On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Hip-hop concert with a catch



IT’S unprecedented – a concert featuring American hip-hop/pop group Black Eyed Peas will be held in Selangor and the organiser is a liquor company! But there is a catch here – it’s only for non-Muslims.

The decision reportedly was made by the Information, Communication and Culture Ministry.

It appears to be a compromise, even a conciliatory move, by the authorities as liquor and cigarette companies are not allowed to sponsor concerts under the existing strict guidelines.

Guinness, the brewer behind the concert, is holding the event in celebration of its 250th anniversary on what is called the Arthur Guinness Day after its founder.

However, it would not be selling any liquor nor allowed to put up its logos.

It must be tough for the local company to explain these kinds of restrictions to their overseas bosses.

But there is a sense of growing conservatism in Malaysia, especially with PAS getting stronger.

Umno, as a Muslim party, has little choice but to show its Islamic credentials if it wants to regain the votes it has lost.

It has not helped that non-Muslims, angry with government policies, are willingly strengthening PAS without a thought to the implications of their decisions in the long run.

PAS has consistently declared its intention to set up an Islamic state and to impose Syariah laws.

Religion is a state matter and the state executive councillor in charge of religion is state PAS chief, Datuk Dr Hassan Ali.

He has led the charge in attempting to ban the sale of liquor in Muslim majority areas and has also pushed for mosque officials to arrest Muslims who sell, store or drink liquor.

The decision has become a major concern among operators of 7-Eleven outlets as the majority of workers in such convenience stores are Muslims, numbering over 1,000 nationwide.

Taking beer off the shelves in Muslim majority areas in Selangor would be easier but the potential to penalise Muslim workers is a major deterrent as they would have to handle such sales in non-Muslim areas.

We all know that in Malaysia there are many rules and laws that are never enforced, or are badly enforced, but there have been peculiarities and one should never take for granted any possible scenarios.

Nobody would have expected that Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarnor, a Muslim woman, would be sentenced to caning for a beer-drinking conviction.

A 7-Eleven Muslim worker, whether a cashier or a store manager, could be arrested and charged if the laws are strictly enforced. There would also be possible harassment or even cases of bribery with these laws.

The organisers of the Black Eyed Peas concert are obviously not taking any chances, preferring a low-key approach.

Malaysia is one of the four venues picked by Guinness for the global celebration because of its strategic location in the Asia-Pacific region. There is a huge amount of tourism money involved here for the celebration of Arthur Guinness’ Day.

The “no Muslims” decision is said to have been imposed by the Information, Communication and Culture Ministry, possibly to avoid any criticism from PAS, which has been consistently critical of such concerts.

Recently, PAS called for a ban on the concert by Michael Learns To Rock, a group of ageing musicians, on Sept 5 in Genting Highlands.

Last year, PAS also wanted a concert by Canadian singer Avril Lavigne to be banned, citing the rocker for being “sexy”, which earned world-wide ridicule for such a description of the skinny singer.

It would come as no surprise if PAS should also call for a ban on the Black Eyed Peas concert in Sunway Lagoon on Sept 25.

The “no Muslims” directive is being debated among many of my Muslim friends because they want to attend the concert.

They just want to listen to good music and have a good time. Even if beer were to be served, they would not touch it.

But to be deprived of watching a world-class act on grounds of their religion is something they cannot comprehend, nor accept.

It is a strange, if not illogical, decision. I have watched Black Eyed Peas three times in Malaysia – at Bukit Kiara, Bukit Jalil and the last time at Genting Highlands – and it has always been an open audience.

The restriction on Muslims attending the concert coming straight after the Kartika case has raised eyebrows.

The government appears to be stalling on the decision to cane Kartika, who would have been the first Muslim and woman to be caned for a drinking offence.

PAS has, however, insisted that the mother-of-two be caned and Umno has come under heavy criticism, especially during the Permatang Pasir by-election, for its seeming reluctance to support caning her.

The latest decision on Black Eyed Peas is bound to make Malaysia an international news item.

It looks like it will be a “boom boom pow” case with another “black eye” for the wrong reasons.