The world must have been shocked when news broke that overzealous officials had raided Swatch stores throughout the nation to seize watches suspected of harbouring hidden messages.
Swatch is a well-known international brand and these actions have hurt Malaysia’s image. The authorities were certainly not looking for gold at the end of the rainbow.
Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, when asked, sidestepped the landmine by saying that it was a matter the home ministry (KDN) should explain because he did not have enough details.
“The only fact I know is that the confiscation was because the watches had LGBT symbols, not because of the colours.”
Nick Hayek, the CEO of the Swiss-based Swatch Group disputed Anwar’s statement, saying the timepieces that were seized by authorities at 11 Swatch outlets across Malaysia contained no reference to the LGBT community.
Soon after the Kalimah “Allah” issue, the Swatch raid is another black eye on the reformasi government.
Foreign investors are unlikely to come into Malaysia or sell their goods knowing some overzealous government officials may swoop in on their outlets and confiscate their goods. Imagine Birkin bags worth millions of ringgit being confiscated because of rainbow colours.
The right thing to do would have been to engage Swatch and ask them to remove any offending object or issue some kind of warning before taking action. But I guess the authorities want to publicise their actions for maximum impact. They have only succeeded in inviting ridicule from netizens and world media.
While East Malaysians have always protected their religious freedom, the Swatch outlet in Suria Sabah which was also raided showed that Peninsular Malaysia sensitivities have reached our shores.
The revival of RUU 355 hudud laws, the “Allah” issue and now the long arm of religious authorities reaching Sabah is bound to split East and West Malaysia.
Two Perikatan Nasional (PN) MPs from PAS said members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community should be considered as people suffering from mental health illnesses. In fairness, politicians should also be declared persons with mental illness for wanting to topple an elected government at every opportunity, for being traitors to the people who elected them, and for their penchant to play up race and religion as well as for corruption.
The LGBT community has the right to live like normal people. Ostracising them is not the answer. There are many Malay Muslims in the LGBT community, and we should respect their human rights, too.
Former tourism minister Mohamaddin Ketapi, who was at the ITB Berlin travel fair in March 2019 said there are no gay people in Malaysia. Due to a backlash in the world media, an official later corrected the minister’s statement by saying that as a main tourism destination in Asia, Malaysia has never done, and will not do, anything to stop our guests based on their sexual orientation, religion and cultural beliefs.
The Human Rights Watch criticised the Indonesian parliament when it passed a new criminal code on Dec 6, 2022, which contained provisions that seriously violate international human rights laws and standards. These articles were said to violate the rights of women, religious minorities, and LGBT people, and undermine rights to freedom of speech and association. Critics of the new criminal code said that it will drive tourism away. The same will happen to Malaysia.
Surprisingly, last year, Singapore’s parliament decriminalised sex between men but has amended its constitution to effectively block full marriage equality. A British colonial-era law penalised sex between men with up to two years in jail, although the statute was not actively enforced. The law had long been criticised as discriminatory and stigmatising to the LGBT community.
Malaysia has yet to take a stand on this issue.
The authorities should not go hysterical on LGBT issues. The world has changed to accommodate a stratum of society that has been generally discriminated against.
Apple CEO Tim Cook is gay and leads one of the biggest IT companies in the world. Penny Wong, a Sabahan, and the current foreign minister of Australia is an openly declared lesbian. Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s prime minister is openly gay. There are many influential people who are part of the LGBT community. The world has learnt to accept them. Like Singapore, Malaysia needs to learn and accept.
Many of our political and religious leaders use iPhones or carry iPads. Should they switch to other brands because Cook is gay? After all, by buying Apple products they are supporting gay people.
As Saudi Arabia continues its drive to attract tourists, authorities in the country appear to be reaching out to a particularly lucrative section of the market: LGBT travelers.
Darren Burn, CEO of luxury travel planner Out of Office, which services the gay community, and of Travel Gay, the world’s largest LGBT travel platform, told CNN:
“Research shows they spend more money on a destination than heterosexual couples, and tend to travel more times a year. It’s a very interesting and lucrative demographic, and countries are plowing major revenue into (attracting) it.”
Muslims who head for Mecca in Saudi Arabia on their annual pilgrimage are heading to a country which is becoming more liberal in their attitudes. The Saudis are facing the reality of the interdependent, changing world. Malaysia must change or be left behind in isolation.
Unfortunately, despite its economic woes, a huge, accumulated debt, and a falling currency, our country is heading in the opposite direction. Our “holier than thou” attitude is isolating us from the changing Muslim world. The “Allah” issue is a good example.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.