A glitch in the photographic system of the National Registration Department has once again shown how easy it is to feed racial mistrust in Malaysia's fragile multi-ethnic society. Like thousands of other Malaysians, grandmother Lee Moy, 69, went to the department's office to exchange her identity card for a new chip-based smartcard. The process requires each applicant to be thumbprinted and photographed - small matter except that Ms Lee's white hair did not register on the departmental camera system's white background, giving her the appearance of being totally bald. The department's officers innocently resolved the problem by asking Ms Lee to wear a black scarf and she was duly photographed and issued a new card. End of problem, except her family said she looked like a devout Muslim and suggested the department was trying to convert Ms Lee to Islam. They went public with their misgivings and Malaysia's Chinese-language newspapers jumped on the case, rekindling a debate over religious freedom. Scarves are the most visible symbol of Islam in the country and are worn by most Muslim women. Over the years, non-Muslims have become paranoid about scarves because there were earlier attempts to 'persuade' them to wear scarves in public places. Non-Muslims resisted, seeing such moves as attempts to convert them to Islam. 'For non-Muslims the scarf is a symbol of devout Islam ... it is a signal to keep away ... to keep a distance,' said a veteran journalist. Many people had suggested that Ms Lee's matter could be easily resolved by changing the white background but the department countered this idea by saying their camera system would not work. Security Minister Azmi Khalid said, however: 'I have ordered the NRD not to use a white background and not to ask non-Muslims to wear scarves.' End of the matter? Well, apparently not yet. The department said it wanted the government to legislate any colour change.