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Month: May 2017

‘Gusti ora sare’

Published in Malay Mail Online

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama was the front-runner and set to be re-elected as Jakarta governor this year, before a blasphemy scandal cut his campaign, and ultimately his career, short.

The no-nonsense Chinese-Christian politician popularly called Ahok was charged with inciting religious and ethnic hatred in November last year, merely months before the gubernatorial election. Two mega rallies against him were mobilised by hardline Muslims.

By April, Ahok was trounced in the second round of the election by Muslim challenger Anies Baswedan. Just a day after his loss, prosecutors recommended only probation as punishment but he was still sentenced to a two-year jail term earlier this month.

With his life in shambles as the result of a blasphemy accusation, it must have been agonising for Ahok to finally withdraw his appeal this week. His wife, Veronica Tan, was in tears as she publicly read a letter hand written by Ahok from behind bars.

For his supporters, near and far, it was baffling for Ahok to throw in the towel so quick. But the letter betrays Ahok’s thoughts, to show he never took the decision lightly.

“Jakartans would otherwise suffer great losses, in the form of traffic congestion and economic losses resulting from the rallies,” said Ahok.

“It is inappropriate to rally and demonstrate during what I go through. I worry that there will be many parties that will manipulate the rallygoers, what more clashing with those who are against us.”

Remember the three men from Turkey

Published in Malay Mail Online

It was nearly 10pm in windy Queenstown, and my wife and I were looking for some late-night nosh.

Being New Zealand, most shops were long closed by then except for some pubs… and one kebab shop along Mall Street.

The moment we went in, I straight away gave thanks to the owner for being the saviour of my tummy. As he grilled a fat roll of doner kebab, I noticed his TV was showing a Turkish news channel.

I immediately blurted: “What do you think of the Turkish referendum?”

Sensing my wife’s embarrassment at such a heavy question at such a time to a stranger I just met, I added for good measure: “I’m a journalist.” As if that made the question less awkward.

“I voted ‘yes’,” the kebab man answered.

Why? I asked. “Because ‘no’ is for other people. The outsiders, the West, the Americans. We’re Turkish and we fully support Erdogan,” he said confidently.

He grinned at me, and I felt slightly sheepish that I was that outsider who would disagree with him.

Not wishing to debate Islamist politics with this pleasant man who delivered me my scrumptious salvation, we chatted instead about Malaysia before I left the shop giddily with two rolls of kebab. His name was Mustafa.

When tolerance is not the solution

Published in Malay Mail Online

Last weekend was the groundbreaking ceremony of the Dhammaduta Malaysia Buddhist Centre in Putrajaya, the federal territory’s first Buddhist house of worship.

It will serve the roughly 2,000 Buddhists who live here.

The complex is only the second non-Muslim house of worship in Putrajaya, after the Devi Sri Lalithaambigai Alayam—a Hindu temple complex that is still under construction after almost a decade of consultation.

But if you live in Putrajaya, you will hardly notice the existence of these two sites.

In fact, some of the Malay-Muslim majority here believe that the federal territory is an exclusively “Muslim” area.

Notes from Aotearoa

Published in Malay Mail Online

Just last week, glamour model Jaylene Cook posed naked while only wearing a hat, gloves and boots after climbing the 2,308-metre Mount Taranaki in New Zealand’s north island.

She reportedly told Daily Mail Australia that she did it on impulse, to “feel the cold air and embrace it a bit.” Considering the photo was hardly candid and subsequently was liked by over 24,000 people on Instagram (where else?), one could not help but think the act was nothing but a publicity stunt.

But here is the problem. Some among the locals, especially the native Maori, regard Mount Taranaki as sacred. While the summit is open to the public, some Maori would not even dare climb the mountain.

According to Maori mythology, Taranaki was once in the middle of the island, before he was petrified in the West after being wounded, following a fight for the affection of another coveted mountain.