ISRAEL’S invasion of Gaza, the minutiae of the Kuala Terengganu by-election, and the evil of New Year sex parties were issues that occupied the Malay-language press from 3 to 9 Jan 2009.
Israel’s offensive, which began on 27 Dec 2008, was condemned by Malaysian prime ministers former, current, and in waiting.
In the 9-11 Jan iteration of Harakah, Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s commentary about the issue was taken to task in Malaysia iktiraf Israel?. Citing a 5 Jan Buletin Utama broadcast, which had Najib using the phrase “government of Israel”, PAS information head Mahfuz Omar characterised the Barisan Nasional (BN) politician’s choice of words as indirectly acknowledging Israel as a legitimate government. Mahfuz urged the deputy prime minister to “apologise to the Palestinian people and the international Muslim community.”
Commentary about the issue was broadly similar in tone.
In a column on religion in the 9 Jan edition of Sinar Harian, Dr Azwira Abdul Aziz of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s department of Quranic research homed in on the weakness engendered by the rivalry between Hamas and Fatah (Pengajaran dari bencana Gaza). “Learning a lesson from the Gaza disaster is not just shouting anti-Jewish slogans,” Azwira concluded. “What is more important is keeping away the weakness that has been quietly engineered by the Jews.”
Universiti Utara Malaysia law lecturer Md Shukri Shuib, writing for Berita Harian on 6 Jan in Masyarakat dunia perlu bersatu “celikkan” Yahudi, urged Muslims around the world to act as “lobbyists to their respective governments to ‘criminalise Zionism’ to stop Tel Aviv’s cruel acts.”
A quirk peculiar to the Malay-language press is perhaps the use of the word “Yahudi”. Literally “Jew” or “Jewish”, it has been employed interchangeably with “Zionist” and “Israeli”. Over the course of the week, ethnicity, ideology, and nationality became rhetorically indistinguishable. The letters section of Utusan Malaysia, 6 Jan, sported an SMS that seemed partially cognisant of these distinctions:
“Malaysia doesn’t recognise Israel, but many Jews come to Malaysia without obstacles because they are American citizens,” the SMS read. “There are even those that work with multinationals. Are we aware?”
The crisis in Palestine has become a political issue for Malaysians, as stakes escalate in the ongoing Kuala Terengganu by-election. While there was some space devoted to opposition politicians weighing in against the Gaza invasion (e.g. PKR gesa Kerajaan Persekutuan bertegas dalam isu Palestin, in Sinar Harian on 6 Jan), the loudest bang came from Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim himself, who allegedly compared Umno to Israel during a rally.
Clarifying the Parti Keadilan Rakyat de facto head’s stand (Usah putar belit kenyataan Anwar: Tian Chua, in Sinar Harian on 9 Jan), PKR information chief Tian Chua clarified that Anwar had said that the cruelty and brutality perpetuated by Umno was extremist and inhumane, and that “this had nothing to do with Israel”. Tian also advised the media not to twist the statements made by the opposition.
In Wan Ahmad Farid harap keajaiban angka satu reported in Sinar Harian on 7 Jan, it was revealed that the Umno hopeful’s name would be at the top of the ballot. “I hope the first-place arrangement is a good early sign,” Wan Ahmad quipped.
This contrasted with the headlines of the Islamic party’s official mouthpiece, Harakah, whose 9-11 Jan edition sported Peluang cerah in block letters. The report described the multicultural, tri-party crowd, estimated to be 30,000-strong, which came out to support the PAS candidate on nomination day. The more mainstream Berita Harian and Utusan Malaysia put down the number of combined opposition and BN supporters as 25,000.
In the 4 Jan issue of Mingguan Malaysia, Terengganu chief minister Datuk Ahmad Said said a RM5.8 million development project would be carried out by the state government following the Kuala Terengganu by-election (Projek pembangunan menanti rakyat).
This echoed a statement by rural and regional development minister Tan Sri Muhammad Muhd Taib, published on 3 Jan, who asserted that “the victory that the people would give to the Barisan Nasional at the Kuala Terengganu by-election will give the government even more strength to bring greater development to the state.”
The following day, Angkatan Muda Keadilan Malaysia head Shamsul Iskandar Mohd Akin condemned these declarations as “political bribery”, as reported in Sinar Harian on 5 Jan (BN tabur “rasuah politik” di Kuala Terengganu).
“State government and federal funds from taxpayers’ money should not be manipulated by the BN just because they hold the reins of power,” Shamsul said, equating promises of development by BN politicians with exploitation of citizens’ money in the service of ensuring a win in the by-election.
New Year thanksgiving
Censure of the revelry held to ring in 2009 was seen over the first weekend of the new year. On 3 Jan, alongside follow-up reporting about the 26-person New Year “sex party” that was raided (Siasatan pesta seks dikendali Jabatan Narkotik), Utusan Malaysia ran a story titled Tahun Baru perlu diisi majlis kesyukuran.
The story recommended that future New Year celebrations be turned into “thanksgiving meetings” or “award ceremonies for social figures”. It quoted Yayasan Dakwah Islamiah Malaysia president Datuk Nakhaei Ahmad as saying that “as an Asian society, we should celebrate the new year with morals and ethics based on tradition and good manners, and not with sex and drug abuse.”
Nakhaei also recommended that such events be held in the daytime, as night-time activities could encourage and excite youth.
A Berita Harian editorial on the same day, Usah biar pesta liar jadi budaya rai tahun baru, went further, concluding that “pictures of body bags, of visitors to the Santika Pub in Bangkok which burnt down at the height of the New Year celebrations, should be a meaningful reminder for us to consider, together.”