Of flags on bums and cas­trated courts

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - JAMES GIGGACHER news­room@mm­times.com James Giggacher is an as­so­ci­ate lec­turer in the ANU Coral Bell School of Asia Pa­cific Af­fairs and edi­tor of New Man­dala, a spe­cial­ist web­site on South­east Asia’s pol­i­tics and so­ci­eties.

THANK good­ness that the long arm of Malaysian law has stretched out to spank the span­dex-clad but­tocks of some very silly Aus­tralians and en­sure that the na­tion’s pro­pri­ety and pride are once again sal­vaged.

Last week the Budgie Nine – named after the Aus­tralian slang for tight trunks, “budgie smug­glers” – hit in­ter­na­tional head­lines after pulling down their pants to revel in Aus­tralian driver Daniel Ric­cia­rdo’s For­mula One grand prix win last Sun­day. They were in noth­ing but swim­mers brazenly em­bla­zoned with the Malaysian flag.

There they were – in all their young mas­cu­line, pale skinned and in one case very flabby glory. Their chants of “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oi, oi, oi!” were only made more re­splen­dent by their quaffing of beer from their footwear – an act known as a “shoey” and in hon­our of their revered rev-head’s “trade­mark” podium cel­e­bra­tion.

It’s no sur­prise that the nine – a bunch of well-bred brats from Aus­tralia’s po­lit­i­cal, so­cial and ed­u­ca­tional elite – found them­selves in jail for four days, were charged with a mi­nor of­fence of pub­lic nui­sance (but no con­vic­tion or fine), and sent pack­ing with their tails well be­tween their legs.

It’s prob­a­bly not un­de­served, con­sid­er­ing the gross in­sen­si­tiv­i­ties to one na­tion’s cus­toms, cul­ture and sovereignty, as well as the sheer stu­pid­ity of their ac­tions. Most im­por­tantly, it offers a strong les­son – as harsh as de­hy­dra­tion, sleep­less nights, and “filthy” cells with “no toi­let pa­per” may seem.

And while most Malaysians prob­a­bly saw the whole thing as a joke in poor taste, pro­pa­ganda por­tal The New Straits Times said that the nine Aus­tralians had mocked Malaysia’s sen­si­tiv­i­ties and un­der­mined the na­tion’s flag.

“That is only one facet of the of­fence,” read the pa­per’s editorial. “The other is the ob­scen­ity of strip­ping down to their briefs in pub­lic. Such ab­hor­rent con­duct is un­for­giv­able.”

Even the nine ad­mit the act was dumb. When ap­pear­ing in court on Oc­to­ber 6, they of­fered an apol­ogy, adding that they had “no idea” that their con­duct would be con­sid­ered in­ap­pro­pri­ate, crass or even of­fen­sive. The in­ci­dent, they said in a state­ment, was a mo­ment of “folly, and for that we are truly sorry that we have hurt the feel­ings of Malaysians in gen­eral”.

Ear­lier in the week the pros­e­cu­tion had con­sid­ered pur­su­ing the more se­ri­ous charge of “in­ten­tional in­sult”, which car­ries a min­i­mum penalty of a fine and a max­i­mum two-year jail term. The lesser charge of in­sult­ing Malaysia’s na­tional flag, with a max­i­mum term of six months jail, was also de­lib­er­ated. No won­der one of them fainted dur­ing their court ap­pear­ance.

Se­ri­ous jail time was al­ways un­likely. Although deputy home min­is­ter Nur Jalan Mo­hamed said that what the young men did had a “po­lit­i­cal mo­tive” and their dis­play was no prank, even The New Straits Times – a good barom­e­ter of high­level gov­ern­ment views – called for the nine to be de­ported but not charged.

So on Oc­to­ber 7, the Budgie Nine were set free of their cages, with eight fly­ing home into the eye of a media storm. The ninth headed home the next day.

Good taste, cul­tural sen­si­tiv­i­ties and the in­deli­ble rights of sov­er­eign states win again.

But most im­por­tantly, all lawabid­ing and law-lov­ing cit­i­zens of Malaysia must be sigh­ing in re­lief; for this case clearly shows that their coun­try’s rule of law still has a beat­ing heart and hasn’t been killed off – just yet. In to­day’s Malaysia, rule of law isn’t so as­sured. This is par­tic­u­larly so in the face of al­leged in­ter­fer­ence into 1MDB in­ves­ti­ga­tions by PM Na­jib Razak.

As far back as July 2015, a com­men­ta­tor noted that in the face of Malaysia’s un­fold­ing fi­nan­cial scan­dal, and the le­gal sys­tem’s han­dling of it, the law in Malaysia was an ass. Malaysians, he ar­gued, should stand up and de­mand the jus­tice their laws and ju­di­ciary will never de­liver in their cur­rent in­car­na­tion.

So it’s won­der­ful to see, that when it comes to ass – and flags on Aussie bums – you can fight the law, but in Malaysia, the law won. –

Photo: AFP

Nine Aus­tralians were ar­rested after sport­ing swimwear bear­ing a Malaysian flag dur­ing the For­mula One Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang, on Oc­to­ber 2.

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