On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

The joke’s now on Malaysia

The well-known alim said this was to thwart rape and incest and to protect women “from sex maniacs”.  

A day after the ensuing furore, Abu Hassan reportedly said his comment was merely a joke and not to be taken seriously.  

Unfortunately, the joke is now on Malaysia. Like some of our politicians and bureaucrats who suffer from “foot in the mouth disease”, Abu Hassan has again made a Malaysia a laughing stock.  

News of our improved economy and the bullish stock market should have occupied the attention of Malaysians and foreigners. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be that way.  

It’s not the kind of news one would expect from Malaysia. Maybe Afghanistan, when the Talibans governed it.  

There seems to be no end to this kind of news relating to “sex obsession”. Surely, politicians and government servants have more urgent matters to handle.  

For example, the numerous projects under the 9th Malaysia Plan, worth billions of ringgit, need to be carried out as the economy becomes more upbeat. 

But wait. The Terengganu Religious Department has initiated a plan where “Mat Skoding” or spies would be recruited to tip off the department of immoral activities.  

These “Mat Skoding,” who are sometimes dismissed as mere peeping toms, will be part of a voluntary squad under the guidance of the state religious department.  

These vigilantes, as the department authorities have called them, could be waitresses or janitors at hotels who would act as auxiliary undercover agents for the department, it was reported.  

According to state Islam Hadhari and Welfare Committee chairman Datuk Rosol Wahid, these trained “spies” would be on the lookout for unmarried couples behaving suspiciously or engaging in vice throughout the state.  

I had a tough time explaining to foreign friends during CNY that Terengganu is a conservative state. There can’t be that many sex offenders and the state is no longer run by PAS ulama, right?  

And surely this is not what the Prime Minister has in mind when he talks about Islam Hadhari.  

Terengganu Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh, a moderate leader, is also not in the mould of Datuk Seri Hadi Awang, the former firebrand PAS mentri besar.  

Surely, we must have learnt from the khalwat raid in Langkawi by religious officers on an elderly American couple, which led to the Tourism Ministry being flooded with protest letters from across the world. 

Or, the on-going court case involving a young non-Muslim couple arrested by Kuala Lumpur City Hall enforcement officials at the KLCC Park.  

I would like to believe that these are isolated cases involving a few eccentric figures but we have reason to be concerned with such influential and powerful personalities in government institutions.  

A dean from the business faculty of a top Malaysian public university, for example, makes alleged spot checks during lectures to check on the dressing of female students.  

Students who he perceives are wearing tight T-shirts or blouses are singled out. At least on one occasion, they were asked to bend down to see whether parts of their bodies would be exposed.  

Fortunately, this senior lecturer, who has just returned from overseas, is the odd one out in the university. The other faculties have not had any complaints about students being pulled out of examination halls by invigilators.  

But the university authorities have to stop him immediately. It would be an embarrassment if the university were named later.  

A university is not a high school and it is not the dean’s job to worry about students’ dressing.  

It’s their academic performance and his – whether he has produced enough research and articles for international journals – he should be worried about.  

Last week, PAS reportedly issued a statement objecting to the celebration of Valentine's Day on religious grounds.  

The celebration of love for decades has been merely for fun, and mostly commercial reasons, but never for religion.  

Why does PAS have to complicate matters – and the party still harbours ambitions of running this country. Get real!  

The point is that Malaysia is a plural country enriched by different faiths, cultures and ideas. More importantly, we are a tolerant people who place importance on moderation and modernity.  

We cannot accept bureaucrats in government offices and universities who want to impose their narrow-minded beliefs on others.  

Nobody elected them and certainly the self-appointed guardians of morality must know their limitations.  

What is the message we are trying to send, when “spies” are appointed at restaurants, hotels and parks, and even get paid for their tip-offs?