Sunday, April 16, 2006

Malaysia's Indecency Law

It is not uncommon knowledge that in some states of Malaysia, there are indecency laws criminalising public displays of affection. There are two main lines of thought regarding the issue.

The first line found the law unacceptable, for not everyone follows the same beliefs. The indecency law essentially forces the morals of one religion upon the populace. Hence, it it unfair.

The second line of thought, as elucidated by Malaysia's Chief Justice Ahmad Fairuz Abdul Halim, is that 'public displays of affection "go against the fabric and morality of the Asian people"'. Public displays of affection are acceptable only by Western standards of morality. Hence, by our own system of moral values, the law is acceptable.

Both lines of thought have some basis to their arguments, but both have some flaws. The first, while recognising that everyone may have different beliefs and values, and that imposing foreign values on another is unfair, fails to realise that basically there exists no system which is absolutely fair. All systems of law draw from some conception of morality, and it is inevitable that some will not agree with the law. If a law is to be abolished because it is unfair or unacceptable to some party, then there will be no laws. To live in a society, one has to abide by its laws, however unacceptable. Socrates chose to drink the hemlock because he had willingly agreed to abide by the laws of Athens.

However, this is precisely the error of the second line of thought. While ideally we should obey the laws of the society, it must be understood that these laws did not appear arbitrarily from nothingness. A key is consensus, of at least the majority. It does not matter if the law is ordained by the traditional "morality of the asian people", or by some stone tablet. The law must be passed through the people.

Hence, the question is how many support and how many oppose the law. My opinion is that since a law must impose on people, there must be a large majority of supporters before it can be accepted. A simple majority cannot suffice.

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