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Malaysian govt urged to keep children away from geo-politics

Catholic Church is 'greatly disturbed' by govt circular asking schools to observe a Palestine Solidarity Week

This file photo shows Malaysian students smiling at a girls-only Islamic school in Hulu Langat, on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur.

This file photo shows Malaysian students smiling at a girls-only Islamic school in Hulu Langat, on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. (AFP Photo)

Published: October 31, 2023 10:49 AM GMT

Updated: October 31, 2023 12:22 PM GMT

Catholic bishops in Malaysia have urged the government to refrain from dragging children into geopolitics after the Education Ministry issued a circular asking schools to observe Palestine Solidarity Week.

The Malaysian Church is “greatly disturbed,” by the government circular, Archbishop Simon Poh, president of the Malaysian Catholic Bishops’ Conference said in a press statement on Oct. 27.

“Children and students in schools are considered as minors and should never be dragged into such polemics,” said Poh, the Borneo Post reported.

The remarks came after the Ministry of Education on Oct. 21 instructed schools to organize a Palestine Solidarity Week from Oct. 29 to Nov 3.

The government move is seen as part of the Muslim-majority nation's support of the Palestinian cause amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict.

The bishops said schools are for education and “not for learning to hate others.”

“Schools are the forum where children form friendship[s] and are educated to be good citizens to build harmony and progress for our nation Malaysia,” Poh said.

“Violence can be brought right into the classrooms and imprinted onto the innocent hearts of our young children. Guns and school should never mix together,” Poh emphasized.

While acknowledging the multi-racial, cultural, and various faith communities throughout Malaysia, Poh urged for better understanding and harmony among the people.

“Let our energy be focused on economic recovery, creating employment for our people, working for better understanding and harmony between all people of Sarawak, Sabah, and Semenanjung,” the prelate said.

The prelate also commended Malaysians for their charitable efforts towards those in need.

“Malaysians in general are considered as generous" in helping the suffering people, especially those affected by wars or natural disasters, the bishops said.

Their statement also lauded lawmakers in Christian-majority Sarawak state, who chose not to follow education ministry directives aiming to avoid stirring up any issues in the region.

They also warned that the intended demonstration of support for Palestine against Israel may be manipulated to give “rise to anti-Jew sentiment as seen by some overzealous teachers.”

“It is always inappropriate to encourage children to use violence or to vent their anger against those whom adults labeled as the enemy,” it said.

The statement referred to a viral video that had emerged earlier in Malaysia related to the Israel–Gaza conflict.

The videos showed teachers carrying toy guns in schools and students being instigated to step on a flag.

In a press statement on Oct. 27, the education ministry said the video was recorded before it issued the circular, the Borneo Post reported.

The ministry also urged all to avoid any elements of extremism and violence during the organizing of Palestine Solidarity Week.

It also asked schools to refrain from using replica weapons, icons, and symbols containing provocative and confrontational elements.

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