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There’s clearly an abundance of pettiness and silliness in this wonderful land of ours. Despite all the mounting problems we face, our great political leaders found time at their weekly cabinet meeting to deliberate upon a non-issue like the brand name of a relatively unknown brand of whiskey. Their consequent decision – to bar brand names that could offend racial or religious sensitivities – was not unexpected. Pandering to imagined slights and sensitivities is what they do best. 

What was surprising, however, was the response of the Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP). A CAP spokesman called the cabinet decision to bar names that offend racial or religious sensitivities a “very good move”. The spokesman went on to suggest the creation of a “multiracial, multi-faith committee to deliberate on product labels” and “study the imagery and words on labels to ensure they don’t insult any group”. 

I wonder if these people ever listen to themselves. A multiracial, multi-faith committee to study the “imagery and words on labels” to ensure no one feels insulted by a label or a brand name? Excuse me, but what an idiotic response to a non-issue played up by religious bigots for political purposes! CAP should be demanding that our politicians should grow up and get real instead of wasting their time on such trivial issues.

Let’s be clear: Timah is not the name of the Prophet’s daughter. If anyone has any doubts, just listen to the video lecture (now gone viral) by Professor Dr Syed Ali Tawfik al-Attas (the former head of the government’s Islamic think tank). Even Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man, the deputy president of PAS, dismissed the whole notion that it was somehow insulting to Islam (before he buckled under pressure and called for the name to be changed). And no, drinking Timah whiskey is not akin to drinking a Malay woman, as one member of parliament put it (she has since apologised).

This whole controversy has actually nothing to do with the name on the bottle but everything to do with what’s in the bottle. If it was anything other than alcohol, do you think it would be controversial? Remember all the fuss over the beer festival some time ago? Small-minded politicians know that there’s always some mileage to be gained by making a fuss about alcohol. That’s why they do it. Giving in to them only encourages and empowers them. 

The religious establishment also uses issues like this to extend their control over our society. JAKIM, the parallel government whose budget keeps growing and growing, already plays a major role in deciding what festivals are permitted, how we dress, what we can and cannot eat and what words are kosher and what are not. Now they will also have a say in how non-halal products are labelled; another great step forward for mankind. 

CAP can dream all it wants about a multiracial, multi-faith committee to “study the imagery and words on labels” but let’s face it – in our country today, only Muslim sensitivities matter; the rest have to just suck it up and move on. PAS politicians, for example, can slander and insult other religions at will and get away with it. Why a respected consumer association would give in to all this nonsense is beyond me. The last thing we should be doing is pandering to these bigots and always giving in to their nonsensical demands.

Look, we’ve been getting by for more than 60 years without a committee to tell us what’s sensitive and what’s not. We don’t need one now. Just shoo off the bigots and let common sense prevail. The Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism called the cabinet decision “absurd”, “crazy” and “silly”. That’s exactly right!

[Dennis Ignatius | Kuala Lumpur |2nd November 2021]