The gay sex videos and our moral dilemma

To take a positive view of the gay sex videos controversy and accompanying sordid tales, those of us above 40 are now spared the trouble of explaining to our children and other younger Malaysians the circumstances of Anwar Ibrahim’s dramatic sacking some two decades ago.

Even so, the public reaction in both cases has been almost identical.

In 1998, there was widespread disbelief that the man seen as the face of progressive Islam in Malaysia could indulge in homosexuality, a crime in most societies which claim that their moral compass is subject to a revealed paradigm.

Anwar’s supporters then wasted no time distributing “fatwas” in his defence from Islamic icons such as the well known Egyptian exile Yusuf al-Qaradawi.

Mohamed Azmin Ali’s supporters might not have such heavy artillery, but they have brandished a letter from federal territories mufti Zulkifli Mohamad al-Bakri giving Azmin moral support.

Of course, Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s solid backing is not enough here, especially when he has yet to go on record retracting his accusations of homosexuality against Anwar.

But the videos affair brings to the fore a reality of political life in Muslim Malaysia: that leaders cannot avoid being held to a religious benchmark if they wish to have credibility in the public eye.

A Muslim religious leader cannot be seen to be pissed drunk at home. Such a revelation could be used against him to kill his career or open him to blackmail, allowing those with knowledge of his dark secrets to manipulate him.

On the other hand, the public would think nothing of the same Muslim religious leader being seen with a cigarette in hand because it is an acceptable vice in Muslim societies despite the fatwas against smoking.

The art is to be extra careful with one’s behaviour, even in the privacy of one’s bedroom – no small feat in an age of almost invisible wireless gadgets that can be operated by anyone with five fingers and a brain.

Politicians must know that ordinary Muslims, even those who are Muslim by name, subscribe to some reasonable level of Islamic morality, depending on context and changing benchmarks.

Some transgressions are allowed, for example a man’s weakness for the female flesh or penchant for imbibing in private. The late Tunku Abdul Rahman still commanded respect from the Muslims of his time although he was not known as a terribly religious man due to the latter transgression.

Homosexuality is still considered a sin if not a major crime in most Muslim societies as well as those with some semblance of adherence to established religious tenets. Thus the difficulty of accepting the argument of those trapped at a certain level of democratic utopia, that two men having sex are not a danger to society any more than corrupt politicians.

That argument might be true if homosexuality were legal and acceptable in our society, even if grudgingly, as with a growing number of Western countries. When these two conditions are met, a leader caught in a gay sex video does not have to worry about being blackmailed, and can continue his good work for the people who elected him without needing to worry about his bedroom adventures.

Twenty years ago, people were riled up by sordid tales of sodomy and sex, the target of which was Anwar. The anger and disbelief was understandable given the lack of tangible proof such as a video – there was only the testimony of a driver.

Advancements in technology and the ability to apply forensic tests for veracity have caused that anger and disbelief to be replaced by suspicion, cynicism, as well as a patient wait among government supporters for the time when the nation will be spared sex headlines for breakfast, not to mention the cost of police investigations.

It will take more than a blogging mufti’s soothing words to calm the public disbelief. Let’s face it, invoking the Islamic law on slander is not the way out.

Abdar Rahman Koya is editor-in-chief of FMT.