The season to be jholly?

When I saw the images in one whatsapp group I belong to, I thought they were funny in a Malaysian humour kind of way. Malaysians like lame puns and use them to poke fun at serious issues. Just look at the way we abuse Najib’s name.

And soon the media started to cover the story and I found that this was not an individual’s attempt at humour but a store selling “jholly” products with a Christmas theme.

Apom Store is a shop selling products that showcases the quirky side of Malaysian culture (Apom stands for “A Piece of Malaysia”) and has released a line of “Jholly” Christmas gifts featuring a mascot with a resemblance to fugitive businessman Jho Low, the central figure in the 1MDB case.

I was somewhat surprised to read that Hannah Yeoh took exception to this via Twitter and Facebook. This was also picked up by the media.

“Actually I don’t find this funny at all. Christmas is about celebration of the Greatest Gift for mankind, the One who is righteous and perfect in all His ways. Nothing like the 1MDB players at all,” she wrote.

Expanding on this, she expressed disagreement with the notion of associating Christmas with the 1MDB corruption scandal.

However, Yeoh stressed that she was not forcing her religious beliefs on any party and was simply expressing her views.

“Feel free to celebrate Christmas and the holiday season whichever way you choose but don’t deny me the space to point this out as simply not funny.”

For a while I felt I was insensitive to my faith because I had not caught the issue she was raising.

But somehow the matter stayed on my mind and I have come to disagree with her action.

Notwithstanding the fact that this was a merchandising effort that is completely in line with the business model of the shop, I felt her point that Christmas is about Christ is wrong.

The fact that she was reacting to drawings of a fat man in a santa hat, saying “Jho, Jho, Jho” with phrases referencing shopping and drinking already tells me what she identifies as Christmas. And this Christmas is not about Christ.

And to enter this space to proclaim her beliefs and “denounce” what others were practising is rude and insensitive.

She mitigates her action somewhat with her statement, “Feel free to celebrate Christmas and the holiday season whichever way you choose but don’t deny me the space to point this out as simply not funny.”

But even this felt high-handed. Who is she to give permission to others to do what they would for their Christmas? And, is this really her space to express her opinion about what others are doing, in their own space, without harm to anyone (except Jho Low to a very slight extent)? I think not. Not, if her point is that Christmas is about Christ.

At this point you might ask: is this really worth writing an article over?

The thing is, as I was mulling this over, Oktoberfest kept coming to my mind. People wanted to celebrate Oktoberfest. But some religious personalities (or others who claim to represent muslim interests) say to celebrate a drinking festival openly is an affront to them.

And so some state governments banned Oktoberfest.

Oktoberfest is not about Islam. It is not aimed at muslims. It has nothing to do with them. But they want to encroach on Oktoberfest and demand their sensitivities be respected.

And I felt Hannah was doing the same even though she put it nicely.

And I want to speak out against this. We are multi-cultural, multi-racial and multi-religious and if we cannot respect other people’s space, even though it offends us, but are caught up on our own space and our rights and our sensitivities, then we contribute to the division.

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