JOHOR BARU – Amid controversy over the Malaysian government’s move to stop two beer parties, Johor’s Menteri Besar Mohamed Khaled Nordin has said he is not blocking an Oktoberfest event at a hotel in Johor Baru as it has been an annual activity for many years.

Malaysian police and the municipal authorities have stepped in to ban beer-drinking events in Kuala Lumpur and Klang town in Selangor, citing a security threat though such events had been organised without any incident in past years.

The controversy over private events involving non-Muslim Malaysians is seen as another step taken by the authorities to side with vocal Islamic conservatives while crimping the rights of non-Muslim Malaysians

Others see the government backing the ban as a sign of support for the sensitivities of its vote bank, the Malay Muslim electorate.

But Datuk Seri Khaled, speaking to Sinar Harian newspaper, said the Oktoberfest event in his state will be held inside a Johor Baru hotel and he sees no reason to stop it.

“This thing has been around for a long time and it has not been announced or promoted. The programmes were run only in closed locations, unlike certain states that run it by openly inviting members of the public.

“So there is no need to play up the issue,” he was quoted as saying by the Malay-language daily.

The controversy is the latest to rub non-Muslims the wrong way in a country that has seen a surge in Islamic conservatism, with the ruling Umno party and opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) fighting for the Malay vote after being abandoned by non-Muslim Chinese.

Just last week, a launderette in Muar, Johor, fanned a huge controversy after its Muslim owner insisted it would cater to Muslim customers only. But he backed down after the Sultan of Johor said: “This is not a Taleban state and as the head of Islam in Johor, I find this action to be totally unacceptable as this is extremist in nature.”

The German beer drinking parties have been held for several years in Malaysia without attracting much comment.

Islamist party PAS has in recent years made loud noises about concerts by female Western artistes, Valentine’s Day and Muslims joining in Christmas festivities.

PAS two weeks ago said an Oktoberfest event being planned at a Kuala Lumpur shopping centre disrespected Muslims.

The party’s central committee member Riduan Mohd Nor said: “Although Muslims are not the target for participation, at the same time there is no limit or obstruction if Muslims were to join… What is the guarantee of safety that can be given to members of the public who are not involved, such as crime, free sex, rape and so on.”

Police later said the event had been cancelled over fear that it could induce attacks by militants.

The Islamic conservatives are now targeting to have an Oktoberfest event being planned at a mall in Klang town also cancelled under the pretext of security.

Police chief Mohamad Fuzi Harun yesterday advised against holding the Klang beer party, saying: “We have proof of a threat, so it is our responsibility to advise the local authorities.”

– http://www.straitstimes.com