26 February 2010

I'll take "inure" for $200 please (Malaysia edition)


What do you think of? Anything? Nice beaches, just south of Thailand and north of Singapore and Indonesia, destination for visa runs for farang in Thailand, briefly home of the world's tallest building, sodomy, moderate majority Muslim nation, one party rule, growing high tech economy, ...

Well, yes, one of those does seem somewhat out of place. But this is just fantastic, and too good not to report on - sodomy seems to be all the rage in Malaysia these days, and everyone is talking about it.

Malaysia is a former British colony that inherited former British laws, meaning sodomy is illegal, even between two consenting adults. Unbelievably intrusive for the state to have this kind of control over people's private lives, but much of the world is like this. It nearly always gives police and the state a powerful means of controlling personal behavior, and a way to shame and manipulate and intimidate anyone they don't like. In Malaysia's case, how often has the law been enforced? As reported in the LA Times,

Legal records suggest that sodomy charges under Section 377 [the anti-sodomy law] have been leveled only seven times in Malaysia in 70 years, according to thenutgraph.com, an independent Malaysian news website, with four of those charges being against Anwar.

Who is Anwar? A particularly randy and exhibitionistic practitioner? A gay rave promoter?

No, and no - he is a 62 year old deputy former deputy prime minister. Married, with six children.

Anwar Ibrahim was at one time considered to be one of those in line for the Prime Minister's post in Malaysia, but in 1997 he went too far in criticizing his own party during the Asian currency crisis, publicly spoke of paralysis, incompetence and nepotism in the ruling party (United Malays National Organization, or UNMO), called for more economic liberalisation, and ran afoul of the ruling party. The sitting prime minister, then as now Mahatir Mohamad, decided he had heard enough - and that the thing to do would be to charge Anwar with the foulest crime he could think of. So, of course, Anwar was charged with sodomy, convicted in 2000, and exonerated in 2004. The plan was to cause abhorrence in the electorate and to end the challenge to the ruling party.

Well, it didn't quite work out that way.

Anwar, who is a slight man (and who has been charged in both cases of sodomizing a much larger "strapping" man), far from becoming less popular, has become a leader of the nascent opposition movement in Malaysia (New Yorker, May 18, 2009, subscription required). And while I disagree with his politics, how can you not like a man who has gone from being, essentially, a party hack to someone who was harangued in public in a show trial in which he was luridly accused (with stained mattresses, et al.) for weeks on end, thrown into solitary confinement, and emerged to be a unifying force for a riven multi-ethnic nation ruled by an increasingly out of touch and ossified one party system. Again from the LA Times:

Although he was banned from running for political office for five years, he helped energize the opposition, which in 2008 won five of Malaysia's 13 states, its best-ever showing, denying the ruling coalition the two-thirds parliamentary majority it had in effect held since 1969.

Since then, the opposition has won seven of nine by-elections, including one that put Anwar back into parliament, challenging the dominance that Malaysia's main ruling party has enjoyed since independence.
So, he's a friend of Paul Wolfowitz. You gotta admire the guy.

He's back in court, again on sodomy charges, again lurid, and again the Malaysian nation is getting treated to a very frank discussion of male-on-male sex. And in the last ten years, the internet has made the details of the trial much more accessible to the average Malaysian.

The effect of all of this? Well, some in Malaysia are concerned that the once-taboo topic has become inescapable (think Monica's blue dress times a factor of 20 - Google "Malaysia Sodomy" and see for yourself!), and that by attempting to "tar" Anwar with the charge of sodomy, when he clearly is innocent, the power of the taboo has been broken.

By bringing false, politically motivated charges against Anwar, Mahatir has made sodomy a proxy for a trumped up charge. Further, by making it a topic of general conversation, nationwide, Mahatir has accomplished what may have taken a generation of gay rights activists to do: make sodomy mundane, and boring. Quotidian. The boogie man under the bed loses his power once you turn on the light.

And if you hear of UNMO losing its post-independence grip on Malaysian politics and power, you can think of the falsified case against Col. Dreyfus which backfired, and lead to the secularization of France; and of the calumny of "religious leaders" in Colorado who lied and lied to get people to vote for the anti-gay Prop 2 which backfired, and ultimately lead to overturning all sodomy laws in the U.S. And you can smile to yourself knowing that, one more time, the powerful liars didn't get it all their way.

Watch this space. Should it come to pass, I'll definitely write about it. And I'll definitely gloat.



CFox said...

So "sodomy" in Malaysia is taking on new meaning the way "Santorum" has here?

Bren in SoCal said...

Heh - nice reference, but not *exactly*...