Author Archives: wcw

Stand up for our Malaysia

Prickly ties: The North Korean flag flutters in the concertina wire fenced North Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur. — Reuters

This is the time to put our differences aside and let North Korea know that it has no right to trample on our national integrity – or our kindness

IT is important for Malaysians to stand together as a people and a nation in the current diplomatic stand-off with North Korea.

This is the time to put politics aside. This is the time for all of us to stand up and let the North Koreans know that we will not accept an open murder, even if it involves one of their own, in our country.

They have openly trampled on our national integrity and spat on us following an insane, high-profile murder in a country which has been nothing but extremely friendly to them.

No country has given them free visa entry. They, however, used it as a loophole to gain easy access into Malaysia to commit a murder instead. And one involving Kim Jong-nam, the exiled half brother of the regime’s leader Kim Jong-un.

They showed how much they didn’t value the long friendship with Malaysia and instead chose to violate it. Surely, this is not a friend we need. And if this friendship were to continue, it could no longer be the same. This is not a country we can trust anymore.

While we have patiently put up with the bizarre plot, they crossed the line when they decided to keep our Malaysian Embassy diplomats, staff and family members under house arrest in North Korea.

House arrest is an understatement here, really.

To put it bluntly, they are holding our fellow Malaysians hostage. Obviously, they want something in return.

There are 11 Malaysians in North Korea – two United Nations staff members, three with the embassy and the rest their family members.

But on Friday, the North Koreans allowed two UN workers to leave the country. It looks like a change in tone, in yet another case of their yo-yo style diplomacy.

It appears an olive branch of some sort has now been extended with a diplomatic note sent to Malaysia but no one can tell what is next.

As nothing is unconventional and unpredictable, as far as dealing with North Korea is concerned, should we even be surprised that no family member has come out to claim the body? Presumably, it is out of fear on the part of his next of kin.

It’s already been a month since the murder at the KL International Airport 2 and the body still lies at the mortuary.

Although the Indonesian and Vietnamese women have been charged with murder, (they were said to have used a deadly substance to smear Jong-nam’s face and it killed him almost immediately) the North Koreans who plotted the murder have fled.

There has been suspicion that one or two others could be hiding in the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

Earlier, a high-level North Korean delegation arrived in Kuala Lumpur with three objectives – retrieve the body of Jong-nam, secure the release of their citizen from police custody relating to the murder and develop friendly relations with Malaysia.

The approach taken by the delegation was a far cry from the harsh stand taken by North Korean ambassador Kang Chol, who accused Malaysia of colluding with Pyongyang’s enemies in investigations into the murder.

But just as we thought the case was winding down following the decision to expel Kang, the reclusive communist country retaliated by doing the same. Fortunately, we recalled our Malaysian ambassador earlier but now, they have decided to bar our staff at the Malaysian embassy in Pyongyang from leaving the country.

Like most Malaysians, I find this very disturbing and insulting. We cannot accept such fabricated stories against our police force – their tales of threat to make sure they remain alive when they return home.

This is the time we need to stand up, support our government for what they have been doing and are doing.

Yes, we could have handled things better, coordinated better and avoided contradicting statements on this issue but I support the statements made by our Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, his deputy Datuk Seri Dr Zahid Hamidi and Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman.

Now is not the time to look for faults with the “we should have done this” arguments.

We have now entered a delicate situation where we need to re-assess our way of dealing with them, with the well-being of our Malaysians there in mind.

Malaysia is dealing with a country that does not respect human rights.

No, I rephrase – we are dealing with a country that does not respect human lives.

This is a ruthless regime headed by a leader who did not even blink when he had his own uncle executed in a most unimaginably brutal manner.

This is a man who ordered the murder of his half-brother and a month later, fired off ballistic missiles across the seas.

Do not expect North Korea to understand the meaning of gratefulness.

In August 1997, The Star launched a campaign to raise funds when the hermit country was struck by widespread famine.

As winter approached, it became even more imperative to provide food to the 2.6 million North Koreans who were slowly dying of starvation.

The Star stepped up with the North Korean Sall Fund, a three-month fundraising campaign to buy food for the famine victims before winter (sall means rice in Korean).

From August 1997, the newspaper spearheaded a campaign that reached out to both members of the public and corporate bodies, with articles highlighting the urgency of the crisis.

The campaign inspired a series of donation drives and fundraising events, the collections from which were channelled to the Sall Fund.

By October 1997, Malaysians, via the campaign, raised over RM12mil which was handed over to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to buy food for the North Koreans. It was a record sum.

But when we asked to see how the funds would be disbursed, together with the Red Cross, we were denied permission to even travel to North Korea.

They didn’t want The Star to be there after all we had done for their people. What The Star did was done in the true Malaysian spirit of giving, something which comes so naturally to us.

It was a painful lesson for most of us – and a grim reminder that the North Korean regime lives in a world of its own.

This is the time to keep the Malaysian flag flying high and to stand united to face this crisis as one people.

Keep race out of the issues

There are mindless people out there but I am certain that the majority of Malaysians are rational, moderate and fair-minded.

IT was an accident no one in his right mind would want to get involved in. A woman driver ploughed into a group of teenagers on modified bicycles, killing eight of them in the horrific 3am incident.

The 22-year-old woman, driving from Taman Pelangi, Johor Baru, slammed into the group because she could not brake in time.

The accident left behind grieving parents and a driver who was sent to the hospital badly traumatised. Police said the driver was not drunk or speeding when the incident occurred.

It was what followed next that was even more tragic. It probably involved just a small group of misguided individuals with a twisted mind but it has been heart wrenching for many rational Malaysians who care for the nation.

How could an accident be turned into a racial matter where the victims – whether the deceased teens or the driver – were viewed upon from a racial prism? But it did. Perplexing.

Soon, these racist remarks took a different form – it is alleged that the said driver was given special protection because her father was a rich tycoon with a Tan Sri title and he was close to the Johor royalty.

As ridiculous as it may sound, there were enough people who actually believed it. One or two actually called me up to verify the allegations, seemingly believing it too, but at least they made an effort to check.

The poor woman driver has had to move out of her family home since the accident. She is a shop assistant who lives in a single-storey house and she was certainly not hiding in a mansion.

At the time of the incident, she was driving a Nissan Almeira and not a powerful, luxury car. It wasn’t a BMW or a Porsche. Far from it.

Some angry netizens even posted her photograph, together with her address, on social media. Fearing for her safety, she left home and stayed somewhere else.

But the insanity did not end there. More idiots surfaced. They included a Datuk who allegedly posted offensive remarks about the accident.

The Datuk, who is a state Umno branch chief, was picked up at his home last week. One of his friends was also detain­ed in Kuala Lumpur.

Initial investigations showed that both men, in their 60s, had posted messages on their Facebook accounts, alleging that the police could be withholding information on the case as the woman driver was believed to be related to a VIP. The two men were brought to Johor Baru and remanded to assist in investigations.

The Datuk’s arrest brought to three the number of people detained over the last 48 hours for making offensive remarks or racial slurs on social media about the incident.

The Johor police said in a statement that three men had been detained in a series of raids in Kuala Lumpur, Selangor and Perak.

Amazingly, the Datuk and the other man arrested happily posed for the media when they were brought to court, with one of them even flashing the “V” sign.

He posted on his FB earlier, saying he expected to be arrested soon over his remarks, seemingly enjoying the attention he was getting.

Last month, a university student was killed when a BMW travelling against the traffic flow crashed into his Perodua Myvi along Jalan Tun Razak in the capital.

The deceased was identified as Ahmad Alrefaee M. Azmi, 21, from Bandar Mahkota Cheras, and again, the race issue raised its ugly head.

City Traffic Investigation and Legal Affairs staff officer Deputy Supt Shafie Daud said the BMW driver somehow entered the wrong carriageway from the KLCC tunnel and could not get back to the correct lane.

The driver had continued travelling on the wrong lane and crashed into the white Myvi along Jalan Tun Razak near the National Library in the 2am incident. In short, it was a freak accident.

It is disturbing that in both these accidents, the issue of race was brought up. Perhaps, such a play of race has become more prevalent due to the existence of social media where mindless comments are posted freely.

No one cares if feelings are hurt or sensitivities are trampled upon. Old-school journalists like me (who started out in the print media) are taught – from the day we took up the job as rookie reporters – to keep race out of our reports.

We do not mention the race of those involved in accidents or in crime reports. It’s simple. We are Malaysians and really, why is there a need to identify the ethnic background of those involved? Especially when it is already an emotionally charged case if it involves fatality.

We verify our information. But now, fake news are forwarded by many, without much care and thought of the implication of their action.

Tunku Temenggong of Johor Tunku Idris Iskandar Ibni Sultan Ibrahim must be commended for his timely statement, criticising those who encouraged others to gather and protest against the woman driver involved in the Johor accident.

In an Instagram post, he urged Johoreans to stop turning the incident into a racial issue.

“Is this how civilised Johoreans behave? Stop playing the blame game,” he wrote, adding that he, too, had personally encountered teenage cyclists riding dangerously in front of his car.

He pointed out that the children were on the road without helmets or any kind of protection.

“Let’s not blame the parents and let’s not blame the lady driver. She has more right to be on that highway than underage kids on bicycles with no helmets and other protection gear on,” he was quoted as saying.

Kudos must also go to Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar and his men for upholding professionalism.

He acted swiftly and impartially against those who instigated a protest, which smacked of racism, and took action against the Datuk, who posted the offensive remarks.

Many Malaysians are saddened by the accidents, loss of lives and the impact to race relations in Malaysia but I am still optimistic.

There are bad people out there but I am certain the majority of Malaysians are rational, moderate and fair-minded. I have enough good relatives, friends and colleagues, of all races, who give me hope for Malaysia.

Don’t let the small number of racists (and these are people of all ethnic groups) spoil it for all of us.

Police must act swiftly

(Left) Koh: Abducted in broad daylight. (Right) Sameera: Brutally murdered.

Several recent crime cases have shaken Malaysians quite a bit. We leave it to our police force to provide answers to this madness.

RECENTLY, several widely reported crime cases, which many Malaysians are following, have really shaken us.

Yes, Malaysians complain a lot, and rightly so, about the never-ending burglaries and snatch theft cases in our neighbourhood and streets but these are merely incidents involving petty criminals.

Yes, we lose money and sometimes, there are fatalities involved but most are non-brutal and the motives are established quickly. I am not even talking about the high profile assassination of Kim Jong-nam, the exiled half-brother of North Korean dictator Jong-un, at the KLIA2 which has grabbed the world’s attention.

The police have been swift – two women who committed the crime were arrested and other suspects were taken in while more North Korean suspects have been identified.

There has been plenty of noise from the North Korean embassy but the case is being wrapped up, with fresh leads being revealed to the public daily.

But what has disturbed me most is the disappearance of Pastor Raymond Koh Keng Joo, who is well-known among the Christian community in Malaysia.

It has been reported that on Feb 13, occupants of a van stopped the pastor’s car, a silver Honda Accord, along Jalan Bahagia, Petaling Jaya, and abducted him.

He had earlier left his Prima Sixteen Chapter Two home in Jalan 16/18, Petaling Jaya, at about 10am to go to the Puncak Damansara Condominium in Kampung Sg Kayu Ara, not far away. Koh’s family said the 62-year-old was en route to a friend’s home.

So far, there has been no ransom demanded or motive identified. We still don’t know the reason for the kidnapping.

A CCTV footage, currently with the police, purportedly showed the abduction taking place on a busy road.

It is believed that the pastor’s abduction involved several vehicles. It was professionally and very swiftly executed.

The case is under the personal attention of Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar, who announced that a special task force has been formed to investigate the case, saying police had recorded statements from eight witnesses but admitted that there had been little information to go on.

The team is led by Selangor Criminal Investigations Department chief Senior Assistant Commissioner Fadzil Ahmat.

The case is most baffling. Ours is not a South American or Middle Eastern country where people get abducted from busy streets.

The abductors appeared to be very organised, almost professional-like, in carrying out their task. One of them even diverted traffic while others grabbed Koh.

The fact that they have not demanded any ransom shows that they are not ordinary kidnappers looking for money.

The only possible answer is that some persons (or group) are not happy with the way he is handling his work. Koh’s colleagues have revealed that a bullet was sent to the pastor six years ago after the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) conducted a raid on a thanksgiving and fund-raising dinner organised at a church in Petaling Jaya, where he was accused of proselytising to Muslims.

Religious leaders of any faith must be mindful that attempting to convert anyone is really crossing the line. The majority of Muslims will not tolerate any attempt of proselytising, even in the most subtle form, and leaders of other faiths must understand and accept the sensitivity and reality of the situation.

However, any grievances or complaints relating to religion, a sensitive issue, should be directed to the religious authorities and police. In this case, the pastor was snatched away with no obvious clues, and no claims have been made.

This is distressing, and his wife has understandably sought counselling in Singapore as the family agonises over the unexplained incident.

In the absence of any information, this has led to speculation and it is unhealthy for Malaysia as we take pride in our religious diversity and tolerance in resolving conflicts.

The other widely talked about case involved transgender Sameera Krishnan, who was brutally murdered on Thursday. She was shot, had four fingers severed and suffered head injuries.

The cruelty inflicted on her was horrifying and something Malaysians just cannot imagine. Interestingly, Sameera was the main witness in her own kidnapping case two years ago and the trial has been set to begin early next month.

In 2015, she was rescued by police after she was abducted from her home in Klang, and repeatedly sodomised.

Enough. Malaysians must stand up and demand for justice. While Malaysia does not condone LGBT (lesbians, gays, bisexual, and transgender), this does not mean Sameera’s life is worth any less than ours. It doesn’t matter whether we refer to Sameera as him or her.

The fact is this – she was murdered and sexually violated. Her pride and dignity were snatched away from her and despite the prejudices of many Malaysians, this should not, in any way, diminish the diligence and commitment needed to solve the crime.

Her perpetrators must be brought to justice and if we have any conscience at all, we should all be furious. It will be abnormal to be indifferent about this. Sameera deserves justice, just like anyone else.

I believe that Malaysia is a country where minorities are protected. There are laws in our country and they are upheld.

The police have been professional, and I believe and respect our police force. They take every bit of information seriously and in my regular dealings with them, I have developed even more respect for them. They trudge on diligently despite their impossibly heavy work load.

I hope they will bring some sense and provide us answers to the madness and along the way, some reassurances to the public.

Cool it people, it’s only satire

Tweets from DPRK news service on the assassination of Kim Jong-nam.

Some Malaysians are so gullible that they make fools of themselves chasing demons and losing track of the truth.

IT’S incredible how many of us are so gullible …. or simply lack a sense of humour. A day after the widely talked-about killing of Kim Jong-nam at KLIA2 on Monday, the Twitter account registered to DPRK News Service (@DPRK_News) posted a very interesting tweet.

The “official news feed of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)” claimed that the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un supposedly died due to “indigestion epidemic”.

The tweet also accused “filthy Malaysians” of poor food handling and bad sanitation practices, and that these were to be blamed for Jong-nam’s death.

Most people, including Malaysians, who saw the tweet could tell it was a satire. The North Koreans may have lost their sense of humour a long time ago, no thanks to being in an authoritarian regime, but they are not crazy.

No official propaganda department will respond in such a bizarre manner, especially if they have decided to cover up this assassination job.

But strangely, there were actually those who fell for it and believed in the tweet. And this included even experienced journalists, those known to have zero sense of humour!

I was asked whether it was nasi lemak, laksa or roti canai that killed the prominent figure from North Korea. The questions were posed to me by those who put on poker faces.

These people insisted that I actually knew what was going on but I was not saying anything because the media was, well, covering it up. Or that I was just incompetent since I did not know what was going on.

Another person sent me a message via WhatsApp, demanding that I alert the Health Minister to reply to the tweet (on the “indigestion epidemic”) as it “has seriously damaged the reputation of the country.”

It was tough explaining to this person, who is usually tense and uptight, the meaning of satire and humour.

One deputy minister was quoted in a Bahasa Malaysia paper, expressing concern about the implications of the tweet.

“I have asked the officials at the ministry to investigate the allegations immediately to ensure that it does not affect the country’s reputation.

“Although the news is (sourced) from the social media and could only be a rumour, we cannot remain silent in this matter. Immediate investigations should be carried out,” he was quoted as saying.

He added that he did not want the news or allegations to put Malaysia in a bad light because the tweet suggested that food in this country was not safe for consumption.

Such brilliance.

This hot-tempered deputy minister, who is known to shoot from the hip, obviously responded without even looking at the tweet and the comments that followed.

Of course, he wasn’t thinking.

It is quite possible that the reporter who called this politician for comments on the issue must have also fallen victim to the prank – the current “it” word in the investigation into the killing of Jong-nam.

The two women arrested were purportedly used as pawns by North Korean spies – to put poison on Jong-nam, thinking they were hired to carry out a prank.

It is a satirical tweet, and at a time when the Government is trimming its budget, the deputy minister could really have saved taxpayers money without the need to call for such an investigation. Investigate what, I wonder?

According to a report, @DPRK_News has been posing as an official mouthpiece of the authoritarian regime for the last few years.

In 2014, it was reported that the parody account’s authors are actually bloggers for Popehat.com, a group weblog covering politics and news from a libertarian perspective.

Some notorious fake news – that a Hong Kong-based Malaysian tycoon who supposedly ran down the Malaysian government in a purported interview with an international magazine (which no one can produce) and more recently, the Chinese New Year lion dancers who refused to move in front of our Prime Minister. Sadly, many of us believed such blatant lies.

A day after a pastor was abducted, and the case is still unexplained, a fake message went around saying he had been found and “is now at the Kelana Jaya police station”. It’s bizarre that someone would actually take the trouble to post such a message and cause further pain to his family members who are already in agony, coping with his disappearance.

And when Selangor Mentri Besar Datuk Azmin Ali tweeted a poser that a Malaysian minister had resigned, it created such a sensation that many Malaysians believed it. Maybe it’s the psyche of people wanting to believe it.

But for many, it’s a throwback to 2008. Then Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim announced that more than 30 Barisan Nasional MPs were ready to cross over to Pakatan Rakyat, a coalition of Opposition parties, now defunct, on Sept 16, 2008.

These were the days before WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook became hugely popular but many Malaysians believed it. Of course, that didn’t happen. But to his legion of fans, his credibility remains intact, and he is still talking about truth and accountability.

In 2007, PKR MP Tian Chua posted a fake photograph of then Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, political analyst Abdul Razak Baginda and an Altantuya Shariibuu look-a-like dining together.

It was a badly doctored picture, and Tian Chua later admitted that it was doctored but claimed it was a joke. But enough people believed him.

During the recent US presidential elections, the voters were swamped with fake news from campaigners.

We can expect the same scenario here when Malaysia heads towards the general election, widely speculated to be held at the end of this year.

For the love of … titles

IF there’s one Malaysian practice that needs reviewing, it has to be this – the long salutations, thanks to the titles of prominent individuals, at the start of speeches during functions.

I can never understand why addressing the audience as “distinguished guests” isn’t good enough. Surely, the audience would be happy to be called distinguished. Or maybe even just “Ladies and Gentlemen”.

Malaysians, however, have to cringe and listen to speakers formally addressing each and every titled person at functions.

We begin with “Tan Sri Tan Sri, Puan Sri Puan Sri, Datuk Seri Datuk Seri, Datin Seri Datin Seri, Datuk Datuk, Datin Datin and distinguished guests”.

And this before the speaker even begins honouring the more important guests by actually naming them one by one, along with their long titles, honorifics and designations.

All these can take up to 10 minutes before the person finally gets to the actual speech.

Welcome to Malaysia. This is another practice which reflects our obsession with formality and titles. It may sound medieval and strange to visitors to Malaysia but this is the done thing here, presumably because some ego-inflated titled individual got offended when his title was not mentioned in a speech.

But alas, the whole thing has become a mockery of sorts. The intention, good as it may be, is actually offensive to the other equally important guests, those with no titles.

They have ended up at the bottom of the pack, in the category of “tuan tuan dan puan puan” or “ladies and gentlemen.” To put it in perspective, without us realising, this is like the category of “dan lain-lain” or “others” which many Malaysians have stood up against.

One would understand it if such a practice is carried out in a palace where protocols are strictly adhered to but surely, not in ordinary functions?

For one, it takes up precious time when most of us just want to get on with the business of the day or in many instances, get on with the dinner. Please, at 8.30pm, most of us are hungry already.

Many times, guests are made to wait, especially when the guest of honour arrives late. By the time the VIP gets there, and thanks to the long and winding speeches, dinner is finally served – at 9.30pm or 10pm.

One wonders why the VIP has to be ushered into a holding room – another peculiar Malaysian practice – before he makes his grand entrance into the ballroom.

I have attended enough events in Britain and the United States, where VIPs would just walk straight into the function hall without any fanfare.

In London, then mayor Boris Johnson cycled to the opening of a property development site and in Sydney, the mayor parked his car a short distance away and walked to the venue!

He introduced himself to his (very) surprised Malaysian audience – and of course, there was no entourage fussing around him to make him look important, another one of our local standard operating procedure.

To be fair, not all of our VIPs are spoilt silly. Sometimes, it is their officers who make a fuss over these formal arrangements to the event’s host.

Those in the royal circles, who have a career in protocol, push even harder – even when the heads of states themselves do not demand it.

His Highness Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah of Selangor does not even allow waiters to get the napkins ready for him before his meals, insisting on doing it himself.

The Ruler drives his own car often to functions and tells his police motorcade not to put the sirens on because to him, there was no need to put on such a display of importance.

The Sultan of Johor, Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar, sportingly poses for selfies with his subjects often, sending his security and protocol officers into a frenzy many times.

And most of the time, he drives his car himself. Often, he makes a stop and have a meal at roadside shops, without prior notice. For breakfast, he goes to a mamak restaurant for roti canai quite regularly, again without fuss or advance notice.

At the Cabinet level, Datuk Mustapa Mohamed, the Minister of International Trade and Industry, is certainly the most down-to-earth minister from Umno.

Travellers taking the ERL from KL Sentral to KLIA often see Mustapa travelling alone or taking a flight on Economy Class home to Kelantan. He does not see the need to shout about it or have his officers post a picture on Instagram to get publicity.

Permodalan Nasional Bhd chairman Tan Sri Abdul Wahid Omar insisted on moving around on his own, without the need for bodyguards, when he was in charge of the Economic Planning Unit (EPU). The same can be said of Datuk Seri Idris Jala, who is now chief executive officer of the Performance Management and Delivery Unit (Pemandu).

Perhaps their non-political background helps but having said that, there are corporate figures who are even more status-conscious than politicians.

And seriously, what do Malaysian VIPs do with gifts or “token of appreciation” items presented to them at the end of every function? Yep, they are probably gathering dust in some room filled to the brim with other such items in Putrajaya.

At one time, there was a proposal that only a basket of fruits be given as it was more practical but it never got off the ground.

Likewise, this article will have no impact on the issue.

I wish to thank the “Tun Tun, Toh Puan Toh Puan, Tan Sri Tan Sri, Puan Sri Puan Sri, Datuk Seri Datuk Seri, Datin Seri Datin Seri, Datuk Datuk, Datin Datin, tuan tuan dan puan puan yang dihormati sekalian” for reading this.

The trouble with titles

THIS has to be a record of some sort – a notorious gang of 60 hardened criminals including four low-level politicians with the titles of Datuk and a Datuk Seri, has been netted in a series of swoops.

The Gang 360 Devan gang, involved in murder, drug-pushing, luxury car theft and hijacking, has to be the gang with the most number of titled leaders.

Then, there is also the leader of the notorious Gang 24 – a Datuk Seri – who was among 22 men held in another spate of arrests.

Last December, a gang leader known as Datuk M or Datuk Muda was shot dead by his bodyguard while they were driving along the Penang Bridge. The Datuk was a detainee at the Simpang Renggam centre.

A day later, a video went viral showing a heavily tattooed man being violently beaten up by a group of men believed to be gangsters, at the late Datuk’s funeral.

Three days ago, there was a series of arrests by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Agency (MACC) which saw a number of Datuks being arrested and charged.

If we hold the record of being the country which has the highest ratio of government servants, we may also soon be the country with the most number of titled people.

And if we are not careful, we could well be a country which has the most titled criminals.

The people being conferred a Datukship seem to be getting younger and some are surprisingly under 30 years old, which begs the question – what have these youngsters contributed to society to deserve such titles?

Last October, Singapore’s Straits Times carried prominently a news report of a teenager who purportedly became the youngest “Datuk” in the country.

“The image that went viral shows the apparent recipient of the title standing in a crowded waiting room while dressed in ceremonial attire with the caption reading: “Youngest Dato in Malaysia … 19 years.”

The Malaysian media, which carried the news earlier, has not been able to verify the age of the person in the photo. And no one has denied the authenticity of the article, not even the person in the photo, who may actually be older than he looks.

Regardless of which state these titles are from, many Malaysians rightly deserve the recognition from the royal houses because of their community work, in various forms.

One or two states, especially Pahang, seem to be more generous in conferring awards while states like Selangor, Johor, Perak, Sarawak and Kelantan are more stringent in their selection.

The Selangor state constitution states that only a maximum of 40 Datuk titles can be conferred each year.

The Sultan of Selangor Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah has imposed stricter conditions – including the minimum age of 45 – for a person to be conferred the state’s Datukship, to limit the number of recipients and protect the image and dignity of the awards.

In the case of Johor, Sultan Ibrahim ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar has expressed his frustrations openly, saying sarcastically “that it has come to a point that if you throw a stone, it will hit a Datuk and when the stone rebounds, it will hit another Datuk”, to illustrate the point that Malaysia is in danger of becoming a nation with the most number of decorated people.

While the increasing number of people with the Datuk title has long been a contentious issue, what Malaysians are concerned about is the number of such titled persons being involved in crime.

Pictures of a certain Datuk with a visible tattoo on his hand, purportedly depicting his gang allegiance, have long gone viral on social media.

Malaysians are asking whether royal houses submitted the names of potential recipients to the police for vetting before conferring them with titles. This is a practice of the Sultan of Selangor. If that were the case with every state, criminals would not have been awarded.

Click to view graphic 

I have complete faith in the ability of our police force. They will carry out their duty of checking the background of such people if asked to do so.

But what is taking place now in Malaysia is also a reflection of our people’s obsession with titles, honorifics and even fake academic titles.

Our former deputy prime minister, the late Tun Ghafar Baba, was just plain Encik, until the day he retired from office.

In Tunku Abdul Rahman’s first Cabinet, after we achieved independence, only five of 15 ministers were made Datuks.

The finance minister at the time, Tan Siew Sin, only held the title of Justice of Peace – which is recognised in Commonwealth countries.

Penang’s first Chief Minister, the late Wong Pow Nee, had no title until he retired, after which he was made Tan Sri. Another was the late Gerakan president Dr Lim Chong Eu who only became Tun upon retirement.

In short, things were pretty simple back then, with proper methodology when it came to conferring decorations, medals and titles. But not today.

There are now so many variations of the Datuk titles – Datuk Seri, Datuk Sri, Datuk Paduka, Dato’, Datuk Wira and Datuk Patinggi (depending on the states) – it has become confusing, even to members of the media.

There are now calls from some titled people that the press should use their titles accurately. I can only imagine the number of corrections the media has to deal with if mistakes are made and some snooty individual gets upset.

In the 1970s, the media decided to standardise how these title holders should be addressed by calling them all “Datuk”. The press also decided to call the Datuk Sri from Pahang “Datuk Seri”.

It is just impossible to check every single title or pre-fix when naming a person.

The reporter does not ask the police where the criminal suspect got his Datukship. Neither can we ask the Datuk criminal as he is being led to the courts in handcuffs, “Where is your Datukship from, Datuk” ?

Besides Brunei, the Malaysian press must be the only one that includes the titles of individuals. Well, there is the British media but they only address those who are knighted with the title “Sir”.

The royalty shouldn’t be the only party blamed for the increasing number of Datuks. Malaysians are willing to go to all lengths to buy the titles, even from bogus sources.

But the titles must not be bestowed on any one with a criminal record or it makes a mockery of this honour.

Year of Living Dangerously

Rash move: The effectiveness of Trump’s executive order banning citizens of seven countries from entering the US is highly questionable. — AFP

What Trump is doing – and he may not even realise it with his defiant-style leadership – is making the US a much more dangerous place to live in now, not a safer place as he had hoped.

WHEN the world’s most powerful man conducts diplomacy over Twitter, keeping his words to 140 characters, we’d better prepare ourselves for trouble.

And indeed, since Donald Trump took over as President of the United States, there has been a series of totally unpredictable and unconventional decisions made, some mind boggling, even bordering on insanity.

And it has just been a little over two weeks since he moved into the White House.

There is no question that many Americans are troubled by a possible mass influx of refugees from the Middle East and Africa.

This does not involve just the US but also affects several parts of Europe, including Britain, France and Germany, which explains why politicians who play the right-wing card – with the anti-immigrant agenda – are winning.

Trump clearly understands the pulse of the average American, especially those in the rural mid-west, the US heartland.

These are folks who watch conservative Fox TV and whose interaction with people of other races, religions and cultures is limited.

They are not like the liberal city folks of New York or Los Angeles, who turn up at airports and train stations, waving placards and hugging Syrian refugees, as shown on international TV news.

It is probably a different story in Montana, Nebraska, Arkansas or South Carolina but we do not hear the voices of these rural folks on CNN.

Trump won simply because he understood the fears of the average American well. He has continued to play the Islamophobia card because he knows his fearmongering works.

It doesn’t help that most of these refugees want to go to the US or Britain and not the Muslim-majority nations of the Middle East. The question remains if these Arab countries are even offering places to the refugees or do the refugees themselves prefer Western secular and democratic values.

Nationalist politicians have already whipped up anger, pointing out that if these Middle East refugees hate Western culture so much and refuse to assimilate, then why should they be let in.

But Trump’s executive order banning the citizens of seven countries from entering the US, supposedly to protect the nation from “radical Islamic terrorists”, is highly questionable, especially its effectiveness.

The president has signed the order temporarily suspending the entry of people from Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Libya and Yemen into the US for at least 90 days.

This is odd because if we wish to identify terrorism acts, then surely there’s a high number of terrorists from Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia and Afghanistan. Why were these countries not on the list?

Obviously, Trump did not want to offend US allies, especially Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Despite the US’ constant lecture on democracy, we all know these two countries are often “spared”, despite their horrifically poor human rights record because they are strategically important to the US. We also should not forget that at one time, the vital oil supply was from Saudi Arabia.

The fact is that in the past four decades, 3,024 people have been killed by foreign terrorists on US soil.

The reality is that the Sept 11 attacks, perpetrated by citizens of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Lebanon, account for 98.6% of those deaths – 15 of the 19 Sept 11 hijackers once called Saudi Arabia home.

In fact, over that period, no American has been killed on US soil by anyone from the nations named in the present president’s executive order.

The San Bernardino massacre, in which 14 people were killed and 22 injured in 2015 was carried out by Syed Rizwan Farook, who is of Pakistani descent, and his wife Tashfeen Malik, who grew up in Saudi Arabia.

The Pulse nightclub attack in Orlando, where 49 died and 53 were injured last year, was carried out by Omar Mateen, a US citizen of Afghan descent.

The Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 was orchestrated by the Tsarnaev brothers, both of whom were Russian, killing three and injuring several hundred people.

But as the world jumped on Trump, news reports have emerged that Kuwait does the same.

Syrians, Iraqis, Iranians, Pakistanis and Afghans have reportedly not been able to obtain tourism or trade visas to Kuwait since 2011.

Passport holders from the countries are not allowed to enter the Gulf state while the blanket ban is in place, and have been told not to apply for visas, it has been reported.

Likewise, the ban on citizens from fellow Muslim-majority nations has failed to prevent Kuwait from being targeted in a number of terrorist attacks over the past two years – including the bombing of a mosque in 2015 which left 27 Kuwaitis dead.

Kuwait is the only country in the world to officially bar entry to Syrians, until the US named Syria among the seven countries whose citizens were banned from entering its borders.

What Trump is doing – and he may not even realise it with his defiant-style of leadership – is making the US a much more dangerous place to live in now, not a safer place as he had hoped.

There will be homegrown terrorists, including Americans – and even radicals entering the US holding other passports – who plan to carry out their crazy acts.

He has also made the work and lives of career diplomats more difficult with his brazen diplomacy. It came as no surprise that 900 State Department diplomats signed a memo to oppose his ban.

According to CNN, the “memo of dissent” warned that not only will the new immigration policy not keep America safe but it will harm efforts to prevent terrorist attacks.

The ban “will not achieve its stated aim of protecting the American people from terrorist attacks by foreign nationals admitted to the United States,” the memo reportedly noted.

Trump has actually provided oxygen to the radicals, who will now thump the noses of moderates in Muslim countries.

There should be no surprises if the recalcitrant Trump expands his list of countries whose citizens would be banned from entering the US.

It won’t be wrong to suggest that 2017 will be a Year of Living Dangerously under Trump. Let’s be prepared for the unexpected from him.

Let’s think forward, people

Playing the race card and bashing one of our biggest economic partners – China – is like shooting ourselves in the foot.

THE trouble with politicians is that they often let political and personal interests get in the way of facts and very often, national interests.

Johor’s Forest City project has become a controversy out of the blue but the debate is not over whether the sprawling project will become a ghost city or if it would lead to having a glut of apartments in the state but strangely, whether the mainland Chinese have any business building it.

Then, there is the emotional spin, if not a racist one, in the suggestion that Johor Baru will suddenly see an influx of Chinese immigrants.

A day after Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad admitted that his remarks that 700,000 Chinese mainlanders would occupy Forest City was based on a news report by Bloomberg, some politicians were again quoting the same figure and fears, based on the same report.

But what has been overlooked is this: the Forest City reclamation project will actually increase the land mass of Johor.

While the noise centres on the purported loss of sovereignty, influx of mainland Chinese and how these Chinese nationals would supposedly rob the rice bowls of Malaysians, naysayers have ignored, intentionally or otherwise, the fact that this project will add 1,386ha of land to the state.

This will add to the current size of Johor which stands at 1,921,771ha, which means Johor will increase its size to 1,923,157ha. Forest City’s 1,386ha will help make up 0.0072% of the state’s new size.

Rather than losing land, this will add a huge tract of land on the sea.

In fact, reclamation could go on right up to the Singaporean border.

To put it in simple language – the Johor state government did not give away land that it already owns but the Chinese company has created its own land to buy and build.

Also, Forest City will be developed over a span of 30 years. By that time, the size of the Malaysian population would have doubled. So, 160,000 new homes or 5,300 units per year over 30 years no longer sounds like such a big deal.

Everyone seems to have forgotten that while we argue over Forest City, Singapore has been reclaiming land right up to our border.

Anyone who has been to any tall building in JB could just look out of the windows and see how close Singapore has actually come.

Check what it has done on the north-east side. It does not take an expert to note that it is too close for comfort.

Reclamation work in Singapore has been carried out extensively on a large scale since the 1960s by the Singaporean government. Since 1965, the island republic’s land mass has expanded by 22%, from 58,000ha to 71,000ha.

According to reports, most of the reclaimed land is in Changi, Tekong, Jurong Island and Tuas areas and the Singaporean government has reportedly planned to reclaim another 5,000ha by 2030.

Forest City, when completed, will sit on four artificial islands deve­loped by Coun­try Garden Pacific View.

Besides creating about 200,000 jobs, its spillover effect includes re­venue for the state go­vernment in terms of taxes.

The total cumulative investment of US$100bil (RM444bil) will attract returns of sufficient proportion. It is expected that Forest City will contribute tax revenue to the Malaysian government in the amount of RM66bil over a period of 20 years.

Forest City plans to create the world’s most advanced smart city – we are collaborating with Cisco, Accenture and Celcom to develop the Smart City Vision.

With the concept of “an integrated city”, Forest City will introduce eight key industries, namely Tourism & MICE, Healthcare, Education & Training, Regional Headquarters, Offshore Finance, E-Commerce, Emerging Technology, and Green & Smart industry. Forest City has been approved as a duty-free zone.

Last week, the Sultan of Johor Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar asked critics, including Dr Mahathir, “let me ask him this – Forest City is to be built on reclaimed land and most of these units are condominiums. In simple language, these units are up in the air. They are strata units.

“I would like to ask Dr Mahathir if these foreign buyers can just take their apartments back home or carry off an inch of the reclaimed land.”

Last year, the South China Morning Post reported that Country Garden began selling units in Forest City earlier with the first phase of the project including 482 condos and 132 serviced apartments. In a report in The Straits Times in Singapore in 2016, Country Garden said it had received bookings for nearly all of Phase One.

Forest City is the second project for Country Garden in Malaysia, and the Guangzhou-based developer is one of several Chinese companies rushing to build new homes for sale in Malaysia’s Iskandar development zone.

Last year, Country Garden reportedly secured its second project in Australia, paying a reported HK$35mil (RM20mil) to secure a set of private homes for conversion into a high-rise condo development in Sydney’s St Leonards area.

The argument that a foreign builder has no business in Malaysia actually does not hold water. Malaysia’s SP Setia, for example, has built high density apartments in London and was warmly welcomed by the British government with buyers, mainly from Malaysia.

Today’s Chinese buyers are affluent and well-heeled. They would probably have similar investments in other countries especially Britain and Australia.

They are not the types arriving in boats like the ancestors of the Malaysian Chinese and for sure, they don’t need our Malaysian passports or to look for jobs here.

The mainland Chinese have gone past that stage and many are far richer than us Malaysians. It’s a laugh to them when they read about Malaysian politicians alleging that they want to live permanently in Malaysia.

If we can remember, the Petronas Twin Towers was designed by Argentinian architect Cesar Pelli and construction was given to South Korean and Japanese construction companies.

Some of our politicians are now talking about mainland Chinese buyers but lest we forget, what about the thousands of Filipinos and Indonesians who purportedly received blue identity cards in Sabah, an issue that has remained thorny. They were not affluent immigrants. They were of no real benefit to Malaysia except to fulfil political expediency then, perhaps.

It is bizarre to equate Syrian war refugees and illegal immigrants from Mexico with investors from China who would be bringing in money and connections to Malaysia. It is incredible how far some of our politicians are prepared to stretch this issue.

The trouble with some politicians is that they develop amnesia – either partial or total loss of memory – when they switch political allegiance.

It is expected and we are supposed to accept it but playing the race card, and worse, bashing one of our biggest economic partners – China – will only hit us badly.

We are so proud of you, Faiz!

Mohd Faiz Subri holds his trophy after winning The 2016 FIFA Puskas Award during The Best FIFA Football Awards ceremony, on January 9, 2017 in Zurich. – AFP

Whether he spoke flawless English is not the point here. What matters is that he took home Fifa’s prestigious Puskas Award for the best goal of 2016 – a first for the country and for Asia.

THE controversy over Malaysian football star Mohd Faiz Subri’s poor command of English has died down but I need to get this out of my chest – these fault finders seriously deserve a kick in their chin, butt or any part of their body where it hurts.

Why would anyone care if this 29-year-old Penangite could speak the Queen’s English when he has been presented an award for the best goal in the world?

What should matter is that he took home Fifa’s prestigious Puskas Award for the best goal of 2016, a first for his country and for Asia. That’s about it. Nothing more than that. All the c**p – and I apologise for the use of this crass term to the uppity lot who pick on someone’s standard of English – that Faiz should learn to speak better, does not matter one bit.

Faiz was criticised by a columnist in Malaysiakini for his poor spoken English while some netizens took offence that the Penang FA footballer did not wear the baju Melayu when he received his award, despite having taken two pairs with him, given to him by NGOs.

The Puskas Award was presented to Faiz, courtesy of a spectacular free kick in a Super League match against Pahang last February, with the ball swerving from an “impossible” angle into the right corner of the net.

The video clip of Mohd Faiz’s spectacular free kick which was first uploaded by FIFATV on YouTube has been viewed more than 2.5 million times while clips of his Puskas rivals Johnath Marlone Azevedo da Silva (Brazil) and Venezuela’s woman player Daniuska Rodriguez only garnered over a million views.

Here’s this ordinary Penang boy, stepping on the global stage for the first time and must be still trying to figure out if he was just dreaming – surely we could understand why he was nervous.

He wasn’t a household name nor was he the best among Malaysian footballers but there he was, sharing the same space with his icon Cristiano Ronaldo and to top it off, to be presented with the trophy by Brazilian football legend Ronaldo.

I bet he still goes to sleep with a smile on his face. Bravo! Most of us can only dare to dream but not all of us can have our dreams come true! Faiz, yours did. We are so proud of you. No one should take that glory from you just because you cannot speak flawless English.

Those who have criticised you have not been watching football, for sure. Just watch how many top football names speak English on television. Either their standard of English is bad or heavily-accented despite having lived many years in England.

I am certainly not defending the poor command of English but merely to put things in the right perspective.

As a reader rightly posted on a news portal: “Faiz was there to receive Fifa’s best goal for 2016 award, not to compete in Toastmasters International contest, where the world champion of public speaking is chosen” while another said: “He is a football player, not a teacher or a politician. So why all the fuss?”

Another posted: “Let us not be too critical of him. Not many get a chance to stand on a world stage surrounded by emperors and kings of football and in front of dozens of TV cameras and flashing lights.”

“He should not be expected to speak proper English. In fact, he should not be expected to even understand the language at all. Even Brazilian football legend Ronaldo, the person who presented the award to him, spoke in Portuguese and an interpreter translated it.”

Yet another posted: “He is a footballer and he does his talking on the pitch, as he did when he scored that beautiful goal.”

Really, those who belittled Faiz over his poor command of English should ask themselves if they can comfortably do the same in the national language, which they should be proficient in.

And now, on the suit Faiz decided to put on that night.

“I had to wear three layers of clothes. Those who were there would know how cold it was,” the Penang player reportedly said, referring to the winter in Switzerland, with sub-zero Celsius temperature.

Yes, let us all give Faiz credit for trying. He has explained that the award show hosts had asked that he spoke in either English, French or Spanish, so he was left with no option.

If there is any lesson to learn from here – Faiz is a product of our national school system. We have neglected the English language which Malaysians used to be proficient in and were proud of but let’s face it, politicians killed it.

They are to be blamed, not Faiz, or many other young Malaysians. In many other countries, it is the young who can speak English better than the older ones but in Malaysia, it’s the reverse – older Malaysians, who were schooled in English, are largely proficient but the young ones are struggling with the language. In many cases, it is simply hopeless.

And just when young Malaysians are struggling with English, another reality is that Mandarin is set to become a global language. It will become another international language very soon.

Those who are unable to speak Mandarin – including this writer who cannot speak or write this important language – will fall behind.

I am 56 years old this year and I still want to be able to converse in Chinese at the very least. Young Malaysians must understand that the world is changing. It will not wait for anyone.

In many European countries, especially the Scandinavian ones, most people are able to speak in other languages apart from their native tongue.

Foreigners are hugely impressed with our ability to speak in Bahasa Malaysia, English, Mandarin, Tamil and some other dialects, too. It is this linguistic ability that have helped us get businesses and secure jobs.

This is an asset, people.

Those who argue otherwise are simply acknowledging their own disability to improve themselves and thus have to defend their own inadequacies and worse, do it on nationalistic and racial grounds.

The more disturbing fact is this – our political elites are sending their children overseas, especially to Britain, to learn, speak and write proper English while ordinary Malaysians are deprived of such a privilege.

These elites continue to justify our education policy – which could do with a lot of improvement – at the expense of Malaysia and Malaysians.

That is not all. We know that the string of distinctions many Malaysian students have scored has created a false sense of competency and confidence, especially when these super scorers, who all think they should be doctors and engineers, are confronted with the harsh reality – that their string of As are actually Cs and Ds at the international level.

Faiz, you deserve all the accolades for your super goal. You have done Malaysia mighty proud. You have written the speech at your best ability and you have prevailed.

We want more than anything that you do not lose your head. And please don’t think of having a Datukship. We already have enough Datuks in this country (!) but there’s only one Faiz – the Faiz who scored that awesome goal.

If there’s anyone who deserves to get the kick – besides the critics – it is also the Football Association of Malaysia. It should have done better to help Faiz with the speech and help him face the world’s cameras.

Let’s not go overboard

Malaysia is a secular country and we should not let religious authorities run our country and how we should live our lives.

LET’S face it – the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) has become so powerful as the sole authority in deciding whether any product is regarded as halal that no manufacturers would dare to go against this religious body.

The fact is that the country’s Muslim population has increased and Muslim consumers prefer religiously safe and clean products, properly certified by Jakim.

It is a lucrative market and manufacturers want the halal label to ensure that their products are accepted by Muslim consumers.

The wait for the Jakim approval takes up to six months, if the manufacturers are lucky as it can be longer if there are questions raised. Surprise location checks are included as well.

There are also overseas visits to inspect how foreign suppliers transport ingredients to ensure the logistic process itself complies with the halal standard.

Even mineral water suppliers want the Jakim logo. If it’s water straight from the pipe, it’s straight forward but if the manufacturers claim that their product is mineral water, then Jakim will insist on knowing for sure there is no animal bone matter involved in the process of extraction.

Jakim, in previous interviews, has said they were short-handed and stood up against allegations that they were a money-making machine.

There have been too many stories hurled against them but to be fair, they remain hearsay and accusations.

The reality is that winning over pious Muslim consumers in the global market is estimated to be worth US$2.3tril (RM10tril) a year.

It has been reported that Malaysia’s halal exports are expected to grow over 19% to RM50bil this year from RM42bil in 2015, leveraging on intensive promotions from industry stakeholders.

Malaysian Investment Development Authority (Mida) chief executive officer Datuk Azman Mahmud said the halal industry was fast becoming an important source of revenue and growth as attracting foreign direct investment in the halal business (products and services) would help increase exports.

The global halal foods market alone was estimated at US$693bil (RM3.1tril) while Malaysia’s annual demand for halal foods was valued at RM1.7bil, he said, adding that in the food manufacturing industry, mostly halal food production, more than 1,437 projects worth RM29.3bil had been implemented, creating 99,000 jobs.

In Indonesia, many other items are reportedly touted as halal, like computer mouse, headscarves and even shirt buttons.

There is even halal cat food over there as Muslim owners want their furry friends to follow the same dietary restrictions as they do.

An Indonesian paint manufacturer, Bernahal Paint, is advertising that its wall paint is halal, claiming its material is lard free.

The Indonesian counterpart of Jakim is the Indonesian Ulema Council Food and Drugs Supervisory Agency while in Singapore, the Islamic Religious Council (Muis).

But Muslims are now asking if businesses are commercialising religion and halal matters by promoting what Muslims should use and consume.

Is the line being pushed too far? Even Jakim expressed surprise when a manufacturer of middle-eastern dates asked for a halal certification – I mean dates are dates, and they are a fruit after all.

In an interview with the Straits Times in Singapore, Perlis mufti Datuk Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin was quoted as saying that “Muslims are required to eat halal but the problem is when people practise religion beyond the nature of Islam itself.

“Traders are commercialising religion and halal by promoting what Muslims should use and consume,” he added.

In a press report, such commercial uses of the label have spurred a group of auditors, including Muslim Singaporeans, to form a new association to help governments certify manufacturers using halal guidelines and standard practices.

One of the initiators, Imran Musa, reportedly said they aimed to quash “halal extremism” and set the record straight on what is “genuinely halal and good.”

“Having unnecessarily stricter rules towards halal will lead to halal extremism,” he asked, saying “who would have thought of halal paint and halal tudung?”

“Halal extremism is slowly creeping in as some clerics impart their own judgment, hence making halal more stringent.”

The reality is that currently, halal certification has no universally accepted standard, with different countries imposing varying interpretations of the Islamic rules for what is permissible.

In Malaysia, with our multi-racial, multi-religious and multi-cultural make up, many non-Muslims are saying that the push for halal requirements is going too far.

Many referred to reports of the proposal to have different trolleys in supermarkets for Muslim and non-Muslim shoppers, for example.

Then, there is the much publicised controversy over Jakim’s insistence that the word “Pretzel dog” be scrapped as it would give the impression to Muslims that “hot dog” contains dog meat.

Pretzel store franchise Auntie Anne caved in, despite a public outcry, and it humbly changed its “Pretzel Dog” to “Pretzel Sausage” in order to receive the prized halal certification.

And now, fast food giant McDonald’s has found itself in the news when its directive to stop non-halal birthday cakes from being brought into their outlets emerged.

McDonald’s, as a business entity, is entitled to carry out its own policies. It issued an apology to customers for the mis­under­standing but at the same time, it noted that such a policy was also practised in Singapore.

To be fair, some cakes do contain liquor including some servings of the ever-popular tiramisu cake. Many Malaysians may not realise it but most ice cream outlets in the country no longer offer the liquor-laced rum and raisin flavour.

But there is an issue here over Jakim’s authority, given that it is a halal-certification authority. So, does it not mean its authority is confined to only food served at F&B outlets but not the premises itself?

If this continues, it will open the floodgates for more areas, like public transportation vehicles, cinemas, entertainment outlets and schools, to be classified along halal and non-halal lines.

For example, when the now-defunct Rayani Air was launched, it was more concerned with selling itself as a fully syariah-compliant airline but less than four months after its launch, it was grounded for safety audit reasons. Many talked about its halal status and not about the most important aspect –its safety.

While we must be aware of the sensitivity of Muslims over dietary matters, we must be mindful that directives made should not segregate the people along religious lines, especially at a time when there is a need to enhance unity in the face of rising extremism.

As Malaysia turns 60 this year, it is time we reflect and think about the path we are taking as a nation. Whether we wish to admit it or not, Malaysia is a secular country and we should not let religious authorities run our country, including how we should live our lives.

The job of administering our country belongs to elected politicians and not clerics, of any religion and race.