In that great tradition of making things up, Datuk Mashitah Ibrahim, Deputy Minister in the Malaysian Prime Minister’s Department, has decided that homosexuality is a “social problem”, rather like drug abuse or, I daresay, not letting people get off the train before you board. There is an outbreak of anti-LGBT activity in Malaysia right now. On March 1, Malaysian courts upheld a police ban on the Sexuality Rights Festival, Seksualiti Merdeka, which was first held in 2008. The trick to it, as is so often the case when pro-equality movements are challenged, is to paint the struggle for equal rights as a threat to freedom. And so the festival was banned because it was dubbed “deviationist activity that could destroy the practice of religious freedom, among others”.
When questioned about the government’s steps to curb homosexuality, Mashitah responded that it “has its own after-effects, which can lead to prostitution, drug abuse, psychological problems and also mental illness. We have been raising awareness on our fatwa against LBGT tendencies with heavy media publicity on the issue to raise awareness, and also about the bad effects homosexuality has on health.”
Quite how she knows this, she does not say, but she does venture the opinion that people are confused because “so many things now are unisex, be it clothes, accessories, fashion and hairstyle”. She fails to realise that it is the act of persecution that leads to instability. Nevertheless, she does not need to reveal her ‘research’ thanks to the dual-system of law in Malaysia. The crackdown, she said, is intended to punish Muslim offenders under Syariah laws.
Syariah deals exclusively with Sharia Law, and has jurisdiction over every Muslim in Malaysia. It can pass sentences of not more than three years imprisonment, a fine of up to RM5,000, and/or up to six strokes of the cane. Mashitah’s authority does not stop there, however, for she added, “then again, no religion in this country endorses such lifestyles”. There it is. Religion is once again used to command carte blanche persecution.
Malaysia does not receive development and economic aid from the US. But the State Department describes Malaysia as a “key Muslim-majority state in Southeast Asia and an important contributor to conflict resolution and peacekeeping both regionally and internationally”, and so it receives money for “antiterrorism and non-proliferation activities”. The country also receives subsantial support from Japan, Germany, Denmark and France. Seksualiti Merdeka was closed down because it was deemed a threat to national security, and so the Malaysian government are clearly using the language of antiterrorism to pursue more nefarious ends. But politics is, in the end, not about right or wrong, it is about the maintenance of power. And so quite what will happen to the growing list of countries cracking down on human rights whilst hiding behind the rhetorical devices of religion and anti-terrorism is uncertain.