Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Combatting crime

From afar, with anything-but-rose-tinted spectacles, crime seems to be reaching epidemic proportions. On a personal note, my parents' place has been subject to some baffling disturbances. Why someone felt the need to empty out the shoe cupboard, but leave nothing taken, will hopefully remain a mystery. I'm hoping they'll remain outside my parents' house, which is fitfully guarded by one large and one tiny dog, both equally inept at deterring anything but squirrels from entering the garden.

Nonetheless, I'm sickened by some of the vigilante videos I've been seeing on Youtube. Vigilantism doesn't keep us safe, it's just a different form of crime. There are plenty of really good reasons for this. First off, everyone is equal before the law. The person who first commits a crime, and the person who subsequently assaults them. Both the theft and the assault are crimes. Nobody - including the police - have the right to assault someone. Even if they committed a crime. If you aren't convinced, don't forget that those who participate in illegal assemblies are also committing a crime.

Second, everyone has the right to a fair trial. Part of the point of this system is to take the vengeance element out of the equation. The judge is impartial, and weighs up the evidence, only then is the suspect found guilty, or innocent. Until that point, they are innocent. Thus, each kick landed, each wallop walloped is given to an innocent person. Innocent until proven guilty, no exceptions. A fair trial happens prior to punishment, not after the person has been so badly beaten they can no longer stand. If you oppose detention without trial, that's the basis, the right to a fair trial. It applies universally.

Third, punishment is commensurate, and defined by law. This complements the last point, about taking vengeance out of the equation. The punishment for a crime is that which is defined by law. Few countries have made 'snatch theft' a capital offence.

So what can we do about crime, if we are serious in addressing the problem? More cops, generally, doesn't work too well. What does is social inclusion. This isn't quite the same as social justice. It's about making people feel part of the community. I'm not entirely sure how we build it - it starts with social justice, but it doesn't end there.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

A clean slate

Khairy Jamaluddin has suggested that we need to start over, renew the social contract upon which Malaysia was, so myth has it, built.

It's a shame the idea hasn't garnered more attention. Because even if we decide that we're happy with the Constitution we have (and many of our best lawyers are, just think we could have better respect for the document), it doesn't hurt to look at what works about it, what doesn't and why things are the way they are. It might also help generate discussion on the ways in which we can agree on what Malaysia should be.

There are some reasons why I think this would be a good idea.

First, Malaysia was never our creation. We never voted on our constitution, and we never discussed what we wanted in it with our neighbours. As long as Malaysians were outside the drafting and accepting of the bedrock of our governmental system, it's going to be considered, at least by some, of questionable provenance. Those who argue the British imposed our Constitution upon us are going to have resonance, as long as that remains true.

Second, it gives us a chance to build capacity. I'm thinking a Venezualan-style nationwide discussion on democracy, democratic processes, the role of the Constitution, separation of powers... if I'm not making you hot and sweaty with this kind of talk, then you shouldn't be reading my blog! It's about as sexy as it gets, as far as I'm concerned.

I know that there are some problems, not least the distance between the supporters of an Islamic state and the supporters of a secular state. But ignoring this issue isn't making it go away. It was there at the drafting of the Constitution, and looking in the opposite direction has just made it grow bigger. However, it would be great to get the two sides to sit down and try to agree on something. Even better if they could. A constitution inspired by the values of Islam is something I would love to see, for example. I realise this isn't close to what some people want, but if we can get to the point where everyone understands that the Constitution has to be a document that everyone can agree on, a starting point for building a nation, then this in itself would be an achievement. (Admittedly, that just underscores how hard it would be!).

If that happens, and we, the people, draft something which is then voted on in a fair and transparent process, and... this of course is where my house of cards all falls down. Because on the other side there are real problems with reworking what we have.

Who controls the process? Who participates in the process? Who drafts, who votes, and who oversees the voting process?

BUT... but but, surely we can talk about it? Start those hot and sweaty conversations going, even if the courtship leads nowhere?

Sunday, 28 July 2013

More than sticking plaster

On Thursday, a day when boats were overturned and children drowned, my children and I heard the dulcet tones of Mr Abbott through the car radio. My reaction made my daughter think that her brother's life was in danger (from the Leader of the Opposition, not from me!).

I find it hard to fathom why Australia finds it so hard to agree upon a humane policy regarding refugees and asylum seekers. The rhetoric is blatantly inflated, the figures so tiny, and so bedraggled and haunting. But even if we play their game and pretend that Australia is in danger of being overrun by foreigners, that this is a threat to Australia's sovereignty and that the country has to control immigration for the sake of... a nation of immigrants. There is still a pretty simple solution, one that doesn't require overturning a commitment to the refugee convention and international human rights standards.

Stop the planes. Instead of stopping the most desperate, the worst off, the poorest, stop the ones with the 457 visas, the skilled migrants, the thousands who come in for blatantly economic purposes. Put an end to it. Instead, search among the lost and displaced, those seeking asylum and stuck in the no-persons-lands of camps, hostels and Malaysia. Let them be at the front of the queue. Upping the numbers let in, giving people hope that they might be resettled from the camps that are (almost, if you squint) on Australia's borders, would lessen the temptation to arrive by boat.

And the money saved from the shutting down of multi-million dollar facilities could be pumped directly into the countries where we getting the refugees from, into education and housing and sanitation and not not not guns and bombs. And maybe we'd be helping to staunch the flow of refugees into Indonesia and Malaysia, and giving them a chance to rebuild lives, homes and communities in the places they didn't want to leave in the first place.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Alvivi and the right to freedom of expression

Freedom of expression is not absolute, but it is fundamental to any pretensions we may have to democracy. And even Hayek argued that without the right to express opinions that are despised by the majority, there is unlikely to be any progress. Just ask Galileo, or Thomas Paine, or Martin Luther King, Jr. We need to hear things we don't like - and we aren't going to know which are the things we need to hear. History will, to some extent, be the judge of that.

I think it's highly unlikely that we will look back and feel that we needed the recent posts by the duo known as Alvivi. But the point is that the laws that we make and the laws that we enact, need to be based upon the arguments to respect freedom of expression - especially if we want to live up to the democratic ideals the country has, as I say, pretensions toward.

But, every government (the anarchist in me says, duh!) has laid out limitations to that right. I have difficulty, however, in seeing exactly which legitimate restriction of FOE the Alvivi post would fall into. It was offensive, of course. But the problem with restricting freedom of expression on the grounds that material is offensive sees an awful lot of speech shut down - from the writings and thoughts of Farish Noor and Zainah Anwar to those of Darul Arqam and SpongeBob SquarePants (allegedly). How do we define who gets to be offended and who doesn't? I'd rather leave it out of legislation altogether.

And let's be clear. Puerile and tasteless as the gag may have been, it wasn't even incitement to hatred of anyone (other than the two bloggers) and it wasn't incitement to violence. It wasn't a barely veiled threat, like the cow-head incident was, or the raising of a kris. Or an explicit threat - like those who beat up a young man who allegedly 'menghina Islam', writing the words on his body. That's a fairly explicit threat to all those who disagreed with the assailants interpretation of Islam.

So, yes, boycott the site. Write indignant letters expressing distaste, disgust and dismay. But let's steer clear of legislative action. This is a matter for the outraged citizenry, not the police or the bureaucrat.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Thinking laterally about crime

I'm not a huge fan of criminals. In the last five years I was living in Malaysia, my house was broken into on average five times a year. They rarely made off with anything of importance - except the first time when they managed to take my computer with years and years of work on it, along with my back-up hard drive. They stole things that ranged from the annoying (my phone chargers) to the bizarre (the brush I used to scrub my back with in the shower!). And each time they left a trail of damage and repair, and I'd have to scrape together both money and self-confidence.

So not much of a fan of criminals.

But I'm less of a fan of the police. Not once did they catch anyone. Not when they broke into my house, and not when they stole a pile of cable from TNB that would have required a forklift to carry it. Admittedly, after the first five or so futile police reports, I stopped bothering. There's a limit to how often I'm going to waste my time in a police station when there are no tangible results. I should add that the police were always polite and reasonably helpful. Just not really very... useful. And there's the problem of them, you know, spying on my friends, arresting people I care about for no very good reason, hitting them, that sort of thing.

Because of this, I've had an interest for a while in whether the police force, in any country, really works at keeping down crime. And the answer seems to be largely, no. What keeps crime down is communities, jobs, families, that sort of thing. I'm not saying we don't need a police force at - there are times they're needed, whether it's helping lost children, or, you know, solving the few crimes that would be left if we were doing the other things needed to stop crime. But generally, police are good at a huge array of stuff that isn't about solving crime - look to the NYPD and their racist 'stop-and-frisk' policy. Hasn't lowered the crime rate, has made huge numbers of young Black men angry/er and has helped some boys in uniform feel more important than they really are. Does this sound at all familiar?

If politicians, and the public, are really interested in lowering crime there are a number of concrete steps that can be done. First, putting social justice, not neoliberal ideology, at the forefront of economic policy. Neoliberal economics doesn't even work by its own yardsticks, never mind that this yardsticks are flawed in the first place. Second, putting resources into building communities. This isn't as difficult as it sounds. Start off by decreasing school and class size, and mosque/ church/ temple size. Encourage local businesses, not big businesses (that's also where the jobs are). Stop building roads - or build smaller ones with lots of bumps and potholes that slow cars down so the streets are safe for kids to play on. Third, and this isn't going to win anyone any votes, let's take a more sensible approach to citizenship and immigration. Crime is going to be a factor as long as there are various tiers of residents and no, to quote Obama, 'pathway to citizenship' for a huge sector of Malaysian residents, whether they're workers or refugees. We need to stop this underclass from existing, from being exploited, and from not giving a damn about the society they live in (why should they, society doesn't care about them). And, last, let's look at what our prisons do to people. They are hellholes into which people disappear, then reappear worse than before. Is that really a good use of taxpayer's money?

I could also mention access to reproductive health care and information for both women and men, regardless of marital status or sexual preference, but that might be going too far for any of our political parties. Ah well.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Democracy and Egypt

CNN, among others, is baulking at the idea that Morsi, a democratically elected leader, if an Islamist, has been ousted. The means by which he came to power appears to be the trump card - this was democracy, this was a transition of power, now all wrongs became rights, and the people had to live with their choice. That there are three major power brokers, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Mubarak die-hards and the army, and the people must choose between them.

The problem is that the people don't seem to realise that their actions are causing confusion among the elites. The people don't seem to want to choose between these three power-brokers - at least not on the terms they're happy with. What the people want is to have the power themselves.

Yes, Morsi was democratically elected. But, unlike in the West, the people were not content with then handing all power over to him for the limits of his term. When he broke promises, they went back to the streets. And they've been there, maybe not continuously, but growing in number, while promise after rights-based promise was thrown in the bin. They've dusted out those promises - a consultative process for drafting the new constitution; an end to police impunity; and a renewed neoliberal agenda (perhaps the real reason CNN and others are mourning his ouster).

It seems to me that while the elites are in disarray, the people are quite clear on what they want.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Reducing women's choices

It seems that the State Government in their wisdom has decided that they will close down the Family Birth Centre, apparently to give women more choice about how they give birth. The problem with this idea is that it seems to neglect that in order to have a choice you have to have things to choose between. Choosing between two identical methods of care, just in different wards, doesn't amount to a choice.

I chose to have both my children in the Mercy Family Birth Centre, the one that is being threatened with closure. I wasn't able to have my first child there, she was induced, and the experience I had was everything that I had not wanted it to be - the doctor putting pressure on me to have a c-section, pressure on me to take pain-killers. I made a complaint, but felt so ill at ease that I spent a large sum of money going to a 'hypno-birthing' class for my second child.

He was born at the Family Birth Centre. He was delivered by a midwife I'd come to know well, he came out about 20 minutes after I became certain I was in labour, and while we had some complications, my trust in the midwives helped us overcome the problems. Then my husband and I went to sleep together, in the double bed, my son went to sleep, and I stole to the kitchen to eat my big block of stinky cheese. Because in the birth centre, they make an effort to ensure you have the comforts of home - like access to a fridge where you can keep stinky cheese.

First thing in the morning, big sister came in with her Granny, and met her brother. They stayed most of the morning, which was good for both her and me.

And NONE of this would have been possible in the ward.

The FBC was a nurturing and welcoming environment in which to bring a new life into the world. While some women - like myself first time round - have to be transferred out, for those who do give birth there, it offers a more personal, richer environment than the ward or the birthing suites. So I've signed this petition and urge you to do the same.