Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Kelantan State in Malaysia Sucks Again

In a previous post in my Malaysia Sucks* series, I referred to an article from the BBC about the state of Kelantan in Malaysia, where the ruling Islamist party is requiring the segregation of the sexes at supermarket checkout counters.

Now, from the Associated Press, via The Jakarta Post, the Kelantan state government "plans to compel Muslim government workers to pray five times a day as required by their religion, an official said Tuesday."

The article quotes "Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, the chief minister of northeastern Kelantan state, [who] said Muslims who shirk their prayer obligations "'are not fearful of Allah and are susceptible to committing bribery and other sins.'"

But hold on there Tommy, how do you know Nik Nak isn't right? Maybe forcing Kelantan's civil servants to pray five times a day will make them more honest and efficient!

Okay, fine, let us examine the evidence then. Here is a link to Transparency International's annual Corruption Perception Index for 2007. From its web site, "Transparency International (TI) seeks to provide reliable quantitative diagnostic tools regarding levels of transparency and corruption, both at global and local levels." According to TI, "[t]he CPI ranks more than 150 countries in terms of perceived levels of corruption, as determined by expert assessments and opinion surveys."

Now, assuming that TI's methodologies are accurate, we should expect that the least corrupt countries in its ranking system will be deeply conservative Muslim countries. However, when you click on the link above to the CPI for 2007, the ten least corrupt countries in the Index are: Denmark, Finland, New Zealand, Singapore, Sweden, Iceland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Canada, and Norway. Not a single Muslim country appears in the top ten list. Heck, even the United States only ranks number 20. The best ranked Muslim country is Qatar, which comes in at number 32. As for Malaysia, its ranking is 43.

Interesting then that the top ten countries in terms of honesty and transparency are secular countries that are not Muslim majority. So, Nik Nak, maybe instead of forcing your civil servants to pray five times a day, maybe you need to look into more meaningful ideas for reform, like perhaps better salaries and education requirements? Maybe even send a fact finding team to Denmark, that country you hate because of those stupid cartoons, to find out how they manage to have an honest civil service without bowing to Mecca five times a day.

* To my Malaysian readers who might have stumbled upon this blog by googling "Malaysia Sucks", please note that I am not saying Malaysia sucks in its entirety. I have no doubt that Malaysia is a beautiful country filled with wonderful people. My criticism of Malaysia in these posts is limited to a narrow focus on issues of religious pluralism and womens' rights. As a Muslim majority country with a not insubstantial minority of Chinese and Indian non-Muslims, Malaysia serves as an important barometer for how well a Muslim majority country can protect and promote democracy and pluralism. I want Malaysia to be a successful country, and my barbs are aimed at those persons and forces in the country that seek to turn it away from the path of a tolerant and prosperous nation.


tina FCD said...

You know, that's what cracks me up about religious people wanting to have religion in schools and in our government. Wait till a teacher makes a christian pray 5 times a day etc etc etc...:)

Tommykey said...

Hey Tina!

The thing is, one of the pillars of Islam is praying towards Mecca five times a day. Christians pray when they feel it is appropriate to do so, as far as I know.

But as I showed with the link to Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index, it is secular countries like Denmark and the Netherlands that have the least corrupt civil service, so Kelantan state is applying the wrong approach to the problem.

katharotes said...

Oh well... have to admit that Kelantan is gradually sucking.

Tommykey said...

Hey Karat!

I see that Blogger now offers Malays language blogging too, though of course if you did that I wouldn't be able to read it! :-P

That's the thing when governments try to implement fundamentalist agendas. If you let them segregate the shopping cart lines, then they try to find other ways to impose their orthodoxy, until you wake up one day and find yourself living under a theocracy.

At the same time though, I am painfully aware that religious fundamentalism becomes a more viable alternative for people when ostensibly secular governments are corrupt and fail to provide basic social services. That is part of the appeal of organizations like Hamas in the Palestinian territories or Hizbullah in Lebanon.

I wish I had the solution to it. I don't know to what degree there might be any policy shift if Barack Obama becomes president which will make the United States seem like less of a bogeyman in the Muslim world. However, apart from that, I believe we can best be an exemplar to the rest of the world by improving ourselves here at home.