Theocracy Watch IX: A Religious Police State

I have written in the past about the paranoid, twisted obsession that most religious fundamentalists have with sex. Rather than viewing it as a natural, healthy part of human life, and a source of pleasure and emotional connection when engaged in responsibly, excessive religious devotion leads some believers to view sex as a menacing and ever-present temptation to sin that must be resisted at all costs. Some of these go even further and view sex not only as a great sin, but seemingly the only sin worth concerning oneself about.

It should be no surprise that when a person takes such a distorted and monstrous view of their own human nature, the repercussions become manifest in their behavior. Sometimes it merely causes them to flame out and crash in spectacular bouts of public hypocrisy, such as Ted Haggard, Jim Bakker or Jimmy Swaggart. However, in countries with less of a heritage of separation of church and state, when these self-loathing and other-loathing fanatics gain secular power, the results can be dreadful. Witness the Taliban, whose name should become a byword for murderous, hateful fanaticism, and the state of oppression they created in Afghanistan by forcing women to live in isolation in their own homes and shroud themselves in stifling black whenever they went out in public.

Though the Taliban have been driven from power, their evil legacy is very much alive and well in the world today. The Malaysian state of Terengganu has become the newest government to take after the Taliban by enacting a policy of totalitarianism in the cloak of God:

Religious police in a Malaysian state plan to deploy spies working as waiters or janitors in hotels to stop activities the authorities consider immoral, including sex between unmarried people, a news report said Tuesday.

…[T]he spies would largely look for unmarried couples committing “khalwat,” or “close proximity,” a crime under Islamic law in Malaysia akin to adultery. It applies to unchaperoned meetings between men and women.

Those found guilty of khalwat can be jailed for up to two months under Islamic laws, which do not apply to non-Muslims.

Malaysia, a Muslim-majority nation and officially Islamic by law, has a dismal record in general when it comes to religious freedom. Malaysia has a system of Islamic courts that uphold sharia law, imposes prison sentences on Muslims who deconvert, and censors material deemed contrary to Islam. However, the plan of state-sponsored terror put forward by the government of Terengganu is by far the worst intrusion upon the human rights of Malaysian citizens. Merely to prevent the “crime” of unmarried Muslim men and women meeting in private, they plan to turn the entire state into a regime of suspicion and fear, where every passerby on the street might be an agent secretly in the pay of the government, with unlimited discretion to report on anyone whose behavior they dislike.

Not only is this law an unbelievable squandering of resources, it is a senseless and idiotic intrusion upon human rights. Why is it any concern of the state or of anyone else what I do in my own life? My private conduct has no effect whatsoever on anyone else’s ability to conduct their lives exactly as they wish. The arrogance of these tinpot religious tyrants, who think their beliefs give them the right to barge in on others’ lives and control them according to their own rigid and medieval notions of morality, knows no bounds.

Though we have no direct influence over the laws of Malaysia, there may yet be a way to set them on a more rational course. The article mentions an embarrassing incident in which Malaysian religious police burst into a motel room where they thought they would find two Muslims committing khalwat, only to find the couple was a pair of vacationing Christian tourists not subject to the country’s harsh sharia laws. Clearly, tourism is a major part of the Malaysian economy, and the loss of income from foreign visitors would seriously inconvenience them.

But why would any Western tourist want to visit a nation where the rules of a vicious medieval theocracy are the laws of the land? Not only would our tourism dollars be propping up a government that was a despicable violator of human rights, there is always the frightening chance that the next tourist could be mistaken for a citizen and would themselves be subjected to the Islamic courts. Until Malaysia takes steps to curb its human rights abuses and create an enlightened, secular state where both citizens and visitors can live without fear, there is more than sufficient reason for all potential tourists to boycott it completely.

Other posts in this series:

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • DV82XL

    A Grook

    Human nature sublimates the impulses it thwarts;
    A healthy sex-life mitigates lusts of other sorts

    Piet Hine.

    It’s just another tool for theists to exert control. The poor bastards a too busy thinking how they can get laid without sin, that they haven’t the time to realize hoe thoroughly they are getting screwed.

  • DV82XL

    A Grook

    Human nature sublimates the impulses it thwarts;
    A healthy sex-life mitigates lusts of other sorts

    Piet Hine.

    It’s just another tool for theists to exert control. The poor bastards a too busy thinking how they can get laid without sin, that they haven’t the time to realize hoe thoroughly they are getting screwed.

  • Christopher

    One question: what’s in Malaysia that attracts these tourists in the first place that they can’t easily get somewhere else?

  • James Bradbury

    Hearing that certainly discourages me from travelling to Malaysia, but I admit only for selfish reasons.

    In any case, I’m not convinced whether a tourist boycott would have the desired effect. Are there any prior examples of this tactic working? I’d feel pretty sick if they ended up like Afghanistan, growing opiates. At least tourism encourages the mixing of cultures and ideas. Then again I can’t think of any better way to exert influence in this situation.

    “People say, ‘Don’t buy wine from Mordor’, but that’s not going to hurt Sauron, is it?” – That Mitchell and Webb Sound. :)

  • James Bradbury

    Hearing that certainly discourages me from travelling to Malaysia, but I admit only for selfish reasons.

    In any case, I’m not convinced whether a tourist boycott would have the desired effect. Are there any prior examples of this tactic working? I’d feel pretty sick if they ended up like Afghanistan, growing opiates. At least tourism encourages the mixing of cultures and ideas. Then again I can’t think of any better way to exert influence in this situation.

    “People say, ‘Don’t buy wine from Mordor’, but that’s not going to hurt Sauron, is it?” – That Mitchell and Webb Sound. :)

  • Marc Holt

    I have a successful IT business in Thailand. I have been invited to move my business to Malaysia several times over the last couple of years. I will never do it while the Muslims insist on imposing such draconian laws on its citizens.

    I don’t want to say how much money I could generate for the Malaysian economy, but it is enough that they are losing out on a substantial gift. Too bad for them. When they wake up and stop state sponsored terrorism through religion, I might reconsider. Until then, I believe a country gets the government it deserves. The Malaysians have to make the change and demand freedom from bigots!

  • Marc Holt

    I have a successful IT business in Thailand. I have been invited to move my business to Malaysia several times over the last couple of years. I will never do it while the Muslims insist on imposing such draconian laws on its citizens.

    I don’t want to say how much money I could generate for the Malaysian economy, but it is enough that they are losing out on a substantial gift. Too bad for them. When they wake up and stop state sponsored terrorism through religion, I might reconsider. Until then, I believe a country gets the government it deserves. The Malaysians have to make the change and demand freedom from bigots!

  • MAYA

    One small correction:
    In Afghanistan, women were forced to wear “burqas” – basically a large sheet that covered them to below the ankles and had only a mesh at eye level so they could see out – the most common color of which was light blue, not black.

    Perhaps you are thinking of Saudia Arabia where in public women must wear black coats which cover them wrist to ankle but they can still expose parts of their faces and (last I checked) hands.

    I would like to point out that before the Taliban came along, Saudia Arabia was considered the worst place in the world for women’s rights (recall that Osama bin Laden was from there as where many of his cohorts). And, it is well documented that our current federal administration is very cozy with the ruling family (see books such as, “House of Bush, House of Saud”).

  • http://noself.blogspot.com noself

    The reality is both better and more dismal than the post makes out.

    There is federalism in Malaysia, particular on matters of local concern, which apparently also includes religion. Sharia doesn’t make a distinction between law and religion and morality but the party currently in control of this state (PAS) is the most hardline Islamic party in Malaysian politics. They haven’t done too well in recent elections because of their hardline stance and have been marginalised nationally in part because of the ruling party (UMNO) view and advocacy of a much more moderate form of Islam (more personal than political). Go to any other part of Malaysia and it becomes very obvious that Terengganu is much more of an outlier than any Southern state in the US could be.

    Haven’t said which, there is a huge problem about freedom of religion. The current constitutional belief is that freedom of religion means freedom to practice religion but not to deconvert from it (particularly from Islam and its notion of apostasy. The current Prime Minister basically shut down an interfaith dialogue on this issue because he was of the opinion that it was creating too much tension and dissension within society.