Nafsu buas: the politics of imagined lust in Malaysia

‘Animalistic lust’ (nafsu buas) is a common spice in Malay tales of adulterous wives, transgender paramours, and homosexual men and women. ‘Animalistic’ or ‘buas‘ here is a blanket term for all that is unbridled and transgressive. Though derived from the Arabic word to mean ‘soul’, ‘nafsu‘ is often accompanied with pejorative connotations, and it is used a lot by the Malay media to demonise sexual minorities in Malaysia. Often scapegoated for everything that is immoral in society by the country’s moral vanguards; either elected into office or not, being a sexual minority is becoming more difficult and there are people who cheer for their living hell.

It doesn’t take a genius to know that the recent highly-publicised fatwa against tomboys exposes the powers-that-be’s obsession with the bodily control of Muslim women. While there are many, like myself, who only see the absurdity of the fatwa, proponents of this edict believe that curbing female homosexuality plays a crucial part in an ever-expanding list of ‘solutions’ to relieve Malaysia of its fear of disintegrating family units due to rising divorce rates and single parent households, pre-marital sex, and general moral apocalypse.

Not long ago between the 1970’s and 80’s, an unprecedented mass migration of young women from rural areas to the industrial towns of Malaysia lead to what can be described as a socio-cultural shock for many. Instead of being represented as role models of economic independence, many young Malay women, particularly factory girls or ‘Minah Karan‘ as they were popularly known, were accused of loose morals and sexual promiscuity and were systematically to blame for the social breakdown of an increasingly modernised Malaysia. Until the mid-1980’s, factory women in headscarves (tudung) were rare and associated with a secular, urbanised lifestyle that sharply contrasted against the more modestly dressed, university-educated women who were inspired by the Islamic resurgence at the time.
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The Brass Crescent Awards and Superior Scribbler Award!

This is what not blogging for the last couple of weeks gives me – a Brass Crescent Award nomination and a Superior Scribbler Award (thank you again Tanglad for this honour)! My infant blog has been nominated for the ‘Best Asian Blog‘, and if you would like to vote for *me* (I’m up against the brilliant The Other Malaysia though, so fat chance I’ll win the category!) visit The Brass Crescent Awards website – so choose wisely, people!

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I know I'm not supermodel material, but please objectify me too! aka my feminist rage against naked calendars

A few nights ago I sat down in a brainstorming session with a group of very eager female Oxford undergrads where we talked about the next Ladyfest Oxford programme next May and about who was going to organise what. You might be pleased to know that yours truly has volunteered to organise a workshop on sexuality in pop culture and its effect on ethnic minority women – yay! I realised how important and urgent the issue of diversity and cultural acceptance is in Britain and the fact that Oxford University – the cradle of many world leaders and intellectuals – has its share of utter racism – it had to be the right place to address such issues.

The meeting produced a range of somewhat interesting, if not bland ideas for the festival: from life drawing-cum-‘love your body’ lessons, belly dancing tutorials (brace yourselves, anti-orientalists!), feminist poetry sessions, film viewing and discussion, and then came naked calendar for charity … and my jaw dropped.

There is a saying that was said very often during religious lessons as I was growing up which was, if inversely attributed to Machiavelli, ‘matlamat tidak menghalalkan cara‘ or “the ends do not justify the means”. In this case the phrase ‘the charitable ends do not justify the sexist means’ rang in my head. How disappointed I was to meet young, educated and very privileged female proponents of the absolutely degrading naked calendar. What right-minded woman would accept ‘fun’ and ‘frivolous’ as justifications for just another form of objectification of themselves and others? As the only graduate student and perhaps being the only firm feminist present at the meeting, I felt like a miserable and prudish unmarried aunty.
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A fatwa against yoga? and how would this reflect on Muslims?

Originally posted on The Other Malaysia and Farish Noor’s Facebook notes!

Since I became an activist at the age of nineteen, I have spent more than two decades of my life defending Muslims and the image of Islam. During my twenty-two years of living in Europe, I must have attended hundreds of conferences, seminars, public debates and lectures where I tried my best to dissuade people from the negative image of Islam that is so prevalent in the international media of late.

But there were moments when it seemed as if this was an uphill struggle where every battle won was soon followed by a string of defeats, thanks to the actions of Muslims who took it upon themselves to ‘defend Islam’ on their own parochial and short-sighted terms; and whose actions and words did untold damage to the image of Muslims. I recall one particularly bitter episode when I was asked to speak about the universalism of Islam – that took place just when the Taliban were occupied with the task of blowing up the Buddha statues of Bamiyan in Afghanistan. It seemed pointless to continue then, and despair has been my lot for the past few years.

Now I find myself again in such a situation, after it was announced that the Fatwa Council of Malaysia has just issued a fatwa declaring that the practice of Yoga is haram and thus forbidden to Muslims. Overnight I was bombarded by emails and sms-es from my Islamist friends in Indonesia where I teach at two Islamic universities, who asked: “What is wrong with you Malaysian Muslims, and haven’t you got anything better to do?” How do I reply to such a question when I am forced to ask it myself?

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