Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Much ado over pork

The Sun's Jaqueline Ann Surin writes an insightful, thought provoking piece about how the non-Muslims are expected to bend over backwards when it comes to pork and pigs in general. Here are some excerpts...

It seems that increasingly, non-Muslims in Malaysia are being made to feel they need to refrain from eating pork in the presence of Muslims.

And unfortunately, that proscription has been enlarged to other areas beyond food consumption.

Guardian pharmacy, for example, currently has a Winnie the Pooh gift redemption promotion that has left out the character Piglet from its posters and the range of soft toys being offered as reward.

We shouldn't be at all surprised at this move since there were calls for the animated film Babe, which starred a pig as the lead character, to be banned several years ago, presumably because it was offensive to Malaysian Muslims.

And recently, one columnist wrote that the word "pigmentation" was censored from a documentary he was watching. The most likely explanation: the first syllable was "pig".

We also know that some schools have issued clear instructions to non-Muslim children about what they can pack in their lunch boxes in deference to presumed Muslim sensitivities.

As one other e-group member pointed out: "Normally, we won't refrain from non-vegetarian food when going out with a vegetarian, or stop drinking alcohol when going out with a non-alcohol drinker, so why the big fuss over pork?"
I can offer another examples. Like how one Muslim guest at a Chinese wedding means a pork free menu at a hotel kitchen or caterer (instead of a Chinese restaurant) and 200 hungry, unsatisfied guests. Or business meetings over a nasi kandar or mamak lunche because one participant was Muslim. Although I believe unreservedly in being polite, I also believe that the door of courtesy must swing both ways. I believe that abstinence or religious obligation is a personal journey where the individual's personal effort to abstain or fulfil the obligation is exactly what gives it its value. If everybody around them is forced to make things easy for them, won't the abstinence or obligation be greatly cheapened and degraded?

And I remember in my mum's school back in the 80-90s, where 3/4 of the teachers were Malay ie. Muslim. The Hari Raya staff lunch was catered by a Muslim caterer chosen by the Muslim teachers, who paid for it. I reckon that's fair enough.

However... the Chinese New Year lunch was also catered by a Muslim caterer, chosen by the Muslim teachers. The Chinese teachers had no say over the caterer nor the menu... therefore no control over the cost of the lunch - although they were paying for it. The Boston Tea Party happened for pretty much the same reasons. Taxation without representation.

On a related note, some examples of advertising that won't see the light of day here:
Swatch "Be Lucky" CNY Collection 2007 - Piggy Snout Ads
Bring a PUKI home today

Anyway, Jacqueline's full article below. It's a worthwhile read.

Changing taboos
http://www.sun2surf.com/article.cfm?id=18469

Sometimes, it's hard to immediately recognise when discrimination occurs.

A couple of months ago, an e-mail was sent out to an e-group I belong to. A member of the group was helping her husband find a secretary for his new Kuala Lumpur office.

Her message included the relevant information about salary, qualifications, and the commencement date. All fairly routine information regarding a job vacancy.

What was disconcerting, however, was the last line in the e-mail. It said: "Only non-Malays (too much trouble otherwise with pork, etc)."

"Only non-Malays" need apply was a message I found rather unsettling. Surely, this was a form of discrimination. After all, why should anyone be disqualified from applying because of one's racial identity?

Imagine if the announcement had said, "Only men" or "Only whites" or "Only pretty women" need apply. Those would have been clearly discriminatory, and even though this particular case was a little more complex, I couldn't help feeling that discrimination was at work, even if it was inadvertent.

I shot off an e-mail to the group, explaining my discomfort. And reminding the e-group that if pork was the issue, then the message should have more accurately stated "Only non-Muslims" need apply. After all, not all Malays are Muslim (neighbouring Indonesia, home to the largest Muslim population, is an example) and not all Muslims are Malays, not even in Malaysia.

I also wanted to know how we could reconcile ourselves with such an employment policy if we ourselves felt it was unfair when quotas and privileges were only accorded to fellow citizens of a particular racial grouping because of official policy.

The woman who announced the job vacancy apologised for causing offence but offered this as an explanation: "Well, in this country, Malays are generally Muslims ... The office will be staffed by mostly Americans, who like their ham and cheese sandwiches, bacon, etc ... so it won't be very appropriate to have a Malay secretary."

Two of us suggested that the job announcement should stipulate what the work environment would be like so that Muslims who don't feel comfortable that their non-Muslim colleagues are consuming bacon and ham can refrain from applying. That way, Muslims who may not mind such a work environment because they don't believe it will affect their faith, would not be barred from applying.

I must admit though it can be hard not to emphatise with the woman's logic.

We cannot deny that recent events have reinforced the notion that all Malays must be Muslim in Malaysia, even though historically, the Malays were Buddhists and Hindus first before embracing Islam. And even though, when you think about it, one's faith cannot be contingent on one's ethnic identity.

But aside from that, it's easy to see why the job announcement was written the way it was.

It seems that increasingly, non-Muslims in Malaysia are being made to feel they need to refrain from eating pork in the presence of Muslims.

And unfortunately, that proscription has been enlarged to other areas beyond food consumption.

Guardian pharmacy, for example, currently has a Winnie the Pooh gift redemption promotion that has left out the character Piglet from its posters and the range of soft toys being offered as reward.

The company hasn't offered any explanation for the removal of a cartoon character central to Winnie the Pooh, and the sales assistant I asked couldn't give me one either. One can only imagine that Piglet was left out strategically so as not to offend Muslim shoppers.

We shouldn't be at all surprised at this move since there were calls for the animated film Babe, which starred a pig as the lead character, to be banned several years ago, presumably because it was offensive to Malaysian Muslims.

And recently, one columnist wrote that the word "pigmentation" was censored from a documentary he was watching. The most likely explanation: the first syllable was "pig".

We also know that some schools have issued clear instructions to non-Muslim children about what they can pack in their lunch boxes in deference to presumed Muslim sensitivities.

As one other e-group member pointed out: "Normally, we won't refrain from non-vegetarian food when going out with a vegetarian, or stop drinking alcohol when going out with a non-alcohol drinker, so why the big fuss over pork?"

I won't try and offer an answer to that, but the reality we now face as Malaysians in our daily lives - whether at schools or the cinema or at a pharmacy - is, logically, what has contributed towards a firm in Malaysia stating that "only non-Malays" need apply.

The question we all need to answer is: How did we come to this? And are we at all bothered that it has come to this, 50 years after we secured the right to govern ourselves?

Jacqueline Ann Surin believes that as one of the greatest religions in the world, Islam cannot be threatened by cartoon characters. Nor by non-Muslims eating bacon and ham. She is assistant news editor at theSun.

2 comments:

seantang said...

Fong Po Kuan is right. She said non-Muslim MPs are sensitive to the religious beliefs of others that they were "even careful with the type of food they brought into the parliament building". And she said this should be reciprocated.

I mean... how entitled is a Muslim to get offended about someone eating pork or bacon in his/her presence, but think nothing of slaughtering cattle in the presence of Hindus, and in the Parliament which represents the center of multi racial, multi religious Malaysia?

Slaughter of animals in august place riles MPs
The Sun

A decision by backbenchers to slaughter six head of cattle and 10 goats in the compound of Parliament House to celebrate Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad's marriage annoyed other MPs.

"I am objecting to this on two grounds. This is Parliament. How can we allow the slaughter of animals in the compound? Should this not be done in an abattoir?" M. Kulasegaran (DAP-Ipoh Barat) asked Speaker Tan Sri Ramli Ngah Talib just after question time.

"Morever, this slaugher of cattle is sensitive to Hindus. Surely you should have thought about this aspect before allowing it."

Ramli's response was that the animals were slaughtered for the kenduri hosted by the Backbenchers Club (BBC) to celebrate the marriage of Abdullah to Jeanne.

When Kulasegaran said he was aware of the reason but that the slaughter should not be allowed, Ramli said any similar request in the future would be looked at carefully.

"I don't see why there should be any objection to this. This is norm (slaughter animals) whenever there is a kenduri. Therefore, it is not an unusual practice," Ramli said.

Fong Po Kuan (DAP-Batu Gajah) begged to differ. "This is an august place. We use this place for meetings. If next time, the Opposition wants to slaughter other animals then what happens?" she asked.

"Even though it is a norm by BBC, it does not mean it is correct. And it should not be continued."

Fong said non-Muslim MPs are sensitive to the religious beliefs of others that they were "even careful with the type of food they brought into the parliament building".

She said this should be reciprocated.

Ramli brought the discussion to a close by promising that the House would be careful in similar requests in the future.

Acting BNBBC chairman Datuk Raja Ahmad Zainuddin Raja Omar (BN-Larut) told reporters in the lobby of the Dewan Rakyat that the backbenchers decided on the kenduri after he was given the go-ahead by the parliament administration.

"We only did it after the House gave us permission. The place was decided by the parliament," he said.

"Where else are we supposed to do it anyway? We are members of Parliament, we are entitled to do it here," he declared.

A Hindu BNBBC committee member S.K.Devamany (BN-Cameron Highlands), met in the lobby said he did not know of the planned slaughter.

"I was not at the meeting when it was decided. By the time I came to know of it. All the arrangements were put in place."

Devamany vowed to ensure that in future it will not happen again.

YAB said...

So it's also okay if the Chinese MPs put on display a roasted pig within the parliament's compound, as they are also MPs, and ENTITLED to do it there?