BETWEEN 12 and 19 Jan 2009, alongside the Kuala Terengganu by-election and the conflict in Palestine, the Malay-language press was also preoccupied with the sale of sex toys and the teaching of science and maths in the English language.
Jews in the news
Israel’s invasion of Gaza continued to occupy headlines throughout the week. On 18 Jan, both Mingguan Malaysia (Lagi sekolah PBB dibom) and Berita Minggu (Gencatan senjata Israel) chose the crisis over news of PAS candidate Mohd Abdul Wahid Endut’s victory in the fight for the Kuala Terengganu parliamentary seat.
Zionism and Jewishness dominated column and editorial inches. In Hitler itu mungkin ada benarnya (18 Jan, Mingguan Malaysia), Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin, the former mufti of Perlis, asked whether the belief that the Jews are an evil race is a mere superstition, or based on actual experiences.
Mohd Asri went on to quote scripture, and ventured that, while “we are not against any particular race, or blindly anti-Semitic like Hilter or past European societies”, the contemporary actions of Jewish Israel are not new or unusual.
“Hitler’s beliefs may have some truth,” Asri concluded.
Similarly, an opinion piece by Abdul Rahman Mahmud in Utusan Malaysia‘s 15 Jan edition was titled Boikot gaya hidup tajaan Yahudi, and asserted that “the entertainment media controlled by the Jews and the United States sponsor a way of life free from religion, through film, music, and reality TV shows, all stem from the West created by the Jews.”
Against the strength of international Jewry, there were several calls for self-examination within the Muslim world. Raja Dr Nazrin Shah Sultan Azlan Shah, who in his speech at the closing ceremony of the 3rd Islamic Economic Congress, was quoted as saying: “The ummah’s tendency to be more loyal to their own groups divert them from heading towards a shared goal” (Umat Islam perlu sepakat tingkat martabat ummah; 16 Jan, Berita Harian).
Cautionary tales and election results
Violence in the Middle East was employed as a cautionary tale by analysts in the media. In a 12 Jan editorial, Utamakan kesejahteraan, Utusan Malaysia reporter Zulkiflee Bakar attributed the fall of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to disunity, and warned that “if they achieve victory in Kuala Terengganu, it would be ‘extra ammunition’ for the opposition coalition to continue political attacks on the government.”
The editorial that ran above Zulkiflee’s story, Elak episod sedih di Palestin berlaku di Malaysia, noted that Gaza-like conditions were not impossible if we sacrificed harmony for political differences.
On 18 and 19 Jan, most publications ran post-mortems on the Barisan Nasional (BN)’s defeat in the by-election. Widely reported was Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s assertion that choosing an unpopular candidate (Datuk Wan Ahmad Farid Wan Salleh) cost the BN the seat.
In a 19 Jan analysis, Faktor tempatan punca BN tewas di Kuala Terengganu, Berita Harian group editor Datuk Manja Ismail pointed the finger at politicking within Umno. “The factor of Umno’s own members and fence-sitting voters getting revenge on grassroots leaders who appeared unfriendly or unsympathetic cannot be taken lightly,” Manja concluded.
Utusan Malaysia denied that PAS’s success could be attributed to growing popular support, or the strength of the Pakatan Rakyat coalition. “In fact, they profited because of the BN’s own weakness, whether because of internal problems or wrong strategy,” wrote Zulkiflee Bakar, in Benarkah pembangkang kuat?.
Sinar Harian quoted Malacca chief minister Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam as saying: “About 3,000 eligible voters did not vote, and if they all did, it may have been possible for the BN to win” (Barisan Nasional boleh menang jika semua mengundi).
Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) mouthpiece Suara Keadilan, in its 14-21 Jan edition, predicted Abdul Wahid’s win, and quoted the candidate as saying that he was basing his confidence on “the people’s mood, especially those who were ‘on the fence’ who unanimously sided with the Pakatan Rakyat.”
(© scol22 / sxc.hu) Science and Maths in English
Bahasa Malaysia bukan penghalang kemajuan, in the same edition of Suara Keadilan, contended that “the government’s decision to prioritise English as the medium of instruction for science and mathematics in school was ‘gambling away the future of Malaysians’.”
“It is strange that Malaysia, which wants to have quick development, is following the example of the poor countries of the Indian, African and South American continents, who use the language of their former colonial masters in the teaching of the science and maths subjects,” wrote Redzuan Shamsudin.
It also published a long letter by “Father, a concerned educationist,” who decried the teaching of maths and science in English (PPSMI) as sacrificing the education of his children. The PPSMI issue was spotlighted after Gabungan Penulis Nasional (Gapena) announced its plans, on 6 Jan, to organise a “funeral procession” in protest to what they saw as an unconstitutional erosion of the Malay language’s dominance.
On 16 Jan, Sinar Harian reported in PPSMI: Gapena buat laporan polis that the writers’ union was going to make a police report, “as the first step for legal action against the government.”
On the same day, Utusan Malaysia quoted prime minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi as saying that PPSMI was “not an issue that could be commented on willy-nilly without basis on fact” (PPSMI: Kerajaan bukannya berdiam diri). The premier revealed that studies on the subject were ongoing.
Sex toys: a price comparison
In its 17 Jan edition, Sinar Harian ran a double-page expose of the sale of aphrodisiacs and sex toys in the malls and lanes of Chow Kit. Headlined Ubat, alat permainan seks cemar keunikan Chow Kit, the scoop disclosed that the neighbourhood, known for “dull lanes filled with ‘night butterflies’ and transvestites that faithfully await customers”, also harbours vendors of “medicines and sex toys”.
Okay, it’s a geoduck…The expose revealed that the vendors in Chow Kit were predominantly Malay Malaysians. It also conducted a comparison between “merchandise” sold on the street, and in “licensed” establishments in the Mid Valley and Klang Parade malls, and found the price difference to be as dramatic as between RM30 and RM200 for a particular make of toy.
Quoting a shopkeeper about his clientele: “Malay [Malaysians] come here a lot, that’s why JAIS (the Selangor religious department) always comes to make a fuss.
“Most [Malay Malaysians] come just to look. Don’t want to buy,” he said.
The report insisted that the sale of such items, designed “only for fun, and to fulfil the fantasies and desires of individuals or couples”, conflicted with the “Eastern norms and Islamic-country status of Malaysia”. It was part of a series that continued on 18 Jan.