudes, they raise “doing” to a whole new stratosphere.)
Over here in Malaysia, it has become an annual ritual — I know, it’s cute, a ritual to fight a ritual — to demonise those who are inclined to dating on the day.
Compounding it, Valentine’s falls on a Saturday, which is the default dating day for office-workers.
So expect religious officers on duty trying to decipher from the way couples are seated or talking in the KLCC Park on the day, whether they are celebrating the dastardly celebration recounting some romantic overture a then-soon to be murdered priest performed in Rome 1,500 years ago, or just two people from accounting trying to hit it off.
Are they part of a heathen culture, shameless romantics or just horny people? Is there really a difference?
Truth be told, Valentine’s is a very good excuse to date. Young Malaysian couples are not engrossed in ancient foreign customs in an attempt to validate their own generation’s reinterpretation of human interaction they just need an excuse to go out.
And going out is not limited to Valentine’s Day. New Year’s Day, Independence Day, Malaysia Day and any holiday — religious or cultural — which coincide with extended weekends are times for people to meet.
People are not looking forward to Valentine’s per se, they are exploring opportunities to interact which what events and holidays offer.
Stopping or fighting Valentine’s Day does not alter the substantive realities in Malaysia, that more and more Malaysians find love or versions of it through dating.
That is not tied to or limited to Valentine’s. So the real issue is symbolic, can conservatism win the public relations war over changing norms, even if the boat on open and casual mixing of peoples in our country has long sailed away?
Let’s amble along and talk about symbols.
My 7-E, more halal than yours
Malacca is close to banning the sale of alcohol in convenience stores in areas reportedly with a 90 per cent Muslim population, and immediately three PAS MPs jump to support the Barisan Nasional state’s intentions.
The “I am holier than thou” race has starts and stops all over the country. When one side says they have god in their thoughts and actions, the other side is not far behind in espousing the same thoughts and actions with even greater rigour.
In this instance, PAS parliamentarians Nasruddin Hassan (Temerloh), Khairuddin Aman Razali (Kuala Nerus) and Nik Mohamad Abduh Nik Abdul Aziz (Pasir Mas).
How noble of them! You’d think that three highly esteemed MPs from areas which were flogged by the worst floods in the recorded history of the country whose victims are still scrounging around to rebuild their lives, would be distracted by their own bread and butter worries than what the state of Malacca does with its convenience stores. Apparently not. They probably think their voters in temporary shelters are immensely gratified that their MPs are worried about what residents in a state on the other side of the peninsula are buying.
Nik Abduh, whose father was Kelantan menteri besar for two decades, would be expected to be clarifying issues related to flood mitigation and environmental conservation and defend Nik Aziz Nik Mat’s legacy and leadership credentials. But perhaps it is too much to expect after reading about how he explained the high HIV infection rates in Kelantan and blamed Thailand instead.
Morals or morale
Where does it end?
That question only leads to more symbolic questions and Pyrrhic victories. Let’s rejig it.
How about, can governing and leadership limit itself to displays of moral fortitude?
Because it appears, if the discussion is isolated to containment driven by religious fervour then both a saturation point for support and rebellion from the discontented will drain the people from other pursuits, like being invigorated members of the workforce, keen students in schools or empowered parents who build positive homes.
In a working democracy, people elect leaders who choose policies, which give the people more access to choices, opportunities and participation. It is not about moral arbiters patrolling the corridors of our lives. They are, however, welcome through the power of reason and persuasion to seek a place to exist in the corridors of our conscience, and if some or many choose to let them in then that is a valid choice as long as they are not forbidden from choosing again.
Choosing and repeating the process is at the heart of a democracy.
To the absolutely committed to goodness, whether anyone likes it or not, this falls on deaf ears.
They think redemption is too valuable a thing to be left to the free will of the spiritually indolent.
I’m vigilant of them, for their intentions leave them blinkered, in other words, dangerous.
Something about pavements and Google maps to hell.
We live in difficult times and answers must come from those who are working the situation, not demonising it.
When those seeking to rule are easily distracted by people dating — and what drinks they are having when they are hanging outside convenience stores on a Saturday — then it’s clear they are ill-equipped to deal with the complexities and challenges of modern society.
And oh yeah, Happy Valentine’s Day, whatever that means.