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Storm in a beer mug

(lusi /
STATE PAS commissioner Datuk Dr Hassan Ali recently criticised DAP member Ronnie Liu for disputing the Shah Alam Municipal Council’s seizure of beer sold by a convenience store. Hassan said Selangor PAS supported banning the sale of alcoholic drinks in convenience stores in Muslim-majority areas, and that PAS would come out with its draft by-laws governing alcohol sales in the state.

This situation shows the need for Malaysians to be aware of subconscious racial discrimination and religious intolerance. We need to stop looking at every issue from the perspective of race and religion, and undergo a renaissance of our views, values and mindset.   

There are clear laws related to the manufacture, distribution and selling of beer and liquor, but there are no laws prohibiting the sale of beer in convenience stores. The enforcement unit of the Shah Alam Municipal Council is not empowered to make laws and regulations, only to enforce existing ones.

Syariah law does govern Muslims from consuming alcohol, but enforcement officers do not have jurisdiction to enforce it, and certainly not against non-Muslims.

Hassan Ali should have mentioned that he was elected not to only represent Muslims, but Malaysians irrespective of race or religion. There are many other people, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, as well as social groups that are rightly concerned about the ill-effects of beer drinking. Shouldn’t Hassan Ali have sought their views and given voice to their concerns, too?

(rgvmonster /
There is certainly a difference between concern and law. Concerns should be examined before laws are enacted or amended. Appropriately, a proposed ban on the sale of alcohol should be discussed and debated.

Alcohol through the ages

History shows that many societies and countries have had to deal with alcohol prohibition, pertinently in the early half of the 20th century: Canada; Russia and the Soviet Union; Iceland; Norway; Hungary; Finland; and the US, to name just a few.

In the US, the manufacture, sale and transportation of liquor was made illegal in 1920, but the prohibition was ineffective. It caused an explosive growth in crime and increased the amount of consumption. Drinking went underground and illegal “speakeasies” mushroomed all over the country. Bootleggers smuggled liquor from overseas, stole it from government warehouses, and produced their own. The illegal liquor business fell into the control of organised crime.

Prohibition saw the crime rate skyrocketing with a nearly 78% increase. It saw serious crimes such as homicides, assault and battery increase by 13%. The number of federal convicts increased 561%.

Prohibition was repealed on 5 Dec 1933 — the first and only time in US history that an amendment to the constitution has been repealed.

Not all social ills can be solved by making them illegal. It was through education and voluntary temperance that these societies learnt more effective measures to counter alcohol abuse, rather than by making the consumption of alcohol illegal. 

All the beer taps in a row...
All the beer taps in a row…

The religious looking glasses

It is unfortunate that Hassan Ali looked at the problem solely through a pair of Muslim glasses. His statement has turned the problem from being a social concern to a struggle between Muslims and non-Muslims. It has raised the mistaken belief by non-Muslims that Islam does not tolerate the existence of other religions. On the contrary, Islam recognises that there is a plurality of religions, and gives the right to individuals to choose the path which they believe to be true. 

It has always been the central approach of Islam to resist all forms of oppression. To succeed in this struggle, mere tolerance by Muslims of other religions is not enough. Muslims must unite with Malaysians of all faiths and work towards the common goal of justice, mutual respect, equal treatment and robust pluralism.

Unfortunately, those brave enough to stand up and voice out are often silenced and punished. We need to combine into one the common strands of our different racial descents, and use the unique strengths of our diversity to forge a stronger bond.

It is hoped that all Malaysians, and in particular our Pakatan Rakyat state executive members, will heed the call for a renewal of our values, and to steel ourselves with the conviction that only a Malaysian renaissance will set us free.

William JK Leong, from Parti Keadilan Rakyat, is the Member of Parliament for Selayang.

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5 Responses to “Storm in a beer mug”

  1. Remie says:

    It is so easy to simply ban this or that that you do not like. What do we have left when every person’s dislike is banned?

  2. Tuagoo says:

    The issue here is whether the MBSA has the right to seize the beers under the laws of the land. Obviously they don’t because selling of beers by retail is allowed by law and do not need a license. That being the case the seizure is illegal and the officers should be reprimanded for committing an illegal act. If the lawmakers feel that it is necessary to ban their sale they should legislate the proper laws and regulations to the effect. There is nothing racial or religious up to this point.

  3. powr says:

    Why stop at alcohol? How about cigarettes?

  4. Farouq Omaro says:

    In Turkey beer is sold openly and beer ads are everywhere. In Iran, beer and wine are drank in private parties. In Saudi Arabia, wealthy men drive all the way to isolated places in the desert to enjoy beer and sometimes they take vacations in Europe where they can enjoy it. Bruneians frequent Miri, Labuan and Kota Kinabalu for beer. By banning beer, you are just sweeping the problem under the carpet!

  5. kamal says:

    Well put, YB William. What we need is awareness and education about the problems of alcohol abuse. What the state needs to enforce then, in two words, is “responsible drinking”.

    At the moment, abuse of alcohol is hardly made an issue in Malaysia. Partly perhaps it is our culture to refrain from speaking ill of the dead or those who have been misfortunate. Hence, we are not made aware of the statistics of motor vehicle accidents resulting from alcohol intoxication. Or alcohol intoxication-related road accidents. Or alcohol intoxication-related violence. Or alcohol intoxication-related death.

    Being exposed to the dangers of overconsumption is key to responsible behaviour. This includes prohibition of sales to minors.

    Now, I have to agree with you as well, prohibition in itself cannot work. So prohibiting adult Muslims from consuming alcohol in the privacy of his [her] home or in licensed premises may work to the detriment of society. What I mean is that it creates two sets of rules for society. This is divisive and potentially segregational.

    What we need is to advise Muslims that their faith prohibits them from consuming alcohol. There isn’t even the allowance of responsible drinking. And Islam is not the only religion that prohibits alcohol consumption. If I am not mistaken, some Christian denominations also have this prohibition. Hence, advice against drinking should also extend to them. And by their own religious leaders. And in interior communities in Sabah and Sarawak, pastors and priests do remind their congregation against drinking. But in the end, it is the choice of the individual to adhere or transgress this prohibition. The penalty surely is between them and their maker.

    As for society at large, I think PAS should reconsider their demands because dual laws, if equally dominant, can be an instrument of segregation. Isn’t civil law enough? And on morality, wouldn’t we want to emphasise education and personal responsibility? A mature society cannot have their every action dictated by the state. After all, in Islam a mature person, regardless of gender, is recognised as being able to bear their own sins. For that, I suspect one is required to have free will.

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