Monday, August 15, 2005

Time to hold hands

In the Star on Saturday, there was a headline which read “No hugging, we’re Muslims”.

"This is not a question of young or old people hugging. This is about religion. It is forbidden in the religion," Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak stressed.

With such reality shows (e.g. Akademi Fantasia) attracting large audiences, he said the programmes should instead be helping spread moral values.

"Hugging scenes are not suitable. They must sing decent songs, and must act decently," he said.

Wow, when the Deputy Prime Minister says this at the Annual General Meeting at the Langkawi Exhibition and Exposition Centre, it must be something serious.

Let me digress a little. As of today, the haze has cleared up in the Klang Valley. In fact, the haze has moved northwards since Friday.

So it couldn't have been the haze, could it?

His statement got me wondering. Don’t men in the Middle East hug and kiss a lot? Are they not Muslims?

Yeah, yeah. I know he meant hugging between opposite sexes.

But with the disappointment and heartbreak of having to leave a reality show because of a horrible dress sense or being too much of a drama queen or having talent slightly better than a seal, I am certain a hug is a sign of farewell and thank you for the camaraderie that they shared.

Hugs to the winner are more for reasons, like, oh I don’t know, from getting the satisfaction of having hugged an unknown-kampung-boy-but-now-a-
famous-person and telling someone ten years down the road (See this picture? That was me! What do you mean I had a fake smile on?) to sharing the joy of victory.

It is indeed a mystery to me that our beloved deputy PM can read such a simple gesture into something sexual.

Oh well.

Coincidentally, something similar was being discussed in the PLUPenang mailing list and it was about holding hands. Specifically, a man holding another man’s hands in public.

It started when someone mentioned that the male foreign workers in Malaysia like those from Indonesia and Bangladesh hold hands.

Unless the two governments had a secret database of their gay population and intentionally send them to work in Malaysia to get rid of them.

This is because they are not gay. They are just friends.

Personally, I have not noticed this before. Until yesterday when I was in the bus and I was near to Central Market.

Of course, I know there are cultural differences from my friends who have been abroad. Things like a nod may mean no in a certain country and a thumbs-up may be a vulgar sign.

I didn’t expect that holding hands differ across cultures too.

Probably it’s all the Western influence that I am exposed to, whereby it means a romantic relationship between the two people.

Even though ladies hold hands all the time but they are never labeled lesbians (at least in Malaysia), other countries hold different views.

As a third Boston High School student was arraigned in the assault of a Moroccan girl by classmates who thought she was gay, a relative of the alleged victim yesterday said the child was terrified about returning to school alone... The girl told police last week that she had been attacked while riding an MBTA train by six teenagers who believed she was a lesbian because she followed a custom common in her homeland: holding hands with another girl.

— Francie Latour, Boston Globe, February 2, 2000

From my research, there are some African cultures who practise hand holding as a sign of friendship, irregardless of sex. I found an article titled "Time to hold hands", where the author recounted his experience in Africa, when he was held on the hand by a local. He wrote:

As we walked along the untarred road towards the house under the blazing African sun with various people, mainly young, watching us, Zola took hold of my hand. So here I am walking around Soweto hand in hand with a handsome African man of roughly my own age. Imagine it!

I was confused. Growing up in blue collar South London in England my experience of twenty-somethings holding hands was about ‘boyfriends and girlfriends.’ People of the same sex did not hold hands (although rumor had it that some did in private). So was Zola making a pass at me?

Reason was right. The answer was ‘no’. Holding my hand did not mean ‘I fancy you, what about it?’ As I learned to be around African people I saw that traditional African culture is ‘homo-social’.

People tend to make friends and socialize with their own gender. Women and men traditionally eat separately, not together. Expressions of affection in public would not usually occur between women and men of the same age although this is breaking down under the pervasive influence of American popular TV. But hand-holding and embracing by women with women, men with men, is usual.

Zola holding my hand was both saying to me ‘I want to be your friend’ and also (and this was very important in the context) a statement to all the other people who saw us, who were Africans, that I was an OK person to have a round. ‘Pity he’s white but he’s on our side.’

In addition, this practise is pretty common in India too.

One of the PLUPenang members posted this:
Go to Korea. Sometimes you will see two well-dressed Korean men holding hands walking on the street after having a drink but these men will be too shy to hold their wives' hand in the public! It’s just the way how intimacy is expressed in the society.

If only this was allowed here, which is absolutely impossible. Unless it starts raining hail in tropical Malaysia. Oh wait, it actually did rained hail last week.

Still, the list of things that the moral authorities frown on keeps getting longer.

It would be great if I could hold my boyfriend’s hands and still be able to go home safely and wake up the next day on my bed, not in a 4 by 4 feet cell.

I can dream, can't I?

[I chose Time to hold hands as the title post because it is the opinion of a very logical priest. Please do read the full article. It's not that long.]


weeshiong said...

Reminds me of that time not so long ago when a guy was bashed to death just because he was being lovey-dovey to his girlfriend in Sri Hartamas. Intolerance can be so meaningless and ugly.

Jay said...

Reading things like ‘No hugging, we’re Muslims’ makes me feel ill. More than that, it makes me not want to come back to Malaysia - ever. Things like this make a laughing stock of our country.

Anonymous said...

All i can think now is to to hold your hands................

AJ said...

It seems that our leaders forget how ridiculous they seem when they make statements like that. Either that or the media is on a frenzy to turn Malaysian Politics into the a Taiwanese Circus. Its been a seady increase of politicians saying stupid things in the news, hasn't it?

Chaichakri said...

Somehow, I am not into criticizing our politicians. Yes, they have their shortcomings, they have their occasional burst of anger, but look at the bright side, all these make the best quotable quotes!

Somehow, I am with Mr Anonymous, I guess, I too want to hold Derek's hands, and not be in gaol the next day!

LOL, Hey, if Derek can dream, so can I, right? ha ha hee hee

Derek said...

weeshiong: If I am not wrong, the attack was because the boyfriend's masculinity overruled his common sense, when the girlfriend was wolf-whistled at.

But still, it was senseless.

Jay: Yup, the foreign media would (already?) have a field day with this.

anonymous: Thanks ;P

AJ: Yup, from putting people with HIV/AIDS on an island to giving out condoms means promoting promiscuity, this definitely ranks close to the top.

Kitjar: Well, these quotes are not funny like Bushisms. Rather they are ridiculous!

APOKalypse said...

Some time ago my sis actually saw 2 of the cutest guys ever walking nonchalantly down Bintang Walk holding hands in full view of everyone.

The guy I was seeing liked to play this rather silly, if not reckless, game of stealing hugs/kisses in public places.

Alone in a lift we kissed and broke off just before the door opened to let some others in.

When I dropped him off at the roadside he kissed me good-bye as some college students stood nearby (whom we thought were) looking the other way.

At night while waiting at traffic lights or stuck in jams he'd snuggle up to me, assuming it was too dark to see into my car (and of course it wasn't).

Of course we finally got caught. Once before he got off at his apartment he bent near to kiss me, and all of a sudden we saw a security guard staring at us from a corner. Played it cool and drove off. Heck.

Alex said...

Well, that statement from Najib is ridiculous. Even Arabs themselves hug (guy with guy).
Hugging, kissing, holding hands are not exclusively sexual. It's friendship, brotherhood, sisterhood - love.
I've seen Indonesians, Bangladeshis and Pakistani males holding hands & hugging - but definitely not gay. It's everything but gay. They are good friends and brothers. What's wrong with that?
I have a best friend from Central Asia and I hugged him & held his hand before. Not gay at all. (Even though I am, but that's different story)
Sometimes politicians need to cool down and think before talking. They tend to jump on trivial matters for political gains while victimizing a group of people. And that is usually women, foreigners, youth, gays - minorities. I'm sick of dirty politicians.

I don't know about you, but the human touch is the most therapeutic effect I ever had. A hug from your mom, a kiss from your boy/girl friend, and a walk while holding your good friend's hand..... it's a miracle. If everyone gives everyone they know a hug/kiss a day, the world will be a better place.

Derek said...

anonymous: Where are my manners?

Let's start over. Welcome to my blog and I hope you come back often. And that is a very sweet gesture ...

apokalypse: Ooh, what a thrill-seeker! Living on the edge of being caught. ;P

Thanks for sharing your experience. I suppose you are all for hand holding and PDA. Good for you.

alex: I agree with you, totally. I don't know why some people always see something sexual in things which are generally not.

Oh yes, the human touch is the most wonderful feeling. It's such a great way to diffuse tension and a hug always make a day better.

We should make hugging compulsory (not just for farewells).

To borrow a phrase from Willa, "Write to your MPs."