To be fair, lagging only 30 years behind is a pretty immense feat for a theocracy, especially one as messed up as Malaysia…
There are two big news stories out of Malaysia that are making headlines:
1. Malaysia appoints first female Shariah court judges
Malaysia’s first women Islamic court judges are starting to hear cases this month after Shariah legal authorities gave them the same authority as their male colleagues, an official said Wednesday.
I can’t pretend to be thrilled that it’s a religious court that these women have been appointed to – the very idea of a religious court is a perversion of the concept of justice – but it is measurable progress insofar as it is an official recognition that women can wield equal legal authority to men. Consider that Canada appointed its first female Supreme Court justice in 1982 (for those of you who keep track of this sort of thing, that’s one year after Reagan appointed Sandra Day O’Connor to the US Supreme Court). My most optimistic scenario here is that the presence of female judges will shift the balance toward equality for women in the courts. My least optimistic is that these women are either anti-feminist or will be so cowed by the religious authority that they will make even more sexist rulings.
Again, lest we feel too smug and superior about the west, Venice just licensed its first-ever female gondolier. Way to go, Italy.
2. Malaysian men denied clemency for poorly-constructed religious excuse
Both Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens delight in pointing out that religious people have very little to fear from atheists. A common tactic is to talk about how churches will be torn down or burned by atheist activists in their zeal to punish thoughtcrime – Dawkins/Hitchens rebut that the religious do a far better job of desecrating each other’s holy sites than atheists ever will. This story out of Malaysia is no exception to that:
The attack on the Metro Tabernacle Church in Kuala Lumpur was the first of a series of attacks on houses of worship following the “Allah” row. Eleven churches, one Sikh temple, three mosques and two Muslim prayer rooms became targets of arson and other incidents.
Non-Muslim churches are using the word ‘Allah’ in Malay as a placeholder for God (much in the same way I use ‘YahwAlladdha’, although without the associated mockery). Some Malaysian Muslims are incensed by the violation of their trademark, saying that Christians are hatching a devious plot to make Christianity look more like Islam in order to gain converts. People of Malaysia: your religious leaders think that you are functionally retarded. Recently, a number of sites of worship were torched as reprisal for the semantic issue. Two men caught and charged with setting the fires tried to plead out by saying they burned themselves at a barbecue.
Luckily, the judiciary appears to be a bit more sane than either the accused or the religious leaders, and charged the morons appropriately. Of course there’s a whole host of other religious nonsense underlying the issue (there always is), but at least the judges made the right decision.
I might have to revise my opinion of Malaysia based on this new information. Of course, it still remains a crime to convert from Islam to another religion (or, I’d imagine, no religion at all), and they’re still wildly homophobic, but Rome wasn’t built (and then converted and sodomized) in a day.
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