Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sisters in Islam on book banning

Sisters In Islam (SIS) organised a forum for August 19 2008, to protest the issue of book banning in Malaysia. They invited all friends, academicians and supporters to attend the press conference.

On 14 August 2008, the Malaysia media organisations announced that the Ministry of Home Affairs had banned two books, namely, "Pelik Tapi Benar Dalam Solat" (Strange but True Elements in Solat Prayers) by Ustaz Abdul Rahman Mohamed, published by Telaga Biru Sdn Bhd, and another "Muslim Women and the Challenge of Islamic Extremism" by Norani Othman and published by Sisters in Islam, Petaling Jaya and printed by Vinlin Press, Bandar Baru, Seri Petaling.

The only vague reason given was the book "contains twisted facts on Islam that could undermine the faith of Muslims". It came with a prohibition order under Section 7(1) of the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 and if any individuals found to be in possession, do reprints, or distribute the publications will be jailed not more than three years or fine not more than RM 20,000 or both.

There was no communication with SIS prior to the media announcement. The book was actually published in 2005 and has been widely distributed in many countries. So why the sudden ban.

The forum discussed the banning of books by the Ministry, and one of the main concerns was the fact that no clear reasons are given, instead just a standard letter is issued.

Also as Malaysia celebrates its 51st Merkdeka, or Independence, it seems ironic that many books are still banned, suggesting the population are still too immature after 51 years to decide what they can and cannot read. It is time to change the media laws.

Another issue was that Islam discriminates against women, and social attitudes limit the legal rights of Islamic women in many countries. SIS want to see a modern Islam, with a gentle, friendly and civil attitude to women.

The forum was attended by about 60 people and presented a good case about book banning in Malaysia.

Book banning = book burning

Update Jan 26 2010

Court lifts ban on SIS book

The High Court lifted a Home Minister’s ban of a book entitled Muslim Women and the Challenges of Islamic Extremism.

Justice Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof ruled that the 215-page book was not a threat to public order in a judicial review application by Sisters in Islam (SIS) Forum (Malaysia).
In his grounds, Justice Mohamad Ariff held that only seven of the 215 pages were said to have offended the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) guidelines.

Among other things, the department had voiced concern that the book had the tendency to confuse Muslims with shallow knowledge of the religion because the writers had written the articles based on their own views.

“Is this public order reason? I think not. I fail to find the objective evidence to support facts,” said Justice Mohamad Ariff yesterday.
Reception desk -

the banned book cover

Marina Mahahir

See blog on SIS present postcards against book banning.

© Liz Price
No reproduction without permission

Cambodia's Kampong Puoy lake

Cambodia's 'Lake of Tears' both sad, serene

Dark past: Known as Ang Teuk Kampong Puoy, northwest Cambodia's lake, constructed by the Khmer Rouge regime, stirs up sad memories for many. Picture: Liz Price

Sunday, August 31, 2008

KAMPONG PUOY Lake is quite a beautiful place, with limestone hills edging the lake on two sides. However this place is known as "the lake of tears" due to its terrible past. The lake is situated in the Banon district of Battambang province, in northwest Cambodia.

It is a manmade lake, and now the reservoir supplies water for irrigating crops. Known as Ang Teuk Kampong Puoy, the lake is a popular recreation site for locals, but it stirs up traumatic memories for many older people.

The lake has a gruesome history. Many people died here. The dam and reservoir were constructed by Pol Pot's forces during the Khmer Rouge regime.

Pol Pot was the leader of the Khmer Rouge and was responsible for the killing of millions of Cambodians and causing misery to millions more. From 1975-1978 he led an insane regime. He implemented one of the most radical and brutal restructurings of a society ever attempted. Its goal was to transform Cambodia into a Maoist peasant-dominated agrarian society. The Khmer Rouge took over Phnom Penh in 1975 and forced the entire population to march out to the countryside and undertake slave labour. Disobedience of any sort often brought immediate execution. Educated people, leaders and also minorities were targeted.

During this period hundreds of thousands of people were killed by the Khmer Rouge leadership, whilst thousands more died of famine and disease. It is not known exactly how many people died. Estimates vary between one and three million. Thousands were killed in the "killing caves", some of which are at Phnom Sampeu between Battambang and Kampong Puoy.

The xenophobic government was toppled in December 1978 when the Vietnamese invaded and installed a new government. The Khmer Rouge were driven into the remote forests where they continued guerilla attacks.

To construct Kampong Puoy Lake, Pol Pot's group forced thousands of starving people to toil for four years with no modern equipment and little food and the threat of execution. They used simple tools to dig the earth and mud. Countless thousands (maybe ten thousand) died in the struggle to complete the 6km long and 1.9km wide dyke, which holds over 90 million cubic metres of water.

It is hard to imagine the terrible hardship those people endured, their suffering, pain and starvation. Some locals say that Pol Pot intended to drown his enemies here. They were to be invited to attend the inauguration and would be drowned by setting off explosive charges.

Today the lake is an invaluable resource for local communities. The waters feed a series of canals which irrigate rice fields in three districts. The lake fills up during the rainy season, and still has water even in the dry season.

Locals come here, especially at the weekends, to enjoy the peaceful atmosphere, and to swim and eat with their families. Splashing and laughter has replaced the droning propaganda and human cries of distress. However not many people like to bathe in the waters, as the dark depths are still a reminder of the lives lost here during the Pol Pot regime.

Many people who survived the Pol Pot command now live overseas, especially in the United States and France. Some go back to the lake to remember their time during the Pol Pot regime when they were working there.

For many visitors the clean water, boat rides, and fishing are the main attraction. You can rent a boat for about $1.40 an hour. Bird watching is a popular activity for a few people.

As you arrive at the lake, a bevy of food sellers accost you. I was there during the lotus season, and there were dozens of people selling lotus heads for the seeds.

There are a few simple food stalls on the road which runs alongside the lake. Some sell fresh fish. A popular delicacy is Trey Damrey or elephant fish. However some people won't eat it as superstition says the fish is the re-incarnation of a spurned wife!

The name "Kampong Puoy" comes from a nearby mountain, although it is also a kind of vegetable which grows in rice fields here. The lake is about 36km from Battambang. On the approach to the lake you pass through small villages. Small limestone hills dot the landscape.

Continuing along the road you come to a wat, and there are a few caves on the hill behind. One cave has a resident monk, and people come to get his blessing. Below this cave is Gemstone Cave which has a nice calcite stalagmite that gives the cave its name.

The place is certainly beautiful, and is a significant symbol of a nation on the mend from a terrible past.

The Brunei Times

Merdeka helicopters & jets

Every year for about a week before Merdeka, I get helicopters flying over my apartment as they practise for display on Aug 31st. I keep taking photos, even though the photos are never good, as I am looking straight into the sun at 8am.

The helicopters come over first, starting at 7.55am, and usually there are about 5, then on the 2nd run they have all 14 (or is it 15?).




Then 2 or 3 days before the 31st the jets do their practice. These are particularly noisy, and I am convinced one day they will take off the roof of a nearby condo.
 jets -

Now it is Merdeka morning and the show is over. The jets were incredibly loud, I thought they were coming through my kitchen. The sky is a bit hazy/cloudy today, so I was unable to see if they had the coloured vapour trails this year.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

KL turning into Little Arabia - BT

Published on The Brunei Times (http://www.bt.com.bn/en)

KL turning into Little Arabia

Little Arabia: (From top) With the sharp increase in Arab tourist arrivals, Tourism Malaysia has transformed one of KL's well-known landmark _ the Bukit Bintang shopping triangle _ into a Mini Arabia. Pictures: Liz Price
[For more photos, see my Multiply album Arab season in KL

Sunday, August 24, 2008

GO to Bukit Bintang in the heart of Kuala Lumpur (or KL for short as the locals fondly call this city) in July and August and you will think you have been transported to an Arabian country. The number of Arabs seems to exceed the Malaysians and other tourists. Yes, Arab season is here again.

Every June to September, KL is invaded by Arab tourists. Tourism Malaysia encourages them in the hope they will spend, spend, spend.

Since 9-11 Muslims from the Middle East have been heading to Malaysia in droves for their annual vacations. The numbers seem to be increasing each year and it has been ranked as the number one destination for Middle East tourists.

Malaysian tourism road shows have been held to tempt visitors from Dubai, the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and also the Levant and North Africa. In 2008 Malaysia aims to attract 100,000 tourists from the UAE and Iran, and 400,000 from the Middle East, according to the Director General of Tourism Malaysia.

To cater to these visitors, KL is transformed into a little Arabia. Street signs are in Arabic, there are many restaurants serving Arabic foods, there are lots of Arabic perfume and oil shops appearing, and even a garden.

People often question the need for Tourism Malaysia to convert KL into a mini Arabia, as generally tourists go to foreign countries to explore the new culture. Whereas the Arabs in KL are faced with a barrage of things they would see in their home country.

Part of the draw for these visitors is Malaysia presents a more relaxed form of Islam compared to many Middle Eastern regimes. Since 9-11 many Muslims are afraid to go to America and Europe.

Also Malaysia is cheaper than Europe. Apart from the shopping bargains, Arabs are tempted to visit Malaysia for the beach resorts. Also Malaysia is a cheaper destination than Paris for Arab honeymooners. But possibly the biggest selling point is visa-free access. Malaysia throws open its doors to Muslim visitors, unlike the US and Europe which have tightened immigration rules.

At KL International Airport, arrival and departure announcements are made in Arabic. Arab tourists are provided with promotional booklets and maps, and there are signs in Arabic and Arabic-speaking staff to guide them.

Hoteliers who used to struggle to fill rooms during the summer months, are now busy hiring Arabic speakers. Some hotels even offer "Arabian Nights" where Arab food is served, Middle Eastern singers and musicians perform and there may even be a belly dancer.

Leaving the air-conditioned hotels, the Arabs don't seem bothered by the heat in KL, as it's still cooler than their home countries. Walking around the Bukit Bintang area you might forget that you are in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. Road signs have Arabic names and shops have signboards with Arabic words on them, some are solely in Arabic. There are several Arabian perfume shops opening up, selling resins and oils, which seems a bit like taking coals to Newcastle. Some shops are even using the word bazaar, which is a Persian word for market.

More halal restaurants are opening offering Middle East food, and they seem to be a hit, although the Arabs also frequent the Western fast food places. Many restaurants have signs in Arabic and the more enterprising even have their menus printed in Arabic.

There are several pavement cafes, some offering Turkish ice cream, others serve black tea in tiny transparent glasses. Smoking a hookah water pipe or shisha is popular with these visitors, especially for some females as smoking is banned in public in Saudi Arabia.

Although many Saudi women still wear the full-length black veil with the eye slits, other more daring women change to a floral jilbab. Shops are now selling fashionable clothes which will appeal to Arab patrons.

Even hair dressers have caught on and can speak some Arabic. Tour agents have Arabic speaking staff so they can sell more tours, especially to water theme parks.

A few years ago a garden was set up on Jalan Berangan. An Arabic style arch leads to Ain Arabia, which is a garden with a fountain shaped like an Arabic teapot, and a gazebo.

However it was about the only place in the city where I didn't see any Arabs! Entertainment is supplied in the form of Arabian music and cultural shows.

There are special Arab bands, all to maintain the homeland atmosphere. But how much of the real Malaysia do these Arab visitors see?

The writer lives in Malaysia and specialises in cave and karst research.

The Brunei Times

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Krabi, cleaned up, Thailand

THE STAR Weekend

Saturday August 23, 2008

Krabi, cleaned up


A look at how Krabi has changed since the tsunami.
I recently went to Krabi for the first time since the tsunami and was amazed at the number of tourists there. It was packed and there was a surprising number of European children. I guess a lot of parents are taking winter breaks.
Krabi, just south of Phuket, has long been a popular tourist destination for its beaches and islands. The beaches include Ao Nang and those on the Railey peninsula, while the islands of Ko Phi Phi, Ko Lanta are all accessible from Krabi.
Whilst Ko Phi Phi and parts of Phuket were devastated by the December 2004 tsunami, Krabi didn’t suffer as badly. I was interested to see how things had changed since the tsunami.
Krabi airport opened about seven years ago and now handles international as well as domestic flights. This, of course, has led to a huge increase in the number of tourists visiting the area.
From the airport, tourists have a choice of taxi or shuttle bus to Krabi town, or Ao Nang beach.
I chose to stay in town, as accommodation is cheaper than at the beach, and it’s easier to get local food. I found hotel rates in the town have not increased much since the tsunami. There are several new guesthouses catering for backpackers, several of which offer WiFi access.
In town, I noticed a few of the old guesthouses and shops have been replaced by Internet cafés, or more modern coffee shops, hand phone shops etc. A large new wat, or Buddhist temple, is being constructed on the hill at the back of town, accessible by a wide flight of steps.
An ape statue holding up the traffic lights at Manus Borarn Square. — LIZ PRICE
The main crossroads in town is now called Manus Borarn Square, and there are large ape statues holding traffic lights at each of the four roads.
The statues are to commemorate the archaeological findings made in the Krabi district. These include 43,000-year-old human skeletons unearthed from under a cliff at the Tab-prik School in Krabi. Also 27,000-year-old human skeletons were found at Mor Keaw Cave, at Ban Na-Ching in Krabi.
The oldest finds are fossils dating back to 37 million years, found in a lignite mine. They are jaw bones of an ancient primate, later named Siamopithecus eocaenus, (the signboard says Siam Moipithecus erectus, which is wrong), which could be an ancestor of humans.
Down by the river is a large stone eagle, similar to the one on Langkawi, but smaller. The signage says it is a White-breasted Sea Eagle, Nok Awk, and goes on to describe the bird. At the waterfront, one boatman said that business was very bad, as most tourists preferred to stay at the beach.
Ao Nang was busy with people. The beach road hadn’t changed much since the tsunami and I recognised many of the shops from my last visit in 2002. But now there were more Western fast food places, coffee shops and small shopping centres opening up. And of course, new guest houses and luxury resorts.
One new luxury resort occupied the entire bay south of the main beach, and is reached by a boardwalk. With room rates starting at 6,000 baht (RM590), it is not cheap.
Despite the increase in the number of buildings and people, things seemed orderly. Thailand realises tourism makes up a huge part of the country’s income. Therefore, they take steps to encourage tourists.
The main thing that struck me along the main beach was the number of ATM machines, located every few hundred metres. The authorities have realised that tourists spend money and need easy access to cash. And so they have set up ATMs everywhere, all of which take foreign credit cards.
One big change is that the boats to the islands and beaches are now all strictly controlled. The longtail boats are all moored together in one area, which ensures the safety of people swimming in the other areas.
And there are two ticket offices, at each end of the beach. Gone are the days of the boatmen and their touts all shouting and jostling to compete for your custom. Now the prices are prominently displayed. Along the beach, there are numerous tsunami warning signs.
These tell you to go to high ground or inland in the event of an earthquake. And the signs point which way to go.
I also counted around 20 massage stalls on the beach, with prices prominently displayed. At a mere 200 baht (RM20) an hour, the stalls were fully occupied.
There were also signs asking smokers not to throw their cigarette butts into the sea — “The beach and ocean are not an ashtray”.
So many people treat the sea as a rubbish bin and this is particularly unpleasant for swimmers. And cigarette butts take years to break down. All the beaches were very clean. Having litter bins placed in many spots helped.
Restaurant prices at the beach have increased since I was last there. In Krabi town, you can still get a delicious meal, with free cold water, all for a mere 30 baht (RM3).
About 40% of Krabi’s population is Muslim so there are halal eating places, including roti shops. The rotis are always smaller in Thailand than in Malaysia, but the curry is delicious. One shop proudly announces that tourists are charged the same price as Thais.
The authorities certainly seem to be doing their bit to keep the place clean and safe, and to make sure things run smoothly. Obviously, the ever increasing numbers of visitors will have an impact. Hopefully, this won’t spoil the tropical paradise that they have come to see.
© Liz Price

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Arab season in Kuala Lumpur

                                                           arch leading to Ain Arabia
Go to Bukit Bintang in the heart of Kuala Lumpur in July and August and you will think you have been transported to an Arabian country. The amount of Arabs seems to outnumber Malaysians and other tourists. Yes, Arab season is here again.

Tourism Malaysia encourages them in the hope they will spend, spend, spend. Street signs are in Arabic, there are many restaurants serving Arabic foods, there are lots of Arabic perfume and oil shops appearing. And a few years ago one street was named Ain Arabia, and there is a garden with a fountain shaped like an Arabic teapot. There is Arabian music and cultural shows, and some signs are totally in Arabic.

Turkish ice cream

hubbly bubbly

See also my blog KL turning into little Arabia.
© Liz Price
No reproduction without permission