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Author: Zurairi AR

Zurairi AR is a journalist and columnist for Malay Mail Online. He is an advocate of humanism and scepticism.

Can the Rukunegara stem the tide of Islamisation?

Published in Malay Mail Online

While Muslims cower in uncertainty in the United States, and maybe soon Europe, it is no secret that equally fascistic Islamists are gaining ground in countries where Muslims are the majority.

In Bangladesh, its Education Ministry was made to remove 17 poems and stories from the 2017 edition of textbooks after a group of conservative Islamic scholars demanded it. Their reason? That the texts were deemed “atheistic.”

In Indonesia, hardliners Islam Defenders Front called earlier this week for Indonesia’s newly-issued rupiah banknotes to be pulled from circulation. Their excuse? That their anti-counterfeit discreet images purportedly show the “communist” symbol of the hammer and sickle.

In Malaysia, where things are going down a similar road, it is understandable that a group of activists is now pushing for the Rukunegara, or the “National Principles”, to be made the preamble of our Federal Constitution, similar to Indonesia’s Pancasila.

A nation of ‘kap chais’

Published in Malay Mail Online

I do not ride a motorbike. My father, himself a wild rider in his youth — complete with a scrambler bike — forbade his sons from ever riding, for reasons we did not bother asking.

My memories of riding pillion on an underbone bike, which we call kap chai, are about hitching a ride to Friday prayers, either with my late grandfather in Johor back in my high school days, or now with my father-in-law in Kelantan.

Living beside a main road in Putrajaya, my sleeping hours are punctuated by kap chai bikes; the shriek of their puny engines magnified tenfold by their vulgar exhaust mufflers as they go by, keeping me worried that the wee baby would be shocked into waking up (fortunately, she never did).

There are dedicated motorbike lanes in most parts of Putrajaya, especially accompanying the wide four-lane roads that go between precincts. They, of course, remain ignored by riders who choose instead the wide roadways.

Still, the bikes remain essential to the working class who needs to cross the massive administrative capital on a day-to-day basis. It is a similar situation for university campuses. Malaysia likes to build things big, but never with any consideration for the humans who would live in it.

Faiz Subri and Malay masculinity

Published in Malay Mail Online

Penang footballer Faiz Subri’s recent FIFA Puskás Award for his bewitching knuckleball free-kick brought its own share of hangers-on and opportunists.

Faiz’s win was incontrovertibly his own, a demonstration of his personal passion and talent rather than a reflection of the state of the country’s football prowess or lack thereof.

A recent video that went viral online showed Faiz’s top five goals, and it served as proof that Faiz’s performance was not really a fluke as he netted one goal after another wonderful goal from an incredible distance.

But over the 11 months since he scored that winning goal, Faiz has had to suddenly carry the hopes and dignity of a country whose team currently ranks 161 in the world below Aruba and above Macedonia, a far cry from its 79th place in 1993 when the ranking was first devised.

Born a Malay, Faiz has also had to carry the burden and pride of the majority ethnic group, which is still struggling with its post-colonial identity even nearly 60 years after Malaya declared itself independent.

Let them eat (halal) cake!

Published in Malay Mail Online

The only times I go to McDonald’s are for completely unhealthy reasons like grabbing supper on particularly hungry late nights or for a quick meal in between assignments.

I have to admit I have a soft spot (somewhere in my tummy, obviously) for their sundaes, Prosperity Burger and the elusive McRibs, which is made of chicken here. (But chickens do not have ribs that huge so what are they but why are they tasty though?)

Therefore, I have to admit that it is baffling that somebody would want to celebrate their birthday in McDonald’s, much like how I am weirded out by students who do their group study or couples who go on dates there. It is a sign that I am either too old, or not old enough.

But I can sympathise with those who do. McDonald’s is certainly not that cheap by Malaysian standards (nor does it have a good price-to-deliciousness ratio), but it is perhaps one of the few places that is welcoming to all. I have to confess that I do not see many birthday celebrations in mamak shops.

So, when it was revealed that the fast food chain only allows halal-certified birthday cakes, understandably it raised quite a few eyebrows. And just like McDonald’s itself, the policy seems absurd, but understandable.

Will there still be one Malaysia in 2017?

Published as “A Malaysia for All” in Malay Mail Online

The year 2016 has left many of us bruised and battered, emotionally and spiritually, and it is easy to make the mistake of anthropomorphising the year to lay blame at its feet.

There were major celebrity deaths and earth-shattering socio-political upheavals; you would think that 2016 was being unnecessarily cruel to humankind, making it one of the worst years in history.

But alas, 2016 has no mind of its own, nor were the events a deliberate machination of fate. Things just happened.

And in this country, the year 2016 symbolised the start of the deepening fissures that aim to cleave Malaysia in two — a repercussion that we have felt ever since the divisive 2013 general elections.

Why TransMalaya’s bus segregation has little to do with protecting women

Long-haul bus operator TransMalaya Ekspres has been practising gender segregation in its buses since February 2015 before it was featured by Berita Harian yesterday, and subsequently Malay Mail Online by following up with Noorlini Ramli, the owner and co-founder of KRZ Management Sdn Bhd that manages the fleet.

The revelation was met with outrage over the spill of moral policing into the transport industry that would also affect non-Muslims, reminiscent of segregated check-out lines in Kelantan.

The outrage however was mocked by among others Islamist group Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma), who claimed it contradicts liberals and feminists’ goal of protecting women. It also became the subject of a webcomic by VulpineNinja (which itself does not reflect the exact facts of the case).

Supporters of the policy lambasted critics, believing that it protects women from sexual harassment, which was backed by Noorlini’s claim:

“The point of this is to give an advantage to our female passengers because we have heard and read reports of how female travellers get molested by strangers, so we took this effort to give them a greater sense of security and comfort.

“This is for both Muslim and non-Muslim. We simply want to avoid any untoward incidents.”

Is it, though? While there is undeniable intent that the policy is meant to ensure women’s safety, it reeks much more of moral policing.