By Hafiz Hassan

IF NOT for Dr Shamsher Singh Thind, I wouldn’t know of a Malaysian brandy named “Sahip”.

Shamsher says Shahip sounds like Sahib, an honorific title used to glorify, among others, Sikh Gurus. Shamsher adds that while Malaysians are busy talking about Timah, they should not forget Sahip.

I agree. Don’t trivialise such offending issues.

Award-winning Malaysian-made Timah whiskey and cheap Malaysian brandy Sahip aren’t the only controversial beer names, it seems.

There are at least ten controversial brews “that got more attention for their artwork than their taste.” One is a beer that goes by the name and label “Lost Abbey’s Witch’s Wit Belgian White”.

A 2010 New York Times article reported that one Vicki Noble – famous in the pagan and Wiccan communities for her astrology readings, shamanic healing, and writings about goddess spirituality – said she and other members of the pagan and Wiccan community were personally offended by the pale ale’s depiction of a witch being burned at the stake.

The bottle has a painting of a witch being burned at the stake. Vicky wrote to her e-mail list, with a subject line: “Can we stop this brewer from their hate imagery?”

One may not agree with Vicky, offended by the painting on the bottle. As it is, “wit” means “white” in Dutch. The beer is produced by Lost Abbey, a division of the Port Brewing Company of San Marcos, California.

That gives the beer its name: Lost Abbey’s Witch Wit Belgian White.

Included in Vicky’s e-mail list was Cynthia Eller, a professor of religion at Montclair State University in New Jersey. The professor is known for her pioneering book “The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory,” which is widely loathed in the pagan community.

According to the NYT article, both Vicky and Cynthia have had their share of disagreements. But these did not prevent Cynthia from sharing Vicky’s disgust “at the use of witch-burning painting on the label” – done by the artist Sean Dominguez – to sell beer. This being 2010, Cynthia said on Facebook.

The professor did not feel silly with Vicky’s offence at the beer name. Nor did she say it was a perfect example of making a mountain out of a molehill.

I reckon the professor understood the right to be offended. It is otherwise expressed as the right not to be offended.

That perhaps explain why the American Brewers Association (BA) has added a policy to its marketing and advertising code which now states that advertising and marketing materials should not “contain sexually explicit, lewd, or demeaning brand names, language, text, graphics, photos, video, or other images that reasonable adult consumers would find inappropriate for consumer products offered to the public.”

According to BA, it wants its members to keep their wits about naming their beers. “We want our members to be responsible corporate citizens,” CEO Bob Pease was quoted as saying. “We want to err on the side of tolerance.”

Malaysians of diverse religions and cultures can expect the same from brewers in the country: be responsible corporate citizens.

Do you still wish to say: what’s in a name?

Darkie the tootpaste became Darlie in 1989 after great controversy erupted over the brand in the United States. The chief executive officer of Colgate-Palmolive, which acquired the brand in 1985, even went as far as issuing an apology. The image on the packaging was also altered to show a racially ambiguous face in a top hat.

Dutch’s Jodenkoeken – no cookie aisle in the country is fully stocked without this national treat – was also changed to Odekoeken as recently as a few months ago in March.

According to the report, “jodenkoeken” means “Jew cookies.” Now, Dutch Jews don’t seem to mind having a cookie named after them. Many even buy them as a joke to bring to relatives abroad or even give to each other.

But that did not stop the company behind the brand to announce that it was changing the cookie’s name in a bid to “help create a more inclusive society.” “Odekoeken” is Dutch for “ode cookies.”

One may not agree with Muslims, offended by the name “Timah” for a whisky, or with Shamsher – if not Sikhs generally – offended by the name “Sahip” for a brandy. But they have the right to be offended. And the right not to be offended.

So, like Darkie and Jodenkoekon, “Timah” can become “Tin” to honour the mining industry or, as suggested by one mufti, “Captain Speedy” to honour the man – purportedly one of the men who introduced whiskey culture back in the mining era during British colonial times.

What say you, Timah?

– BebasNews

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