Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Cost of living in Singapore - is it really that bad?

I usually throw away letters that are addressed to "the resident". It's usually nothing more than rubbish from real estate agents.

But this morning, when I saw this letter in my letter box, I opened it up and was about to throw it away when I saw postage stamps in the envelope.

This is a sweetener from the postal authorities to increase the local postal charge to 30 cents. That's about Euro 0.15.

A lot of people complain about how high the living costs in Singapore are but are their complaints just? With the implementation of the Certificate of Entitlement system, car ownership in Singapore is most certainly the costliest luxury one can afford and it will be hard to find a car anywhere else in the world that costs more than half the cost an equivalent car in Singapore. Yes, it's that bad and I don't think I'm exaggerating even though I must admit I'm not a fan of motor vehicles and I know very little about them. Apart from the price of cars, housing is extremely costly too.

While car and housing costs are among the highest in the world, the cost of living in Singapore is extremely low. I have just gone this morning for breakfast at the hawker centre (the official term is now "food centre" although I still prefer the original name that is redolent of the history of this beautiful country) and my meal of nasi lemak (rice cooked in fragrant coconut milk with a fried chicken wing, anchovies, an egg, cucumber and the delicious sambal) and a cup of tea cost less than Euro 1.50. It was about Euro 1.20 to be precise.

Although houses are expensive, there are many cheaper options. In his recent National Day speech, the Prime Minister gave the full breakdown of the cost of public housing in Singapore.  I have forgotten the details but I recall it was something that was quite affordable for everyone. And public housing in Singapore isn't like public housing in other countries. Government flats here look very much like flats in luxurious private condominiums.

I have strong views against the car culture and the overuse of fossil fuel and I think I won't be totally dishonest if I say that to all intents and purposes I have never owned and will never own a car. One can get by quite comfortably in Singapore on public transport which is cheap and extremely efficient. For all the complaints against public transport in Singapore, the fact remains that there is hardly any breakdown. For every single breakdown in the MRT system in Singapore, there are probably a hundred breakdowns in the Underground in London and the British Rail.

There is also a healthier alternative which I always advocate. Ride a bicycle. Singapore is small enough for one to go practically anywhere on the bicycle.

It's very good of the postal authorities to give every household a booklet of postage stamps while announcing its price hike.  But we must bear in mind that it's a price increase to only SGD 0.30 or Euro 0.15.  Let's get real. In most countries, you've got to pay ten times that amount just to use a public toilet which is almost always free in Singapore and when you have to pay (which is not common), it's usually only Euro 0.05.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Is Obama right? Is ISIS really non-Muslim?

In his recent address, President Obama makes it clear that the US will strike ISIS or ISIL or the Islamic State and demolish them. He added that ISIL is not Muslim. Is he right? Is the Islamic State really non-Islamic?

You will probably notice that the only people who declare ISIS to be non-Muslim are non-Muslims themselves. I have yet to see a single Muslim group or council that declares the members of ISIL or ISIS to be non-Muslim. That is something that has puzzled me for a long time. For example, why are suicide bombers and Muslim terrorists NEVER ex-communicated? I've been told that there is no ex-communication in Islam but that's not true. We know how Muslims in Egypt have tried repeatedly to get Nawal El Saadawi excommunicated and her crime was merely the writing of a book on women's rights. Why then is there NEVER a single attempt by moderate Muslims to excommunicate Muslim terrorists, members of ISIS or Osama bin Laden when he was still alive? This reluctance or even refusal to excommunicate terrorists is one thing. But you will recall that when Osama was announced to have died, many moderate Muslims were anxious if he had been given proper Muslim rites in the disposal of his body.

For a long time, I could not understand why moderate Muslims behaved in this manner. After all, I can imagine if a Christian were to commit even a fraction of the carnage that Osama bin Laden had inflicted on the human race, not only would churches renounce him as a non-Christian and instantly excommunicate him and have nothing to do with him, it would be very hard to find a single church that would be wiling to conduct his funeral upon his death.

I decided to do a little research of my own. I went into Muslim websites and Muslim forums (the non-radical ones) just to understand a little about the Muslim mindset.

You see, as long as a Muslim recites the Shahada and maintains himself to be a Muslim, no other Muslim is permitted to question the validity of his faith. Another Muslim may not agree with his actions but he must still treat the person he disagrees with as a fellow Muslim brother or sister and accord him or her the full privileges of a Muslim. Osama bin Laden killed thousands of people in his lifetime. Muslims may be quick to point out that the Quran abhors the killing of innocent people. To kill an innocent person is akin to killing the whole of humanity, they are quick to quote from one of their holy books. Yes, Osama might have been guilty of countless murders but there is no doubt in anyone's mind that Osama recited the Shahada (probably more faithfully than most moderate Muslims I would imagine) and of course he regarded himself as a faithful Muslim. That made Osama a Muslim in the eyes of the entire Muslim world (moderates included) till his very death.

The same can be said of every member of ISIS and every Muslim terrorist. Nawal El Saadawi is different. Because of her progressive writings especially on women's rights, it's easy for radical Muslims to suspect that perhaps she has given up her religious beliefs. But Saadawi in fact countered the accusations of her detractors and her excommunication was overturned.

Takfir or the act of declaring a Muslim to be a kafir or a non-Muslim is a very serious matter. If it's incorrect, it's considered a major haram and is akin to blasphemy. As long as someone continues to recite the Shahada and declares himself a Muslim, he is a Muslim and that's that.

Let's now turn our attention back to ISIS and President Obama's statement that they aren't Muslim. ISIS members probably recite the Shahada more than the average Muslim. The Shahada is written on their black flags and the Shahada is recited every time they cut off the heads of their victims in the videos that I could not get myself to sit through. There is no question that they recite the Shahada.

So while President Obama and other non-Muslims may be quick to declare the members of ISIS to be non-Muslims, Muslims on the other hand are understandably silent. They may condemn the actions of ISIS as wrong and sinful but you will never catch them declaring the members of ISIS to be non-Muslims. And if ISIS members die, the wider Muslim community would expect that their bodies be given Muslim rites. As long as they continue to recite the Shahada and ISIS members do recite it ever so often and even while they are committing the most heinous atrocitites, they are brothers and sisters in the Muslim faith to the wider Muslim community which includes the moderates.

President Obama would do well to find out more about Islam before making hasty pronouncements that the Muslim world does not accept.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Wrong charge, wrong conviction

If you have been following the news on Malaysia's prosecution of a group of naturists who went nude on a deserted and remote beach of Penang, you will know that six of them have been convicted and sentenced to one month's jail and fine of Malaysian Ringgit 5,000.00. The remaining four have claimed trial.

A group of nudists that included Malaysians, Singaporeans, Burmese, an Indian and a Filipino gathered in May this year on a remote beach in Penang for what they grandiloquently called the Penang International Nude Games Extravaganza. Activities that included a running relay on the beach and kettle bell workouts round a campfire were carried out. Subsequently, someone in the group posted a video of what happened on the beach on vimeo and the video went viral in Malaysian social media. It caught the attention of the Chief Minister of Penang and because it happened in Penang, the ruling party in Malaysia took the opportunity to lash out at Penang which is ruled by an Opposition Party. There was a huge exchange between the Chief Minister and the Federal Government, both parties condemning the incident and in the meanwhile, Muslim groups in this Muslim-majority state lodged police reports.

We must bear in mind that the incident was seen by absolutely nobody. The nudists got clearance from the park security who even got food for them. When the furore blew up in Malaysia, the park watchman claimed he tried to get them to dress up when all of them went nude but they refused. This of course defies belief since no nudist in Malaysia would dare to go naked against the express orders of a park watchman especially when they were staying overnight on the beach and they needed the help of the watchman and the boatman to get them back to civilization.  And a simple phone call from the park watchman would have brought a battalion of policemen to the beach. Don't forget, this is Malaysia where the police spring to life when there is a nude scene while they seem to slumber through murder and robbery cases. The fact that there was no objection from the watchman can also be seen from the fact that the nudists planned another event at the same place scheduled for 5 December this year. If the watchman had raised any objection not only would they not have dared to stay overnight on the beach and continued their activities the next day, they would certainly not have planned for another event later this year at the same place. Even the authorities were sceptical of the watchman's claim. It was reported that the police spotted from the video someone who looked like the watchman helping the nudists with the campfire. The police must have pretty sharp eyes; I don't see it myself.

So, nobody saw the nudists when they were in Penang and complaints were only made two months after the event when Muslim groups saw the video and lodged police reports. Let's examine the charge against the accused in the Magistrate's Court.

Except for one participant of the Nude Games who uploaded the video online and had an additional charge against him which I won't be dealing with, all participants were charged under Section 294(a) of the Malaysian Penal Code. I understand from one of the accused who claimed trial that there are no other charges. Section 294 reads:

Leaving (b) aside, the section under which they are charged, reads, "Whoever, to the annoyance of others, does any obscene act in any public place shall be punished..."

I have not researched the matter and I have never had occasion to deal with this area of the law but I believe where the accused were at on the remote beach in Penang would constitute a "public place". However, if my memory isn't faulty, I believe case law is clear that mere nudity does not constitute an "obscene act". Doing relay runs or workouts in the nude cannot be considered obscene acts. When you take a shower in your bathroom, you are not doing an obscene act in a private place.

The other pertinent point is the words of the section are clear. "Whoever, to the annoyance of others, DOES any obscene act..."

It is clear that the act committed must be contemporaneous with the causing of annoyance to others. Who were annoyed by the act so that they filed police reports? The Muslim groups. When were they annoyed? Two months or so after the event. They were annoyed after they saw a video posted online. Notice that the verb, "does", is in the present tense. If the annoyance of others arose from something someone did two months ago, this section does not apply at all.

It is quite obvious that the purpose of this section which is titled "OBSCENE SONGS" was intended to punish rowdy sailors who sang obscene songs and ballads and probably performed lewd and obscene acts to the annoyance of the general public. It is also an appropriate section for flashers who expose themselves to women with intent to outrage their modesty, possibly as a perverted means of satisfying their warped sexual craving.  It is not meant for nudists who go naked on a deserted beach and have taken every precaution not to be seen by others and are in fact not seen by anybody at all.

I understand from one of the accused that at least two of the four who are claiming trial are seriously considering throwing in the towel at the next mention on 16 October. I cannot attest to the accuracy of what I have been told but one of them is purported to have said that she was worried that the Malaysian government would never let them go even if they are not guilty of the offence for which they are charged. This is very sad. I cannot believe the Malaysian government for all its faults (and there are many) would go so far as to tamper with justice. If there is a lacuna in the law and the Malaysian government is so concerned about ensuring that public nudity of any sort is made a serious offence, it is for Parliament to enact statutory provisions criminalizing the act. The nudists should not be made a scapegoat whatever the political agenda of the government may be. As matters stand, I cannot see how the charge against the accused can possibly stand.