Zainul Ariffin: Truth about Technology

Truth about technology by zainul ariffin nst 12 jun 2011

By Zainul Arifin

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THERE has been a sideshow of sorts following the limited release of a sex video that some allege has opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in it.

It is now in wide release, in parts and in full, over the worldwide web, and some claim that there are also high-definition DVD copies floating around.

Anwar, his family, friends and supporters have denied it was him in the video. He had even made a police report against it.

I believe there is never a need to find out who the person in the video is, in the first place. Of course engaging the services of prostitutes is illegal, but who is to say the woman is one? And if we care to admit it, there are probably tens of thousands of pornographic materials out there and all the authorities want to do is to get rid of them. They do not bother finding out who is behind all this porn stuff. They seize and destroy the material and charge the distributors.

Politically, however, it is another matter. Anwar and his accusers are judged by different standards.

His supporters claim it is a conspiracy, which it is, of course. Three men admitted to be behind the initial showing of the video. Anwar and his supporters want to link them to Umno and its leadership.

Yet one of the most interesting things about the incident, and this is where the sideshow element comes in, is how many people seem to be talking about the issue. Many, speaking in Anwar’s defence, are tripping over each other to discredit the medium and the messengers, but surprisingly few dismissed the content.

Among his supporters, many have chosen to highlight side issues such as the legality or illegality of the distribution of the material. Some have also sought the higher moral ground by suggesting how dirty politics, and by extension Umno, has become. The liberals among us say that they do not care what a person does in private.

But by being legalistic and convolutedly confusing, they have instead thickened the plot.

The latest was newly re-elected Pas president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, who said the video cannot be used as a witness to someone’s morality since it is metal, and not human. I suppose he was referring to the metal oxides used in video discs or tapes, in which case he is correct.

Four witnesses of unquestionable character could testify on someone’s character and morals, he said.

True, while a video cannot be a witness or charge someone, it surely can be corroborating evidence. Realistically, catching someone on tape, for instance dipping his hand in a cookie jar, is as good as a signed confession that he did so, I think. No?

It seems now, at least to me, it is immaterial whether it is Anwar or not in the video. An ulama is now taking things to another level — making a fatwa of sorts that flies in the face of logic, at least to my legally and theologically untrained mind. I am not sure if Hadi was referring to this particular case or he was making a general rule.

What if someone were caught on camera in an act of robbery, or worse, rape? Will the videos be allowed as evidence?

Should we, and Islam, be receptive of a technology that can lead us to the truth and justice? The four witnesses of men of unquestionable character is to prevent someone from being victimised or wrongly accused. It remains the gold standard, of course. Yet logically, surely a high-definition video recording, in living colour and audio, for example, can come close.

What then do we make of DNA technology in criminal investigations, which can prove to a point of certainty to whom some bodily samples belong to. How about fingerprint technology?

Lately, there is face recognition technology that is improving in leaps and bound and coming close to DNA technology in accuracy. For instance, it can identify a person in all manner and quality of video or picture with almost certainty. Can that be accepted?

Should all these be dismissed, too, because they are metal or plastic or bits and bytes in ether and not human?

What about contracts or oaths done on paper? Are they not valid because they are made of wood pulp?

I am not certain if there are legal implications, either in the civil or syariah courts, over what Hadi said, or they are just for the political environment that we are in now.

Many of us do not really care for the video — it is divisive and disgusting. We would rather that it go away. And we understand the need of politics and the desire to sweep problems away. But in the pursuit of political influence I suppose one should not be to hasty in matters of religious edicts.

Maybe videos cannot be used as evidence, as suggested by Hadi, but it should come from other ulamas as well. Hadi is both a politician and an ulama and this can be complicating. Some may have reason to wonder which side of him is talking. (Excerpt from an article in New Sunday Times  Truth about technology by zainul ariffin nst 12 jun 2011)



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