Moderation the way for Malaysia to go: The Star columnist

Parti Islam Se Malaysia (PAS), or any other group, should not be allowed to use religion to challenge Malaysia's social climate and political system.

The Better Beer Festival, which has been held five years in a row, has been officially cancelled in 2017. PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - There have always been beer festivals in Malaysia, with St Patrick's Day and Oktoberfest celebrated on a large scale annually by beer drinkers. It is common knowledge that the target crowd here is the non-Muslims, and drinkers are left to enjoy themselves during these celebrations.

Then, there is the Better Beer Festival, which has been held five years consecutively, without incident or complaint.

Malaysians are known for many things, and most prominently, their degree of acceptance and respect for each other. But that open-mindedness is worryingly corroding. The world, as we know it, is no longer the same. And Malaysia is no different.

Last week, the Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Mohamad Fuzi Harun said the beer festival could not go on for fear of possible attacks by militant groups.

He said the police had received intelligence indicating that a militant group was planning to sabotage the event and that few parties planned to cause trouble during the event.

This is certainly disturbing. It means the level of tolerance here is being challenged, and if this is allowed to go on, we are pandering to extremists, at the expense of our moderate way of life.

Foreigners will be struggling to make sense of this event's cancellation, and wonder how it now even involves security concerns. It was bad enough when word went around that the reasons were political.

While the police have not revealed much about the militant group, we are thankful to them for their unerring vigilance against emerging terrorist cells, including those sympathetic to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Terrorism cannot be taken lightly, and that's the scary truth. The arrests of Abu Sayyaf militants in our capital proved that it is not fiction - the threat is real. These agents of destruction are in our midst.

No one knows when and how they will strike, which is why we must back the police unconditionally in the continued fight against terror activities.

A brewery in Shah Alam was once a target, which turned into a botched job in the end. So, it's no surprise if a beer festival finds itself in the crosshairs of a terrorist group.

The task for all of us, especially the police, is getting more challenging, with threats targeting the Kuala Lumpur SEA Games, even.

But while the shadowy figures in our midst remain unknown, what's obvious is that PAS has stepped up its demands.

The beer festival has been held for half a decade straight, but suddenly, this year, PAS turns up with a demand for Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) to cancel the event. And its typical templated press release claims that the festival will only lead to moral decay, as it would most likely descend into a pesta maksiat or "vice party".

This is not only disturbing, but upsetting, because it is clearly an infringement on the rights of non-Muslims.

DBKL could have handled the cancellation better. If the police had advised them to cancel it because of security reasons, it should have just said so. It would be legitimate and more acceptable.

But the local council gave the impression that it was entertaining the demands of the Islamist party, giving rise to speculations that this was the result of a kind of political expediency.

PAS' clout in pushing DBKL's hand for a swift course of action, has been rightfully questioned. The party does not even have an MP in Kuala Lumpur, or even a member on the DBKL advisory board.

The precedence set by this beer festival cancellation is intriguing. Threats like these will always exist, but does this mean that from now on, beer events and concerts might be cancelled for security reasons?

Is it not more logical for the police to increase its presence at the event and protect the rights of non-Muslims, instead of allowing such a group to get what it wants?

The Better Beer Festival was supposed to take place on Oct 6 and 7 at Publika Shopping Gallery, KL, featuring 250 different craft beers from 43 breweries worldwide.

The DBKL announcement came a week after PAS central committee member Dr Riduan Mohd Nor spoke out against the event, calling it a "pesta maksiat" (sinful gathering), and claiming that it would turn Kuala Lumpur into the "largest vice centre in Asia".

PAS has attempted to stop nearly every concert and even Valentine's Day celebrations. When I was a student at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia in the 1980s, the party tried to halt a concert by Alleycats on grounds that the show would be a pesta maksiat. Imagine the incredulity of it all?

A combination of terrorist wannabes, extremists, racists, right wingers and politicians posing as theologians is certainly a recipe for disaster for multi-racial Malaysia.

Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim, a spokesman for the G25 group of prominent Malays, said: "In future, business organisations will be very reluctant to organise any kind of exhibition or festival for fear that when a political party intervenes with a religious voice, the Government will react immediately to cancel an event.

"Who will dare organise an international event risking last minute cancellation?" he said.

If we subscribe to PAS' rhetoric, every concert or event will degenerate into a riot of sexual immorality stemming from mingling genders.

Due to its paranoia, check-out lanes in supermarkets are segregated by gender, and the lights in cinemas must remain on at all times. In the party's state of origin, no unisex salons are allowed to exist, either, and unfortunately in some cases, owners were non-Muslims. A watch shop owner who put up a poster of a Bollywood actress wearing a watch was also fined because it was deemed "provocative". Again, this involved a non-Muslim owner.

More recently, the Kota Baru Municipal Council (MPKB) fined the organiser of a private fundraiser for not seeking a permit to hold performances during the event, in which three Chinese primary schools with low enrolment were expected to be beneficiaries. The entertainment element of the event only constituted cultural performances in a hotel ballroom, and was not even a public event.

Still, MPKB demanded the event be immediately halted, but the organiser rightly ignored the stop-order and proceeded, since tickets had already been sold, and it was a private function.

The absurdity continued with MPKB recently instructing the organiser of a fun run - which has operated smoothly since its inception in 2015 - to segregate men and women at this year's event.

Buddhist organisation Soka Gak­kai Malaysia's Kelantan branch said the council made the "gender segregation" request before the application was approved a month ago.

Branch chairman Chew Moi Luan said a notice was put up at the flag-off of the 7km Run for Peace, complying with the request, but most of the 1,400 participants ignored the directive. Bravo!

While what we're seeing is shocking, let's get this straight: Malaysia has not become a Taliban country, not as we know it, anyway.

Malaysia is not Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia or an IS-held territory where theologians hold the reign of power. Can non-Muslims be blamed for asking what's next for Malaysia with heavy-handed approaches by religious bodies?

Understanding and acceptance are essential if we want to keep our beloved nation moderate and rational. The worries of religious intolerance will add to the loss of confidence, so, PAS and the like shouldn't be allowed to erode our way of life, which we have valiantly protected and represented the past six decades.

PAS, which has been running the Kelantan state government for decades, should get its puritanical priorities right. Fix your own backyard first, because you have bigger moral problems that need serious attention.

Statistics revealed that next to those in Terengganu, Internet users in Kota Baru are the biggest surfers of porn sites, it was reported.

And presumably thanks to Kelantan's proximity to Thailand, from 2001 to 2016, Kelantan recorded 11,000 HIV-positive cases. A total of 2,255 Kelantanese died of AIDS-related illnesses during that same period.

Deputy Home Minister Masir Kujat has revealed that the state's Health Department attributed the rising number of HIV cases to promiscuity, and people there adopting morally-questionable lifestyles, such as "switching sex partners".

Masir noted that HIV infections caused by homosexual activities doubled from 10 in 2015 to 20 last year, with HIV infections through heterosexual relationships also increasing from 40 to 50.

Recently, it was reported that drug addiction among students in Kelantan is at a critical stage, requiring immediate redress.

National Anti-Drug Agency (AADK) director-general, Datuk Abd Halim Mohd Hussin, disclosed that 280 students from 31 secondary schools in the state were tested positive for drugs (mostly for methamphetamine) during urine screening tests carried out on 3,797 students between January and Aug 13.

"Pasir Mas recorded the highest number, with 70 students, followed by Pasir Puteh (44), Kota Baru (43) and other districts," he was quoted saying.

It's curious that with such strict imposition of rules and incessant blaming of rape on "scantily dressed women", the conservative state continues to have the worst record for many social issues.

Simply Google rape cases in Kelantan, and what will roll out will be the most nauseating incest cases involving fathers of underage victims, or their relatives, or someone known to these poor minors - someone they had trusted.

Kelantan may not be the worst state, with cases mostly involving rural areas. But how on earth are we to accept the illogical and warped arguments of PAS leaders, that these young girls were supposed to have provoked their male aggressors by the way they dressed?

Malaysia cannot afford to let PAS or any groups using religion challenge the present social climate and political system, which has successfully seen this country through good and bad times. Our way of striking a balance has catered to a culture of compromise and, respecting and accepting one another.

Our country was built on a bedrock of moderation, and for us to continue to live in peace and harmony, the onus is on us to preserve it.

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