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A Lesson on Morality

(The Nuremberg Trials – the accused was judged on legal grounds or on moral gounds? Image source:

What is the right thing to do?

When I was in my 3rd year of law school, we had a section in jurisprudence where we “argued” on the difference between “do you do the right things?” and “do you have the right to do things?” One talks about morality – are you doing the right things whilst the other talks about law – do you have the rights to do things.

Each relates to each other very closely and often it is left to individualistic interpretations. Whilst law is clear and definitive, morality is on the other hand is subjective. What is right to one person may not be the same for others. Even in law, judges in legal history have been confronted with the question on whether they need to apply the law strictly or interpret it with the right sense of morality.

During the Nuremberg trials in 1945, the Allied forces tried prominent German leaders and found some of them guilty and were sentenced to death. This is despite the fact that some of the German leaders who were under trial argued that they did not do anything wrong under the German law. Their acts whilst may have been immoral, it was not illegal.

When the Berlin Wall came down and the East German guards were on trial for shooting people who tried to cross over to West Germany, the same question were asked and the answer remained that what they did was not illegal under the law.

Morality in Malaysia has its many faces as well – one standard for rich and powerful and another for the poor and weak. And it is more apparent with the latest fiasco of YB Elizabeth Wong. Read the headlines on the mainstream media and we are confronted with the question of morality once again.

From theStar:-

Selangor PAS meanwhile said action should be taken against Wong if investigations found her guilty of any moral wrongdoing.

Question: Is there prescribed action for moral wrongdoing? Is it encoded in some law somewhere? Is it defined as immoral in the eyes of the accused? What about in the eyes of the general public?

Selangor opposition chief Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Khir Toyo commended Bukit Lanjan assemblyman and state exco member Elizabeth Wong for resigning from both her posts. “It’s the right thing to do,” said Dr Mohd Khir.

Question: What is the right to do anyway? Isn’t Khir jumping the gun by prescribing a penalty (the demand for resignation) before the case is properly investigated? What would happen if it was found after investigation that the Elizabeth has been drugged and then photographed without her consent? Does she still be considered as have done something immoral even though there is no consent or knowledge on her?

Khir’s demand for “blood” is understandable. He is not demanding for resignation because he has been disturbed by this act of immoral but rather he is doing it because it presents an opportunity for BN to grab another seat in the State Assembly.

I think it is right to repeat what was said in the TheStar (which nails the point):-

Despite everything we say about the right to privacy and our public position that Wong did no wrong, it will be hypocritical if those concerned still insist that she pay the price with her resignation.

Let’s admit and acknowledge that for a wide section of the public — the vast majority of us normal human beings — there are boyfriends and girlfriends and intimate moments of great privacy.

If a partner violates that privacy for any reason, the other party is not to blame — the blame lies with the person who broke that trust, not the person who gave it.

If that is what we believe as a society, then Wong’s offer to resign should be rejected. If we believe that and still accept her resignation, then we are hypocrites for we are holding her responsible for merely, like the rest of us, being human.

For that very reason alone, Elizabeth Wong should not resign from her post – she is not guilty of any wrong doing. And even if she is, then it will be on who’s side of moral ground?

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