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Stop the KK Witch-hunt to save Malaysia, Ringgit and Madani - Madius

27 March 2024


Some politicians and opinion leaders try to frame the polemic over the Allah-worded socks as one of non-Muslims dictating what should constitute offences to Muslims. This is a red herring as most of the objections are not on the offence, but the proportionality of punishment.


As a Sabahan with many Muslim friends and relatives, I fully empathise with Muslims’ anger and sadness upon finding the word Allah on the stockings. We should all adhere to the wisdom that ‘to each his own’ and respect every religious congregation or cultural community’s right to decide what constitute offensive acts.  I too feel offended whenever people who are non-Christian and non-Borneo native patronisingly tell us that ‘all religions prohibit consumption of alcohol’, not knowing that role of wine in holy communion or the centrality of rice wine (tapai, tuak), rice spirit (Montokud, Langkau) and palm wine (Bahar) in native cultures and folk beliefs.


The Issue is Proportionality, not offence


The crux of the matter in the persisting witch-hunt on KK Supermart is however proportionality, a key principle in the rule of law. Disproportionate punishments are unjust, and the resultant injustice provokes disobedience of laws.


Causing a person’s death is a grave crime, but why do we have different punishments for that in the Penal Code? The penalties vary from death or 30-40 years of imprisonment and whipping for murder [Section 302], maximum 30 years of imprisonment with or without fine for culpable homicide with intention [Section 304 (a)], maximum 10 years of imprisonment, fine or both for culpable homicide without intention [Section 304(b)] and maximum two years of imprisonment, fine or both for ‘causing death by negligence’ [Section 304A].  


The key criterion here in determining severity of punishment is intention, not public wrath. Unintended harms must be punished less than the intended ones. Negligence must not be equated to malice. This is why we have laws and courts to determine facts including presence of malice. 


Did KK Mart or its supplier Xin Jian Chang Sdn Bhd intentionally sell or import the Allah-worded socks? Both the KK Mart and Xin Jiang Chang have denied that and apologised immediately. Why is their negligence treated as malice? Why demand or instruct both to close down? 

If disproportionality can be justified in the name of religion, then UMNO Youth chief Akmal Saleh must demand an apology from China for allowing Mu Mian Qing Hosiery Co Ltd in Yiwu, Zhejiang Province to produce those Allah-worded socks. 


Akmal should press Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Mohamad Hassan, also his party’s deputy chair, to summon China’s Ambassador for an explanation and to boycott China if Malaysia does not get her a satisfactory answer. 


In fact, shouldn’t Malaysia speak up for the Muslim world, since, in the Foreign Minister’s own words, “printing the holy word of “Allah” on socks directly insults Muslims everywhere. It is a desecration of the central belief of more than 1.5 billion people.”? 


Of course, reasonable Malaysians do not actually expect the Foreign Minister to act disproportionately against China which is everywhere in Malaysia’s economy from the East Coast Rail Line (ECRL) to Forest City because that would be an economic disaster.


An Opportunity to Promote Inclusion


Why are then KK and Xin Jiang Chang being attacked disproportionately? Why are even denouncements of over-reaction slammed on the pretext of defending Islam, subtly implying that such criticisms were made by non-Muslims because they don’t understand Islam? (Exactly opposite to their denial, this line is subtly racialising the issue)


Sadly, these are done by leaders of government parties, not just Akmal of UMNO Youth, Mohd


Fortunately, we have also heard sober and compassionate voices from within the Muslim community that prevent the issue from being further racialised.



Datuk Ameer Ali Mydin asked, “both KK Mart and the vendor have apologised. What else do you expect them to do?”  Most impressively, within UMNO, its Johor Youth chief Noor Azleen Ambro, invites Malaysians to think positively, “if we can accept that it was a genuine and honest mistake”, then the incident opens up an opportunity for mutual understanding.


To counter the bad press and rebuild goodwill, perhaps KK (whose boss Dato’ KK Chua is a Bornean Malaysian from Sarawak) and Xin Jian Chang can sponsor charity works targeting the Muslims, with the support of Jabatan Kemajuan Islam Malaysia (JAKIM) and Mufti offices. 


To prevent repetition of such incidents, perhaps KK and Xin Jian Chang can review their standard operating procedure (SOP) to have an ‘equity, diversity and inclusion’ (EDI) quality control officer to look out for and eliminate offensive products and practices, and a reward mechanism for any staff reporting them.


Perhaps this should be expanded throughout the business sector that cross-cultural sensitivity is more consciously nurtured through EDI training as part of the “Environmental, Social and Governance” (ESG) best practices for Malaysian firms. Here, the National Human Rights Commissions (Suhakam), Ministry of National Unity and JAKIM can all play a role.  In fact, we should promote this to political parties and NGOs which, unlike businesses, often have incentives to offend others to score brownie points. 


More than understanding, this can be an opportunity to promote inclusion across the board, in line with the Government’s MADANI value system.  


Adverse Impacts on Malaysia, Ringgit and Madani


I hope Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim can see the danger of prolonging the KK witchhunt and order five ministers in-charge of (a) national unity; (b) Islamic affairs; (c) home affairs; (d) investment, trade and industry; and (e) domestic trade and cost of living to put their heads together to deescalate and end this crisis.


Let the fire burn, and the collateral damage would be Malaysia, Ringgit and the Madani Government, alongside KK and Xin Jian Chang.

The witch-hunt can bring greater fear of non-Muslims towards Islam, but not more love or respect. This is bad for both Malaysia and Islam. In fact, many Borneo Malaysians increasingly find Malaya a horrifying foreign land. 


The witch-hunt will defeat the Government’s efforts to bring in foreign investment and stabilise Ringgit. We have been told that Ringgit is undervalued, as our fundamentals are strong and only market confidence is weak. 


My foreign friends in the business community are watching the developments in horror. If negligence can lead to a death sentence for a retail chain that is planning to go for IPO, what would protect their investment from rouge competitors or extorting law-enforcers? What would they take the risk of building up a business only to be destroyed or harvested by others? More than losing foreign investments, we may see capital flights from even domestic investors.


Finally, the witch hunt will hurt the Madani Government in GE16 if not earlier. Even with economic growth, a moderate government in Malaysia will have a tough time satisfying various segment of voters. If the Ringgit continues to plummet, and the non-Muslims feel helpless before Muslim vigilantism, one can expect capital flights and low turnout. With the Kota Kubu Baru by-election in the corner, things already look a bit similar to Tanjung Piai.


Geographically Speaking East Malaysia is the Mainland Malaysia which I am going to refer to as the other Malaysia


If the ethno-populism in Malaya is not put under control, notwithstanding the government’s hard work in courting foreign investments, Malaysia will gradually lose the race to Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand.


To avoid being dragged to the bottom by Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak should cultivate a clear branding as the Other Malaysia which are geographically identified as Mainland Malaysia, one that is reasonable, stable, inclusive, and at ease with diversity. 


We should prepare ourselves to attract both foreign investments coming to Malaysia and also domestic investments leaving Malaya. What we lack in infrastructure and human resources, we shall make it up with our openness. 


While we Borneans and or Malaysian Mainlanders are not good in producing grand narratives and slogans, we have been the real “Madani” (at least in compassion, respect and trust) country even before Malaysia was formed. Moderation is our middle name.


I hope Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Hajiji Nor and Sarawak Premier Tan Sri Abang Jo can see both the crisis and opportunity we are in. 


Both states should aggressively enhance EDI and cosmopolitanism at home and set up trade and investment office overseas. If Malaya insists to play with fire, Borneo must grow faster as a safe haven for investments and talents.

Datuk Seri Panglima Wilfred Madius Tangau,

Member of Parliament for P170 Tuaran, 

Honorary President of United Progressive Kinabalu Organisation (UPKO)





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