Time to stand up against everyday extremism

Time to stand up against everyday extremism
Malaysia’s Farah Ann Abdul Hadi

It is said that ignorance is bliss, but not necessarily so. Most Malaysians must have been amused, rather than upset, over a recent Facebook post that went viral and eventually caught the attention of a news portal.

It started with an angry customer, by the name Mista Bob Faishah, posting on the Texas Chicken Malaysia (TCM) Facebook page that the fast-food chain did not take into account religious sensitivities because the franchise's brand dipping sauce is named Church.

"Dear TCM... Please explain (yo)ur dipping sauce brand at Malaysia Franchises... Most of (yo)ur customers (are) Muslim... AND Muslim (don't) eat food from 'church' brand," he wrote. He also shared the image of said dipping sauce with his post, the portal reported.

Soon, an equally outraged Facebook user, Halim Zainal, left a comment saying that TCM should change the name on the packet as a sign of respect to its Muslim customers.

The angry person warned TCM that it would not be able to sustain its business if it was not sensitive to Muslims in the country.

The management of TCM had to patiently explain to the customer that the franchise's Church brand dipping sauce was named after the founder and did not represent the Christian house of worship.

"Please be informed that the brand Texas Chicken was founded in San Antonio, Texas, USA, by our founder by the name of George W. Church Sr - Church being his surname and the name of the brand Church's Chicken."

The Facebook post elaborated that the word "church" was not used in a religious context and that some of the dipping sauces were imported from the United States, where the food chain originates.

But it has ended well. The customer has now posted an apologetic comment: "Deepest from my heart that I want to ask apologised for my post (June 1). For that time, I only want to inquiry regarding the brands of Church brand. And after TCM do explain to my inquiry (and) I accepted that was the co-brand from San Antonio, Texas."

Well, as we can see from the posts, the person's command of English really leaves much to be desired.

That could have been one reason why he did not first check, via Google or other search engines, for information about this food chain and why its products are named as such.

English language proficiency in Malaysia, sad to say, has hit rock bottom and many of our Internet users are missing out on a lot because they have such a poor command of the universal language.

The person in the above example only associated the word "church" with religion without being aware that it can also be the surname of many people. Christian Bale would be really worried if people stopped watching his movies if such an association was made.

But let us keep this in perspective. We can all accept Mista Bob Faishah for sportingly admitting his mistake. We are sure he has no intention of creating a controversy.

However, another issue that we need to be concerned about is whether we are seeing a rise in religious conservatism in which many modern-day practices that everyone in our plural society used to accept as a matter of course - from food to sports and entertainment - are being looked at from a different, and more radical, perspective.

Those who spew hate messages in the name of religion can always find a ready audience in those who are prepared to take what they say without question.

And this applies to all religions whose leaders thrive on those who are blissfully ignorant of the true nature of their faith.

Such an environment makes it easy for these people to instil fear among the followers that they are constantly under threat. The bogeymen in flavour today include Christians; Jews; the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and liberal-minded people.

Fortunately, Malaysia is still a country where people of different faiths can co-exist peacefully and in harmony with one another.

Faith is a matter of the heart and whatever the rabble-rousers may want to foment, few will believe that just seeing the religious symbols of another faith will so easily shake their own beliefs.

Be that as it may, we need to also be on guard against the rise of extremism, especially when it surfaces quietly in everyday situations.

The voices of moderation must be heard, and the silent majority cannot afford to be quiet if they value the kind of society we live in.

Why are so many Malaysians not surprised to read about the middle-aged "auntie" who was asked to wear a sarong before she could be served at a Road Transport Department (JPJ) office? A guard felt her skirt, which was just above her knees, was too short and did not adhere to the dress code.

It may be a small matter to some, but it was good of Suzanna Tan to share her experience on Facebook last week by posting a photograph of herself outside the office, showing her attire for the public to judge.

"I had to go to JPJ personally to sign the transfer form for the car I sold. That in itself is already a pain," Ms Tan wrote.

"I go dressed like this. Indecent meh?" she asked in reference to her dress in the photograph.

Ms Tan said while she was at the counter to get a queue number, she was handed a sarong to wear "or they would not entertain me".

The blame eventually fell on the guard but none of the other officers at the JPJ office bothered to tell off the guard for his overreaction. They have kept silent over this demeaning exercise.

We used to be able to blame the little Napoleons for incidents like this but with the advent of social media, such actions can always be recorded for the public to judge.

And then we have Malaysian gymnast Farah Ann Abdul Hadi - who has just won a gold medal at the SEA Games - being criticised for not covering up. But to be fair, there were many who came to defend her on Buletin TV3's Facebook page.

Instead of applauding her flawless performance, there seem to be those with perverted minds focused elsewhere.

These people thrive on attention and their antics have a way of being magnified way beyond their actual influence.

But here's the saddest part. Those who speak out for Farah Ann are the usual known personalities and non-governmental organisations, while those we wish to hear from - including politicians from both sides of the divide who hold national-level posts - are strangely quiet.

But we are glad that Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, who has to protect Malaysia's athletes, spoke out.

"In gymnastics, Farah wowed the judges and brought home gold. In her deeds, only the Almighty judges her. Not you. Leave our athletes alone," wrote Mr Khairy on his Twitter account.

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