Sex scandals obsess Malaysia: the country with a one-track mind
Some days its media can talk of little else
By Sholto Byrnes
Sunday, 24 April 2011
Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia's opposition leader, tomorrow faces the resumption of one of the less edifying cases to have been heard amid the colonnaded formality of the Kuala Lumpur High Court: his trial for allegedly sodomising a 25-year-old aide named Saiful Bukhari.
It is not the only scandal with which the former deputy prime minister, whose dismissal and first trial for sodomy made world headlines more than a decade ago, is dealing.
The man once feted as Newsweek's "Asian of the Year", whose supporters include Al Gore, the former US vice-president, and Paul Wolfowitz, a former World Bank president, is also accused of being the star of a 21-minute sex tape featuring a Chinese prostitute (by way of variation, female), a clip of which was briefly posted on YouTube.
But these are only two instances of the sexually related incidents that fill the country's papers and gossip sites every day. So numerous are stories of physical misdemeanours in this conservative, Muslim-majority but essentially easygoing country that the question is being asked: are Malaysians obsessed with sex?
Within the past few days, it has emerged that the education department in the eastern state of Terengganu has set up a boot camp to which it has sent 66 schoolboys to deal with their "effeminate tendencies".
"The severity of the symptoms vary. We understand that some people end up as homosexual," said the department's director, Razali Daud, "but we will do our best to limit the number. If left unchecked, it could become a problem for them, their families and society."
Earlier this month, a well-known MP, Ibrahim Ali, the leader of the Malay rights group Perkasa, asked in parliament if wives truly "understand their roles". "Husbands driving home after work see things that are sexually arousing and seek their wives to satisfy their urges," he said, complaining that sometimes women pretend to be busy with other matters. "They will say, 'wait, I'm cooking,' or 'wait, I'm getting ready to visit relatives'." They evidently required a "proper explanation" that "in Islam, wives are supposed to stop everything to fulfil their husbands' demands."
Although now an independent, Ibrahim was once a luminary in the governing Barisan Nasional alliance, which cannot appear too overbearing in matters of personal morality given that it includes non-Muslim Chinese, Indian and indigenous components as well as Muslim Malays.
The Islamist opposition party PAS, however, is less constrained, as its youth leader, Nasrudin Tantawi, made clear in February. "We have identified favourite spots where lovebirds mingle," he said, warning that his organisation would be helping to check "immoral activities" in the run-up to Valentine's Day. "We are deploying our members to preach and distribute pamphlets promoting sin-free lifestyles."
The action was certainly necessary, he said. "Last year there was a campaign to promote a no-panties day."
Such remarks do not go without comment. The country's Women, Family and Community Minister, Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, has already condemned the Terengganu state government's boot camp, and Ibrahim's antediluvian views have provoked widespread condemnation.
"Ibrahim must apologise and submit himself for gender sensitivity training," said Teresa Kok, of the opposition Democratic Action Party. Nasrudin's Valentine's Day campaign, meanwhile, led to PAS's youth leader being slapped down by more senior members of his own party.
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