Loyalty is not herd mentality!

Professor Tan Sri Dato' Dzulkifli Abdul Razak
My View - The Sun Daily
December 30, 2015

THERE is a clear distinction between "loyalty" and "herd mentality". The former involves "high-order thinking (HOT) before deciding" to give credence to the state or quality of being loyal. The latter demands no such thing because as the term implies it relies on animal instinct to stay afloat or to "survive" by sticking with the crowd. When Tan Sri Abu Zahar Ujang as Senate president said: "I do not want the Dewan Negara to be labelled a 'rubber stamp'," it resonated closely with what "herd mentality" is all about. He was encouraging senators to speak up which hopefully reflects HOT.

His reminder is timely as there seems to be a blurring between "loyalty" and "herd mentality". In the land reclamation controversy in Penang, for example, the five lawmakers who refused to vote against the motion were criticised. They allegedly broke away from the agreed pre-council decision without notifying the "herd". This was dubbed a "betrayal of trust". Looking at it positively, the five must have performed some HOT persuading them to change their minds in asserting their conscionable rights. This is expected in any vibrant democratic ecosystem. But then, even in a matured democracy like the UK, David Cameron too goofed as headlined in the Daily Mail's front-page: "Back me or I will sack you" – meant to warn the euro-sceptics in early June this year.

The polemical stance surrounding the use of e-cigarettes is a close example, going by the official statement that the government's policy on vaping stays since the Cabinet had decided that regulating sales of vape products is sufficient. Admittedly, the Health Ministry is not the "sole deciding authority" and there are "other ministries and agencies like the police, Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Ministry, and the local councils" when it comes to the banning of vape products.

What is missing is the tacit rule that these agencies and ministries are expected to toe the government (Cabinet) line, right or wrong. As such, it is inconceivable that Consumerism Ministry will initiate a ban after the Health Ministry took the "rubber stamp" approach by acting against its "expert committee". Never mind if it raises many discrepancies that would undermine its moral authority and trust to regulate effectively, let alone control the issue before it descends into a more confusing scenario.

One such scenario is already emerging. The National Fatwa Council has declared categorically that e-cigarettes or vaping is forbidden or haram. Its chairman, Prof Emeritus Tan Sri Abdul Shukor Husin, disclosed this after the special conference (muzakarah attended by state muftis, deputy muftis and members appointed by the Conference of Rulers) of the Fatwa Committee where he took two hours to explain how the decision was arrived at taking into consideration various aspects, including the viewpoints of Islamic law, medical and scientific findings. All concur that e-cigarettes were wasteful and harmful to health.

Abdul Shukor even highlighted that the health aspects took into account information from the World Health Organisation. Hence the edict was issued based on the Qaedah Saad al-Zarala method, namely to prevent something far worse in the future. A sound health doctrine.

Despite such enlightening and professional consultations involving multi-stakeholders, the Health Ministry refuses to recognise it and remains adamant not to ban. "We will not ban it. We will stick by the Cabinet decision to regulate sales," said the deputy health minister. The larger impact of doing so from many angles, religious or otherwise, seems unimportant. Not only did the Health Ministry ignore its "expert committee", this time it snubbed another "expert committee" that generally supported the ministry's expert opinions. What is more, for Muslims, notably those in the Health Ministry, to arbitrarily sideline what is haram as declared by the Fatwa Council in preference to what the Cabinet has decided borders on "ignorance-arrogance". Especially so, when the Fatwa Council as a specialised government agency has taken the trouble to present thorough, thoughtful and inclusive deliberations far beyond the Islamic framework.

With the new added "fatwa" dimension, all eyes are now on the minister (in-charge of Islamic affairs) in the Prime Minister's Department to make his stance public like he did in proclaiming that Malaysia is non-secular. Would he choose to speak up in asserting that e-ciggies are indeed haram? Or would it be easier to hang out with the "herd" and "rubber stamp" what the Health Ministry has opted for?