Best columns: International
First tell me: Are you a Muslim?
The Malay Mail
Malaysians are obsessed with knowing people’s background, said Erna Mahyuni. What race are you? What’s your religion? “Questions that are considered rude in many other places are nonchalantly asked of perfect strangers,” as if we don’t know how to react to someone unless we know whether they share our own particular ethnicity or faith. Every government form asks about religion—as does every form generated by any entity here. “I really don’t see why a tampon survey needs to know” my religion, for instance. Recently on Twitter some users began speculating about the religion of a video game character, wondering whether she was Muslim or an “apostate.”
Is this where we’re going as a society? We will police one another’s gaming, then maybe reading habits, then friendships? “Apostasy is already a loaded issue in Malaysia,” where blasphemy is punishable with prison time, “so ascribing it to, of all things, a fictional character is frankly disturbing.” This is a multifaith country, about 60 percent Muslim, 20 percent Buddhist, and the rest mostly Christian or Hindu. Yet we don’t live peacefully together. The latest Pew Research Center study found that our nation ranks high in acts of religious hostility. Maybe if we treated everyone the same, without first asking their religion, we would all get along better.
Will we once again kill for politics?
Kenya is heading for another bloody election season, said Mutuma Mathiu. The presidential and parliamentary elections are scheduled for early August, but schools already have contingency plans for classes to be suspended until October. They assume that riots and ethnic pogroms are going to break out. I’m torn between being impressed that the schools are being so pragmatic and “aghast at the fact that we learned nothing” from the 2007 and 2008 election violence. Both main parties in that contest engaged in widespread cheating, ballot stuffing, and rigging, so there was no way to tell who had won. Both sides also had pet pundits on the radio who openly called for rioting and bloodshed— and they got their way, as more than 1,200 people were killed and hundreds of thousands displaced. This time around, radio hosts are being kept in check, but now “there is an army of hatemongering inciters online.” And given the widespread corruption and nearly total lack of law enforcement, “politicians can say almost anything they like, perhaps even buy and distribute machetes, and get away with it.” I’d like to say Kenyans don’t deserve these terrible leaders, but I can’t. We “are almost incurably dishonest, we have no respect for the rules, and we have the morals of alley cats.” ■