By Syazwan Zainal
I watch with deigned interest, people who put a blanket ban on Seksualiti Merdeka. An automatic “No!” was uttered as if it was a subconscious response rather than a contemplative act. They accuse the event of being a catalyst for the extreme sexualisation of society, branding the organisers as those who do not fear God and trying to push societal norms to its limit.
I have to admit, I see such an act as illustrative of society’s fear of discourse about anything which has the word ‘sexual’ in it; the notion that it’s better to just sweep problems under the rug and ignore its existence. The public, I am sure, is very aware of the existence of homosexuals. For years, sub-par magazines such as Mastikahave published exposés of underground and secretive meeting spots for these “freaks of nature”. But we never quite got round to asking ourselves their place in law and more importantly in the day-to-day life in our society. It is just so much easier to say that “homosexuality is wrong and all homosexuals should go to jail”.
Dehumanising your enemy betrays your conscience. As you attempt to dehumanise your enemy, what you are doing is justifying your action to attack them. Since they are not humans, my attack – whether verbally, politically, morally, physically, or psychologically – is justified, which suggests that guilt is embedded deep within our hearts. We do it all the time, especially during wars. Each side will try to portray the enemy as killers, rapists, plunders, thieves and imperialists, when reality is, more often than not, a bit more complicated than that.
Have we asked ourselves how did it come about? Nature or nurture,a nd its implications? Countless studies and who-knows-how-many homosexuals have admitted that they’ve had this inclination ever since they were children. If such a notion is conceded, is it fair then for society to punish these individuals? But of course, hard questions such as these are never asked on TV3…
I am sure the naysayer, though will say that such a notion is a load of bull. But let’s entertain the second possibility; nurture. If indeed homosexuality comes about because of nurture rather than nature, as a society we still have the responsibility to ask ourselves hard questions too. What do we do with sources of homosexuality? Surely solutions must be given.
But I argue that regardless of its raison d’être, we cannot deny the existence of this portion of society. Here comes the hard question; what do we do with them? Under the penal code it is punishable by imprisonment. I concede that even in law and politics, there are certain acts which society deems to be so reprehensible that it becomes a crime. But the law is not relevant per se to what I want us to think about.
What the law can restrain is limited to what it can measure and recognise. Practically speaking, the law can obviously imprison a gay couple after they were caught having sexual intercourse; which is an easy enough act to recognise. However, it is impossible for the law to arrest individuals who do not act on their “unnatural” (quoted from the penal code) impulses. I would also argue that it is wrong for the law to even attempt to sanction the conscience of an individual, but that is for a different article.
The hardest question then becomes; what do we do with homosexuals who do not act on their impulses? What is their place in society?
Let’s just take one perspective; religion.
For Islamic men who have homosexual tendencies but have never acted on them, can they become imam for other men? What is religion’s view on gay men who shake hands with women? Is it permissible for gay men to shake hands with other men? Where are they supposed to pray in a mosque?
Mind you; these are hard questions that can only be answered by the likes of Qaradhawi. It is worth nothing that these are merely questions under the umbrella of syariah. Islam is after all a vast religion.
Some of my closest friends are gay. It annoys me that these people who (judging from the reasons of their blanket ban on Seksualiti Merdeka) have probably never even read an article on homosexuality or even know anyone who was gay, are becoming judges and spokespeople for the issue. One of my friend for example, is trying his very best to fight the urges. He is a Muslim and very religious. He confided in me and said that there were times when he actually considered suicide as an option and the only thing that’s stopping him from doing it is Islam. He feels pressured primarily by society’s disgust towards the act. It seemed impossible for him to find someone with whom he can talk. But more importantly, he cannot find a solution with which he can lift this burden.
These “judges” – have they considered empathy? To walk in someone else’s shoes?
Let’s try that now. Let’s put ourselves in their position.
Everyone else in the world can get married with the person that they love. I on the other hand, cannot. When all of my friends talk about girls and hot women, I can only pretend to be interested. Do you know how excluded I feel? I cannot tell anyone; not my parents, friends, girlfriends. This very heavy secret is mine to keep for all eternity except for really close friends who are rare. When people talk demeaningly of homosexuals in my presence, I only nod halfheartedly. It seemed distasteful to be insulting part of who I am as a person. I cry all the time and contemplate suicide sometimes, especially when I am reminded of how different I am. And I can’t even do anything about it. There’s no one to talk to, no solution that is provided.
Society seemed to have forgotten that I am not JUST gay. I am also a student. A son. A Malaysian.
The Ariff Alfian debacle was most obvious probably on Facebook and Twitter and other social websites. Some fellow Muslims and Malaysians have been up in arms about the reprehensibility of the act: exclaiming with a zealotry that is reminiscent of ages past. I was, I admit, very disturbed at some of the comments made. Some condemned Ariff to the Eternal Fire. Some talked about illusions of grandeur. Others though were conciliatory and emphatic.
To my fellow well-meaning Muslims, let us remember that every sinner has a future and every saint has a past. Let us leave the judging to the One who is Most Capable of doing it. Quoting the al-Quran, “And Allah is the Most Just of justices” (- Surah at-Tin verse 8). Even if we concede that his acts are wrong, it is in my humblest opinion, still wrong for us to condemn another individual.
When Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. victoriously entered Makkah with people from Madinah, he forgave those who have wronged him and endangered his life and the life of other Muslims. He had the authority and power to do as he wish and it would be perfectly justifiable if he were to punish those who have wronged him. Instead, forgiveness was offered. I do not pretend to be a scholar of Islam, but I would have thought that these are the values that Islam tries to instil in the hearts of the believers.
I may not be a prophet nor am I a scientist but my supposition is that if we, in Malaysia had a culture of inclusion, openness and tolerance, Ariff Alfian would not have disappeared abruptly from his parents and family. He would have quite simply told his parents earlier on about his homosexual tendencies. With discussion, they can sort things out without any family fall-out happening and scandal would be avoided. This may be a tad too naive and simplistic of me to think so, but surely with truthful discussions and open and respectful discourse, the many possible solutions would be more obvious to us.
THE POINT IS….
I am not advocating for the sexual liberation of the Malaysian society. I am first and foremost a Muslim. And my belief system stems from Islam, insyaAllah. Unfortunately my knowledge of Islam is not as expansive as Qaradhawi, but I am sure Islam has the best solutions to every problem. I have faith in Islam that it has more to offer than mere punishments and fatwas. Islam is so much more than that.
I think the point that I want to say in this article is I would rather like society as a whole to think of solutions and ways of helping rather than punishment. Everyone, it seems, is eager to become the police force; the dispenser of justice. No one wants to help.
Reason and discourse is the best lubricant for the wheels of society’s progress. Catchy slogans and blanket bans can only take us so far.
First published in taktawla.blogspot.com
Muhammad Nur Syazwan bin Zainal Abidin is a reluctant law student at Warwick University, writer-wannabe, who also dabbles in theatre, dance and philosophy. He is an unashamed dreamer-idealist and a professional procrastinator.
The image for this article was used with permission from Seksualiti Merdeka.