Beer Today, Dogs Tomorrow?

Posted on September 19, 2017



At best, I would consider myself a social drinker, a very occasional glass of wine with a meal and at most, a few pints of beer in a year and never to the point of intoxication. Thus, the reason I view with great concern the cancellation by DBKL (KL City Hall) of the Better Beer Festival in Kuala Lumpur which was slated to be held on the weekend of 6th and 7th October, 2017, is not selfish but for the direction that this country is heading.

I am not concerned that religionists raise objections or even organize protests against events deemed “sinful” as this is within anyone’s right to do so, but, for a local authority that is supposed to regulate based on health, public order and safety criteria, to fulfill the demands of any religious groups is going beyond its mandate in a pluralistic society like Malaysia.

The objection to the annual Better Beer Festival was raised by the Islamist political party PAS in their news platform HarakahDaily on the ground that “it is something shameful for an Islamic country like Malaysia, when treacherous programmes can easily gain a place in the society’s heart and it is allowed to be organised without obstruction.”  They further added that Kuala Lumpur may become known by the world as the biggest centre of vice in Asia as such events can lead to crime, free sex, rape and so on. They also warned, “That there could be extremist actions when society is unable to accept the treachery and feel under pressure.”

Come on, let’s get real. A weekend event in a posh shopping centre in Kuala Lumpur to showcase 250 varieties of craft beer (beers brewed by small breweries) from around the world can lead to free sex and rapes on the floor of the shopping centre and make KL known as the vice capital of Asia? I doubt so.  What it is making us is the biggest laughingstock in the world with such outlandish claims.

A Low-Hanging Fruit

But there is no denying that binge drinking and alcoholism is a problem to many families and certain communities in Malaysia and the promotion of alcoholic beverages to the general population can lead to negative social effects. Personally, I support efforts to make alcohol consumption less accessible to vulnerable groups either by raising the cost or banning its sale to underage persons.

There are already laws in place to deal with problem drinking and surely that would be a better way to deal with it than to prohibit it. Apart from the prohibition on Muslims to consume alcohol, which is punishable under the Syariah law, the civil laws criminalize public drunkenness, the selling of alcohol to minors and drunken driving. If there are public order concerns about the Better Beer Festival, DBKL should set the parameters for the organizer to ensure that the event would not lead to such public disorders, not outright banning it and denying the right and enjoyment of responsible social drinkers for which this event is clearly targeting.

The fact that excessive alcohol consumption can lead to social ills and many of Malaysia’s religious groups, not just the Muslims, either deem it as sinful or not something to be promoted, makes the banning of the Better Beer Festival a non-issue or an action that is applauded by many. It is a low-hanging fruit for the religionists to rally support against, using as a front, alcohol’s negative effects when their real agenda is the Islamization of Malaysia.

What is Next?

My concern is that now emboldened with this “success”, what is their next target? Would it be the closure of all pubs and bars and the eventual outlawing of alcohol? The example of the US attempt in the 1920s to prohibit alcohol consumption, termed “the noble experiment”, was a miserable failure. Far from achieving its goal of reducing crime, it increased criminal activities and enriched criminal warlords. It drove the production and consumption of alcohol underground where it was beyond the control of the Government and beyond taxation, making it cheaper for consumers.

Is alcohol the only item the Islamists find offensive?  What is next? Banning the consumption of pork, the keeping of dogs, the display of any graven images or symbols (like statues, sculptures, idols, crosses), unIslamic attires, unIslamic music and instruments and non-Islamic festivals like Christmas, Thaipusam, Wesak, Chinese New Year and Kaamatan (Harvest)? As it is now, we are already facing the creeping Islamization of our public services like dress codes at government departments, education curriculums, local authority policies and guidelines.

Protecting the Minorities

When are we going to draw a clear line between what is a religious conviction and what is civil (common to the general population)? Are we interested in protecting the rights of all citizens, especially the minorities among us? Or are we willing to allow the homogenization of every citizen into the image of what is acceptable to the extremists among us and thereby destroying the diversity of our society?

The banning of the Better Beer Festival is not a public order issue nor is it a tourism issue but the preservation of Malaysia as a multi-cultural nation where the rights of every minority is protected so long as the exercising of such rights does not impinge the rights of others. Anyone not into drinking beer need not attend the festival and no one should be forced to drink just as no one should force their convictions on others.

In the words of Ayn Rand, the novelist and philosopher, “Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual).” If we want others to respect our rights, then respect the rights of others, even if we disagree with them. Do to others what we would want others to do unto us.