Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004


@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

“Immoral” rock concerts were banned in Malaysia. An “immoral” gay group was disqualified from participating in the Philippine elections. Immorality was blamed for the natural disasters that hit Indonesia this year. It seems public authorities are playing the morality card to uphold the dominant social order in many Southeast Asian countries.

To protect the morals of society, the youth arm of Pan Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS Youth) proposed the banning of the Michael Learns to Rock reunion concert in Malaysia last August. This is the same political party which banned the concerts of “indecent” music stars like Beyonce, Avril Lavigne and Gwen Stefani in Malaysia.

Malaysian Muslims also weren’t allowed to watch the Black Eyed Peas concert because the show was sponsored by an alcohol company.

PAS Youth accused the foreign artists of corrupting the minds of the public. The group claimed that these types of concerts “will not help motivate the people to become good citizens, but instead will weaken their morals and mental strength, and at the same time will drag them down to drown in the turbulence of lust.”

For promoting same-sex relationships, which are contrary to religious beliefs, the Philippine Commission on Elections has rejected the petition of gay group Ang Ladlad to be recognized as a party that can run in the 2010 elections. The poll body used religious texts like the Bible and Koran, instead of legal documents, to justify its ruling.

The Ang Ladlad group was described by the government election body as an immoral party because it espouses same-sex marriage and other equality demands of the Lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender or LGBT sector.

Indonesia’s Communication and Information Minister Tifatul Sembiring surprised many when he asserted during a prayer meeting that the powerful quake that rocked Indonesia this year was due to declining public morals.

During an interview he said, “Television broadcasts that destroy morals are plentiful in this country and therefore disasters will continue to occur.” He cited the Indonesia-made porn DVDs which are available in street markets as proof of public decadence. His statement about the immorality-disaster link was supported by the influential Indonesian Ullema Council.

The concert ban in Malaysia, the anti-LGBT ruling in the Philippines, and the immorality equals earthquake thesis in Indonesia confirm the dominance of traditional and conservative values in modern Southeast Asian societies. Despite the economic and technological advances in the region, medieval thinking still reigns in many countries. Government bodies are still ruled by old bureaucrats who cling to feudal values and beliefs. Tech-savvy leaders like Tifatul Sembiring still espouse anti-scientific views.

Church leaders are expected to remind the faithful about the need to follow the teachings of their religion. On the other hand, public officials are not required to subscribe to a particular religious doctrine in fulfilling their constitutional duties. In fact, they are disallowed from using their power and position to advance and impose their religious beliefs on the public.

Secular institutions and public officials usurp the role of the church when they act as guardians of public morals. Their mandate is not to serve as spokespersons and proxies of church leaders. They should not behave like morality cops who dictate what is right and wrong for everybody. Asian countries may have won their political independence decades ago but many are still not free from the clutch of religious bigotry.

To maintain peace and order, governments always devise procedures to control the activities of their citizens. The morality card is being played to produce desirable attitudes, sentiments and behavior among the population.

Perhaps the morality issue is used today in response to the worsening global economic crisis. Governments are afraid that the jobless and hungry segments of the population will express their frustration through radical actions. By invoking morality, governments aim to discourage dissidence.

By banning concerts, denying equal rights and blaming immoral behavior for the occurrence of natural disasters, repressive governments with democratic trappings are hinting that they are ready to displease a certain segment of the population if it will serve their political interests.

Today, immorality is equated with rock stars, same-sex relationships and pornography. Soon the sin of immorality might be extended to all those who dare oppose the policies of the government. Moralist politicians want to normalize the practice of naming things they dislike as immoral. It is important to prevent the morality cops from monopolizing the debate on what constitutes moral and immoral behavior.

When hypocrites accuse our favorite rock stars of being immoral, we should advise them that they can choose not to listen to these immoral entertainers. When gay groups are disqualified from running for public office, we should appeal that all corrupt politicians should be prevented too from holding a public position.

Asserting equality demands is a moral right. Rejecting bigotry is a moral stand. Defying unjust policies is a moral act. If we are labeled as immoral because we refuse to surrender our principles, then by all means, let’s prove that sometimes promoting immorality can be the most subversive act we can achieve in our lifetime.

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