Friday Jottings: Hiding their true colours

AS self-appointed advocates of freedom, equality and democratic rights fall over each other in demonising the Government for seizing rainbow-coloured Swatch watches, their narratives had selectively ignored the crux of the matter.

And even if the authorities had breached their legal limits, mocking them that they would deny Malaysians from viewing the naturally-created spectrum of rainbows and rainbow-coloured items including paddle-pop ice-creams, are indeed infantile.

An example is the CEO of Swatch Group Nick Hayek’s reaction to the seizure and he is quoted, among others as saying: “We wonder how the Home Ministry’s enforcement unit will confiscate the many beautiful natural rainbows that are showing up thousand times a year in the sky of Malaysia.”

Such is the arrogance of the Swiss man that his company had instructed the Malaysian chapter to “replenish the stock and display them on-shelf” as attested by the local marketing manager Sarah Kok.

In other words, without waiting for development on the issue, of whether the Home Ministry’s move was legit or otherwise, or whether the promotion of such watches was sensitive to a large segment of the Malaysian populace, the Swiss company seemed bent on pushing its agenda.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim gave a different perspective to the raid/seizure, saying that it was not about the colour but rather the placement of LGBTQ+ components on the watches.

In other words, even if the watches were not rainbow coloured, as long as it is associated with the promotion of the LGBTQ+, the watches would still have been seized.

But they are rainbow coloured and it has to be noted Swatch had their watches rainbow- coloured to reflect its Pride collection which promotes and support LGBTQ+.

Homosexuality is forbidden in Malaysia and those indulging in it is committing a crime.

However, in reality, it is practised by a segment of the society and generally ignored for as long as it is not promoted and those subscribing to the lifestyle do not expose their activities to the authorities as in the “in your face” kind of display.

In many ways, it is tolerated, even in some of the more conservative Malay community.

For those growing up in such communities in the 60s, 70s and even through to the 80s, would probably recall that some of the Mak Andam, the equivalent of modern-day wedding planners, were transvestites.

 In fact, they were more than mere wedding planners. They were the make-up artists and entertainers, keeping guests and hosts entertained, long after the wedding ceremony and ritual had been completed.

But as it was then and now, it is accepted but not to be promoted. For some it is hypocrisy but for others, it is about tolerance. To the believers, promoting it would incur divine wrath of mega-catastrophic proportion.

Given the backdrop and international movements promoting and demanding for acceptance of the lifestyle, Malaysia, given its diverse make-up is as much if not more exposed to it as any other conservative societies in other parts of the world.

Last year’s Qatar FIFA World Cup is an example of such quandary when teams from Europe demanded that their captains wore rainbow-coloured One Love armbands to reflect their support for the LGBTQ+ and Pride movements. 

Like in Malaysia, Qatar criminalises homosexuality. It stood firm on not allowing the wearing of the One Love Arm bands and any attempt to promote LGBTQ+ during the tournament.

FIFA acquiesced and threatened any player wearing the arm band would be fined or shown the yellow card and with that, plans to wear the arm band in the preliminary rounds were scrapped.

And in a twist of fate or irony, all the teams that demanded for their captains to be allowed to wear the arm band did not go far in the tournament, dropping out after the preliminary and second rounds, making pursuance of their demands in the later stages moot.

For Qatar, it was dealing with a movement that refuses to recognise the sensitivity of the majority (Qatar being a Muslim majority nation) and has no qualm in imposing its belief.

It also demands that any opposition to it be equated to bigotry, hypocrisy, intolerance, chauvinism, gender biasness and inequality.

Many a Western nation had concluded that opposing the movement is an act against human rights and oppression of the minority, to be condemned and vilified.

None saw that their imposition of such a lifestyle and value on Qatar as a total disregard for a nation’s belief system, its sovereignty, pride and dignity.

In Malaysia, with the legislations in place, attempts to impose the “international standards” should be deemed as a disregard for Malaysia’s independence and sovereignty.

Back to the issue of the Swatch watches, since it is to promote Pride and in support of the LGBTQ+, then the company should realise that it can run afoul with local laws and conventions.

Secondly, even if the authorities had not observed the protocols on such seizures and that they are forced to return the watches, the promotion associated with the watches are still in direct confrontation with local laws and sensitivities of the majority.

Of course, it can be questioned as to how does one ascertain that the sensitivities are felt by the majority?

The litmus test would be that none of the elected MPs, or in their political campaigns, had ever stood up against the legislations, let alone denounce them.

Neither did any of the commenters, who smugly quipped about the harnessing of the rainbow in Malaysian sky, dared to address the elephant in the room, let alone denounce the legislations.

In fact, despite their haste to ridicule the authorities over the rainbow, they are fully aware that without the legislation, the issue doesn’t even arise.

Ignored as well is that the rainbow had been hijacked to represent a community.

But they know full well that the majority are still for these legislations, not necessarily that all of them support it, but realising and any attempt to denounce it would be politically suicidal.

And true colours are best not shown.

In the meantime, pot shots are taken at those attempting to uphold the law though they can be overzealous in their pursuits at times.

For others, with no community staking a claim, Catching the Rainbow is as straight as it gets.

  • Shamsul Akmar is an editor at The Malaysian Reserve.