Is Talibanism creeping up on us?

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PETALING JAYA: Human rights lawyer Eric Paulsen has urged political leaders to speak up against what he sees as the creeping Talibanisation of Malaysia.

“Although the general election is close, and it may be difficult for them to speak up out of the fear of being labelled anti-Muslim, they must speak up,” he said.

He was speaking to FMT about recent controversial developments such as the banning of a beer festival in Kuala Lumpur, the barring of non-Muslims from a laundrette in Johor and the issuance of an order from the Kelantan Religious Affairs Department to a Muslim man to attend counseling for wearing shorts in public.

Paulsen, who leads the Lawyers for Liberty civic group, said it was important for all voices to be heard in a multiracial and democratic society like Malaysia.

“We should listen to the voices of Muslims and non-Muslims alike,” he said.

“It seems, however, that the voices dominating the narrative are those of the more conservative among Muslims. Although they have the right to be heard as well, it seems that we’re now listening only to them.”

Referring to the Kelantan move against the shorts-wearing man, who was threatened with a fine unless he complied with the religious department’s order, Paulsen said there seemed to be two sets of laws for different groups of people.

“The Kelantanese football fan base is among the most passionate in the country, and the team members wear shorts too,” he noted.

“If you want to enforce a law, then you have to make sure it’s enforced fairly.”

He questioned how far Kelantan was willing to go to enact laws reminiscent of Taliban systems of government.

“When you have laws like this, where do you draw the line? Do you become another Saudi Arabia?”