Monday 15 June 2015

Kinabalu nudists: Don't cover up good sense

By Fui K. Soong, Published The Straits Times, 13 Jun 2015

CRISIS often brings out emotions that rule over rationality because fear of the unfamiliar is an unknown.

A flurry of chats among my relatives pertaining to the recent earthquake in Sabah sparked an interesting point for us to ponder upon the many ideals we hang on to.

When an unknown fear eclipses our senses, do we believe it or continue to follow rational thinking?

A cousin of mine living in Canada lamented the way local media deliberately twisted news of the remand of "some happy tourists" in Sabah to suggest the archaic parochialism so often stereotyped by narrow-minded right-wing writers.

Right away, words like "strictly conservative Muslim country" and other associated words conveniently come into play. Their contradiction is both blinding and glaring at the same time.

Is the concept of individual liberalism justified over the control of society?

I subscribe to the early philosophers of the Enlightenment as the movement has, without doubt, brought about phenomenal societal changes in modern times.

Women's rights comes to mind as an important milestone, for example.

The recent tragedy on Mount Kinabalu ended 18 precious lives, and drove villagers into a frenzy of fear that saw some abandoning their homes as tremors continue to shake the ground.

Some foreign media, angered by the fact that the Malaysian government had seemingly acted in a barbaric fashion by arresting the nudists for "causing the earthquake", started attacking the local authorities for their actions.

Clearly, it is to make the Malaysian authorities look archaic.

To top things off, when Sabah Deputy Chief Minister Joseph Pairin Kitingan and Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Masidi Manjun - both with legal backgrounds - called for "justice", they ended with a tirade of name-calling between them and the so-called mastermind of the nudist camp, Emil Kaminski (a Canadian national known to organise "group nudism" at iconic locations around the world as part of his - presumably - expression of individualism).

What do we do when the fervour of our beliefs - whether you believe that the mountain is sacred or that your individual expression precedes all else - crosses the line?

When does one say individual freedoms override the weight of society's combined value system?

In the case of Mount Kinabalu or Aki Nabalu, which means "the revered place of the dead" to the indigenous peoples of Sabah, stripping naked and purportedly urinating over the top of the mountain is an act akin to someone urinating on your ancestor's grave.

It may not have caused exact harm, but you would want to ask for justice over the matter, nonetheless. Simply put, it is a violation.

Call it bad luck or misalignment of the stars, the act by the nudists coincided with a seismic movement of the Eurasian, Philippine and Australian tectonic plates.

The difference here is that instead of violating one ancestor, they violated thousands of ancestors.

Some Western media defending individualism would be careful to push the line of fervour and the law, for one must be clear over one's agenda.

If one's agenda is to argue that nudism is an acceptable art form, then one must also concede that there has to be space for other people's civil liberties to practise ancient beliefs and cultures.

When the nudists were remanded, the decent thing was to ask the nudists for an open and public apology - rather than continue to ridicule people about having to sacrifice animals to appease the gods - or some other customary compensation demanded by the villagers.

Right now, the authorities have to deal with mob rage among the villagers.

You can't blame the authorities for coming down hard on the nudists as society, in this case, demands some form of justice.

Despite the people's highly emotional state, we also know that there is no law to punish people for causing earthquakes.

In our anger, we have not lost our marbles, but a sincere apology would go a long way, thank you very much.

Poking the bear right now will not help the nudists in their rather exposed situation, so to speak.


Fui K. Soong is the CEO and director of the Centre for Strategic Engagement (Cense), a public policy consulting and communications firm.

No clothes, no shame? 'Rite of passage for some'
The Sunday Times, 14 Jun 2015

Kota Kinabalu - A group of Western tourists recently caused a furore when they stripped and took pictures of themselves naked on Mount Kinabalu in Sabah.

But it is not the first time that famous tourist attractions, some of which are religious in nature, have witnessed such nude antics.

In recent years, many travellers - including Western gap-year students - have been using such places as a backdrop for more daring holiday snaps. And some have been in trouble with the law for exposing themselves in public.

In February, Cambodian guards arrested two American women for taking revealing pictures of themselves at the Preah Khan temple, which is part of the Angkor temple complex.

The local authorities said Lindsey Adams, 22, and her sister Leslie, 20, "lowered their pants to their knees and took pictures of their buttocks". They received a six-month suspended sentence, were fined 1,000,000 riel ($327) each, and were banned from returning to the country for four years.

Ms Chau Sun Kerya, a spokesman for the Apsara Authority, which manages the sprawling complex, said the women's actions were offensive because the area is considered sacred ground. "Their inappropriate activities affect the sanctity of the place," she told AFP.

That case came barely two weeks after the arrests of three Frenchmen in their 20s who were caught taking naked photos inside the Banteay Kdei temple, also part of the Angkor complex. They were convicted of two charges - public exposure and making pornography.

They, too, received a suspended six-month prison sentence and were banned from re-entering Cambodia for four years. The court also ordered the three men to pay a fine of 1,000,000 riel each.

In the wake of these cases, the Apsara Authority has drawn up a code of conduct for tourists visiting the ancient ruins. Visitors are told to keep their clothes on while touring the sites, and to refrain from touching carvings and sitting on fragile structures, among other things.

In Peru, there has also been a string of cases of people posing nude at Machu Picchu, a 15th-century Incan citadel in the Andes Mountains.

Four American tourists were detained in March, and two Australians and two Canadians were also held for the same offence.

Others, however, have escaped getting caught. One man, who shared his photo on Facebook, can be seen standing naked in front of Rio de Janeiro's Christ the Redeemer statue.

Another man has a photo of himself in the nude at Australia's Uluru, or Ayers Rock. Others have done it at the Great Wall of China and Paris' Eiffel Tower.

Mount Kinabalu, a Unesco World Heritage Site and popular climbing destination, is considered sacred to tribal groups on Borneo, and many Malaysians were incensed after photos of the nude tourists, taken on May 30, circulated on the Internet.

Four of the tourists, who were convicted of committing an "obscene act in a public place", left Sabah on a flight to Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

Sabah Police Commissioner Jalaluddin Abdul Rahman said Canadian siblings Lindsey and Danielle Petersen, Briton Eleanor Grace Hawkins and Dutch national Dylan Thomas Snel boarded a Kuala Lumpur-bound flight at 12.35pm.

Their embassy officials have reportedly arranged for their flights home from Kuala Lumpur.

Police, meanwhile, are on the lookout for six others who were part of the group. They have been facing problems in tracking down the tourists because the culprits had not given their proper names to Sabah Parks before trekking up the mountain.

Mr Simon Calder, senior travel editor for the Independent newspaper, told BBC that those punished for taking revealing photos of themselves at tourist sites have only themselves to blame.

"When you step off into another country, remember that it has its own rules and you should observe them. You might not agree with what you consider conservative cultural beliefs, but that is not relevant," he said.

"The top of Mount Kinabalu is not some empty place. It is a rite of passage for many Malaysians to climb it. There would have been hundreds of people around (when the photos were taken)."

Dr Sandi Mann, senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Central Lancashire, said taking risque photos appears to have become a Western gap-year rite of passage for some.

"There seems to be a challenge for people going travelling to get more and more extreme. Standing next to a wall naked would not have half the impact of a naked body juxtaposed with a famous monument."

But trying to attract attention online with such photos is not only "sad", she told BBC, but also defeats the purpose of travelling.

"(They are) trying to demonstrate to people on Facebook, Twitter and other sites that they have had 'wild experiences' rather than actually experiencing a culture, which is the whole point of travel in the first place," said Dr Mann.

4 Kinabalu nudists to be deported: Sabah court
Western tourists also fined for committing obscene act on mountain
The Straits Times, 13 Jun 2015

KOTA KINABALU - Four Western tourists were ordered deported from Malaysia yesterday after pleading guilty to obscenity charges for taking nude photos on Mount Kinabalu, an act some in the country blamed for causing last week's deadly earthquake that killed 18 people.

The defendants - Eleanor Hawkins of Britain, 24, Dutchman Dylan Snel, 23, and Canadian brother and sister Danielle, 22, and Lindsey Petersen, 23 - were arrested earlier this week in the wake of the June 5 quake.

A court in Kota Kinabalu, capital of the state of Sabah on Borneo island, sentenced them to three days' jail starting from when they were arrested on Tuesday, meaning their term had been served.

They also were fined RM5,000 (S$1,800) and ordered deported for committing an "obscene act in a public place", which can carry a three-month jail term.

It was not immediately clear when they would be deported.

"It is a wake-up call to tourists not to ignore local traditions and culture," the state's Tourism Minister Masidi Manjun told Agence-France Presse (AFP).

"Since they pleaded guilty and showed remorse, it is only fair that they are let off with a fine by the court."

The 4,095m peak, a World Heritage Site and popular climbing destination, is considered sacred to tribal groups on Borneo, and many Malaysians were incensed after the photos taken on May 30 were circulated online.

The four convicted yesterday were among a larger group of tourists believed by the authorities to have taken part.

Police told AFP yesterday that they were still seeking five others, but that some were thought to have left Sabah.

The defendants were hustled into court through a media scrum, which included reporters from Britain who arrived to follow Hawkins' fate.

The two women were handcuffed together, as were the men, all four looking nervous.

The court was told that the nudists challenged one another to take off their clothes to see who could withstand the summit's chilly air, ignoring the admonishment of their local mountain guide.

The two men took off all their clothes while the two women went topless, the charge sheet said.

Some have suggested the act angered tribal spirits believed to dwell on the mountain, causing the 6.0-magnitude earthquake.

The tremor, rare for Malaysia, sent landslides and boulders raining down just as more than 150 hikers were near the summit enjoying the sunrise.


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