Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Love Spies

Kuala Lumpur is famous for its beautiful women.

Malaysia's Taliban?

As Muslim countries go, Malaysia has a pretty positive image in the west. Sun, sea and spicy noodles - a land of intriguing but unthreatening exoticism. Hence its tourist slogan 'Malaysia, truly Asia'.

Dig a little deeper and you find a strange, and increasingly puritanical society. On Tuesday this austerity topped out with the formation of a voluntary vice squad, the 'Mat Skodeng'. These semi-official snoopers will tip off the state religious department about unmarried couples indulging in 'khalwat'. In Islamic law, khalwat means 'close proximity' - i.e. kissing and cuddling. Anyone convicted can be fined, or even jailed.

According to State Islam Committee chairman Datuk Wahid, the new love spies will be recruited from hotel staff, enabling them to eavesdrop on guests. Or they could be janitors, able to peer into cars. Other spies will furtively patrol city parks, looking for twosomes spooning under the tamarind trees.

Perhaps embarrassed at the image this gives the world, the government emphasises that khalwat does not apply to non-Islamic couples. Fun-seeking, high-spending tourists will still be able to slap and tickle as much as they like. Only Muslims - like the young Malay woman recently fined $1000, for lingering in a foreign soccer player's hotel room - will be of interest to the carnal KGB.

Yet you could be forgiven a certain skepticism about the "Muslims only" pronouncement. Especially if you are 62 year old American Randal Barhart. Last October, Randal and his wife were woken, at 2am, by policeman battering on the door of their Langkawi retirement home. The cops were, convinced they had encountered a hotbed of khalwat, and demanded to see the marriage certificate of the sexegenarian Christian couple; Mrs Barhart was so terrified she flew to America.

Given these developments, the Kuala Lumpur government might need to change the country's tourist slogan. How about: "Malaysia, truly Afghanistan"?

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