Written by Wong Choon Mei, Politics Now!
KUALA LUMPUR (Politics Now!) – It looks like Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim has inadvertently dropped a ‘bomb’ on his own unity government.
A viral video showing a man, purportedly a teacher from an Islamic religious school in Malay heartland state of Kedah shooting a flaming arrow at an Israeli flag and setting it on fire was so shocking and violent in intent that the public uproar was instantaneous.
The alleged teacher was surrounded by schoolchildren chanting “Allahu Akbar” and “takbir” in the background.
This latest outburst follows other excessive and extremist expressions of solidarity with the war-torn Palestinians, with teachers here leading their pupils in protesting the Israeli attack on the Gaza by brandishing toy machine guns. One overzealous educator even donned a balaclava mask and bullet-proof vest.
The acts were in response to Education Minister Fadhlina Sidek’s launching of a ‘Palestine Solidarity Week’ aimed to teach Malaysian children about “humanitarian” values and “empathy” for others trapped in downtrodden situations.
The Ministry of Education had already faced widespread concern and opposition when it first announced on Thursday it would be holding a Palestine Solidarity Week from Oct 29 to Nov 3.
Nevertheless, Fadhlina who hails from Anwar’s PKR party, had pressed on despite the emergence of videos and pictures posted online that some schools had gone overboard.
FOOLISHNESS, VAGUE & CONFUSED THINKING ALL ROUND?
The Education minister later tried to distance herself and her ministry by pointing the finger back at the schools, warning that swift punishment would follow – but this in turn sparked anger from the teaching community who cried foul on her.
Indeed, did her ministry issue clear enough guidelines as to what would be the limits, what forms were allowable and how far should the expressions of ‘solidarity’ go.
Malaysia is predominantly Muslim and has been a strong supporter of the Palestinian struggle for decades – it is not unexpected that many in the country would veer off the tangent due to emotion and impulse – especially when Anwar himself has been extremely vociferous in leading the anti-Israel, pro-Palestine rallies here.
“This is the crux of the problem. Whatever intentions were behind Palestine Solidarity Week, Fadhlina and Anwar should know the devil is always in the fine print. How can they control the various responses? If they can’t or are not sure, then they should not launch such a programme in the first place,” a political commentator told Politics Now!
“The most important indicator that has emerged from this mess is how extremist Malaysian society has become. It is no longer moderate but the diversity is even greater than before and this is due to the education system which places too much time and importance on religious knowledge.:
“It has divided Malaysian society and if Anwar wants to ‘save’ Malaysia, he should stop day-dreaming and playing Malay hero. The one who saves Malaysia is the one who strong enough to take concrete steps to structurally change the education system, just like the economy which also needs really long-term vision and tough structural changes,” the political commentator added.
‘POLITICAL SOFTIE’ OR ‘MALAY HERO’ – CAN ANWAR DISARM THE BOMB HE MADE?
Anwar has even been accused of political opportunism to gain popularity with the Muslim electorate, which is the largest in Malaysia – raising eyebrows when he accused European MPs of threatening him to soften his strong support for Hamas.
So far, Anwar has not given any proof to substantiate his claims, which have been ridiculed even by Malaysia’s largest Muslim political party Pas – while analysts say it’s only natural that European leaders, who historically support Israel, would ask him to tone down his stance and inflammatory rhetoric but this would not necessarily equate to a ‘threat’.
Instead, many have accused Anwar of using the Palestine conflict to mask the wider crisis at home, where the Malaysian currency has sunk to its lowest ever in history, with investors unconvinced that a spending plan for 2024 – the country’s largest ever Budget – unveiled by Anwar earlier this month could solve the ailing country’s long-standing problems.
Anwar himself has called for ‘more control’ and better supervision of Fadhlina’s Palestine Solidarity week, their vague responses have attracted even greater public scorn.
The Parent Action Group for Education (Page) is the latest to urge the Education Ministry to cancel the controversial Palestine Solidarity Week at schools and public education institutions.
Allies within the ruling coalition including the DAP and MCA have also expressed objection and concern.
Unfortunately, it may not be possible for Anwar to disarm the bomb he ‘made’. If he did so, he might come off looking like a ‘political softie’ instead of a ‘Muslim hero’.
Pulling to the right are other Muslim-based parties including ally Umno, who have demanded that the Education Ministry carry out the programme as planned.
Pas’ 10K Solidarity with Palestine rally outside the U.S. embassy
“The ministry should not succumb to pressure,” said Umno Supreme Council member Puad Zarkashi.
“The event of students carrying replica weapons occurred outside the scheduled programme and did not comply with the set guidelines,” he said in a posting on his Facebook page.
As for Pas, it held a successful mega rally – the ’10K Solidarity with Palestine’ march – with thousands demonstrating outside the U.S. embassy on Friday.
Written by Wong Choon Mei, Politics Now!