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News analysis: Malaysian model drinks beer, asks to be caned

The wacky story of the week comes from, where else, Asia?

A complex issue like this, of course, can't be understood in a two-minute TV interview, with one heavily powdered face shouting down another.

Malaysia itself is a teeming mass of division (the country is split in two by the South China Sea, after all) as well as cultural, political and religious nuance. It's a place made up of 28 million ethnic Malays, Chinese, Indians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Christains and,  yes, Prada-wearing boozers.

Is caning brutal? Of course. Does it have a long history, with complex and deeply rooted cultural and religious undertones? Yes. And can anyone but Kartika really know what's motivating her actions? Is it honest faith? Guilt at her own perceived transgression? Personal gain? A twisted combination of these and other unknown factors? The screaming nut in the splitscreen certainly can't know that.

So enjoy the spectacle, and feel free to form your own opinions.

But if you really want to understand the pieces of this looming narrative in our ever-shrinking world, do your homework first. In particular, dig deeper into the cultural foundations of Malaysia to see why this is occurring. At its root, this intersection of caning, boozing and punishment is a product of a distinct culture. It informs the beliefs and practices of all three, from the social norms that make up what's appropriate, to the precise make-up of the country's justice system (in this case, one that operates on a dual track to serve both Muslims and non-Muslims).

The practice of religion in Malaysia, too, is rooted in these same unique cultural factors. Ditto for the Malaysian political and economic systems that help fuel this story. And, of course, there are the cultural underpinnings in your own country that form the unconscious opinions, thoughts and biases that make up your own understanding — and the media's take — on a salacious story like this.

So turn down the volume, and peel back the layers. Then, if you must, go on TV to yell and scream.