Civil society groups and members of the public are concerned as to how this could be appropriate for children
A mother arrives with her daughters on the first day of elementary school in Karak, Pahang state on March 21, 2022. Muslim-majority Malaysia's children are getting involved in different kinds of pro-Palestinian protests during the Palestine Solidarity Week from Oct 29. to Nov. 3. (Photo: AFP / UCAN files)
The last few days have seen angry reactions to videos of teachers and children in Muslim-majority Malaysia brandishing replica firearms and dressed as Palestinian militants.
A video had a teacher shooting a flaming arrow at an Israeli flag and setting it on fire with shouts of Allahu Akbar and takbir, a proclamation of the greatness of God, from other teachers and students.
Then there were screenshots of students in green bandanas with the words "Save Palestine" and carrying toy guns.
Going by the responses from the prime minister and education minister, it was just a case of an education ministry directive getting interpreted differently by overzealous teachers.
The directive said all government schools and colleges are to show support for the Palestinian cause in the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict through peace-themed poetry recitals, poster drawings, fundraising, and such, during a Palestine Solidarity Week from Oct 29. to Nov. 3.
When the videos started appearing and a public furor ensued, Anwar Ibrahim called on schools to monitor their activities for the week and keep them under control.
“We discussed this in the cabinet meeting. We encourage schools to do this [show solidarity] but we do not force them,” he said. “We have to control it, so it won’t become a problem.”
The education ministry condemned the use of toy guns in the program, saying it prohibited the use of replica weapons, icons and symbols in a “provocative and confrontational manner.”
The ministry has come under much criticism over the program itself. Civil society groups and the public are concerned as to how the ministry deemed this program to be appropriate for children.
One of them is the Parent Action Group for Education. “Students are being used. Such programmes should be stopped immediately,” its chairman Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim told Free Malaysia Today.
Prominent lawyer and activist Siti Kasim wrote on Facebook: “Are we training jihadis now in our schools?”
In Sabah and Sarawak, after much protest, the federal government decided that schools in the two states were not obliged to hold the Palestine Solidarity Week. Both states decided not to.
The Sabah government said the education ministry should encourage schools to teach the importance of peace instead of involving children, who lack the capacity for judgment, in complex political maneuvers.
The Catholic Church in a strongly worded statement on Oct 27 said the Church was greatly disturbed.
“Guns and school should never mix,” said Archbishop Simon Poh, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Malaysia.
“It is always inappropriate to encourage children to use violence or to vent anger against those whom adults labeled as the enemy. What is even more terrifying is that while world rulers are trying to resolve the conflict, such violence can be brought right into the classrooms and imprinted onto the innocent hearts of our young.”
He also supported the move by his home state Sarawak for opting not to follow the ministry directive on this. “Children are considered as minors and should never be dragged into such polemics … this can give rise to anti-Jew sentiment as seen by some overzealous teachers.”
Voices of disapproval have emerged from within Anwar’s ruling coalition. The Democratic Action Party (DAP), one of the main parties in the ruling coalition, wants the Palestine Solidarity Week to be reviewed.
So do 12 elected representatives from Anwar’s PKR (Parti Keadilan Rakyat or People's Justice Party). The MPs said that the methods deployed by the education ministry “sow seeds of resentment and violence.”
Malaysia has always been pro-Palestine and is one of the 30 UN member states that do not have diplomatic ties with Israel. Malaysia’s stand came loud and clear around the world in the 80s when the then prime minister Mahathir Mohamad was the darling of the Muslim world for his scathing anti-Semitic statements. He probably still is.
Some claim that Anwar is trying to project himself as the present-day champion of the Palestinians. When Anwar said he received criticism from the international community for Malaysia's support for Palestine, the Islamist party PAS (Parti Islam Se-Malaysia) said his statement was “strange and amusing.”
"It is unfortunate that when pressed further by the media to clarify the threats, he refused to elaborate, saying the government will issue a statement on the issue,” said PAS Secretary-General Takiyuddin Hassan.
At a rally that drew 16,000 people last week, Anwar said: "I was criticized and some even attacked me from Europe, the United States, and certainly Israel. We are aware of this.”
Some say he is using the Palestinian issue as a political strategy to get stronger Muslim-Malay support.
Meanwhile, children are getting involved in different kinds of pro-Palestinian protests.
Online game platform Roblox has a protest experience called “(PALESTINE) Dataran Tanjung Mas” created by a 15-year-old Malaysian known only as Razz. Since going live on Oct. 20, it has had 60,000 virtual protesters who use avatars to carry flags in the Palestinian colors and march in virtual peace rallies. The online rallies are organized by user CikguZyd, a motivational speaker and gaming streamer.
These rallies have drawn participants from all over the world, and have the support of Malaysian parents and teachers who also join in. These parents made a special request to CikguZyd — to stream more evening sessions so their children can take part outside school hours. CikguZyd has promised to do so.
*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.
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