by Anna Mahjar-Barducci
"How many Jews have Malaysians met in their life? I'll bet at least 50% of the Malaysian population have never met a Jew in their whole life. Just how much do we know about the history of the Palestine-Israel conflict? Has anyone read the Balfour Declaration? Just what is our problem with Israel?" — Abdul Hallem Abdul Rahlman, journalist.An anti-Semitic sermon prepared and distributed by the Malaysian Federal Territory Islamic Affairs Department was aired on March 30 in all the mosques of the capital city, Kuala Lumpur. The sermon called "to understand that Jews are the main enemy to Muslims as proven by their egotistical behavior and murders performed by them." The sermon, as the media outlet Malaysian Insider reported, also called on community leaders to understand the importance of Jerusalem for Muslims. "The honor of al-Quds [Jerusalem] and the al-Aqsa mosque must be defended by all Muslims, as it is holy land that must be blessed," the sermon had stated.
The media outlet, the Malaysian Insider explained that anti-Semitic feelings in Malaysia, which has no diplomatic ties with Israel, are not something new. and that the sermon was just a confirmation of the strong anti-Semitic and anti-Israel feelings in the country. The Malaysian National Censorship Board in March 1994 even banned the film "Schindler's List" from the country's cinemas, in accordance with the country's long-standing anti-Semitic cultural policies, according to Tel Aviv University's Stephen Roth Institute.
In March 2012, the Malaysian opposition, Pakatan Rakyat (PKR), started to pressure the government also to legislate the banning of all ties with Israel, direct or indirect. The PKR leader even said that Malaysia should ban "the use of our ports by any company that has a trade interest with the Zionist regime." A Malaysian scholar based in Singapore, Dr. Farish A. Noor, further commented in the Malaysian Insider that as elections in Malaysia are around the corner all political parties are competing to show how "anti-Israeli" they can be.
Malaysian journalist Abdul Haleem Abdul Rahiman wrote in the Malaysian Inslder that the rise of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel rhetoric in the politics of the country is becoming pathetic. "How many Jews have Malaysians met in their life? I bet at least 50% of the Malaysian population have never met a single Jew in their whole life. Just how much do we know about the history of the Palestine-Israel conflict? Has anyone read the Balfour Declaration? Just what is our problem with Israel? The Zionist oppression of Palestinians? Get this right. Not all Jews are in favor of this oppression. I personally know quite number of them. We have NO diplomatic ties with Israel. Perfect. Shut up and move on. Leave them alone. None of them is interfering with our daily life. […] Enlighten me please. Just on what basis do we hate them so much? Because they oppress our Muslim brothers and sisters in Palestine? What about Syria then? Let's not even go into Islamic oppression in most parts of the African continent."
Malaysia, however, does not seem to have problems only with Jews, but also with Christians, who form 9.2% of the country's 28.3 million population. The day after the anti-Semitic speech in Malaysian mosques, an officially sanctioned state seminar was organized, entitled "Strengthening the Faith, the Dangers of Liberalism and Pluralism and the Threat of Christianity towards Muslims. What is the Role of Teachers?". The seminar was convened by the Education Department and the Mufti Department of Johor, a Malaysian state in the south. Two religious teachers from 55 national schools across Johor were required to attend.
The Malaysian Insider reports that the Islamic affairs minister Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom stressed that the seminar was not meant to "hurt" anyone's feelings. "The seminar is to safeguard the interests of Muslims, it is within the purview and jurisdiction of each state. We have to take care, take into consideration the interests of Muslims," the Minister told reporters.
In Malaysia, it is illegal to convert Muslims to another religion. "The problem of Christianization has been around for a long while, it is real," Datuk Sheikh Abdul Halim Abdul Kadir, president of the Malaysian Ulama Association, told the Malaysian Insider. "You need to educate teachers, especially the young ones who are unaware of this problem."
In April, Hasan Ali, the Executive Councilor for Islamic Affairs in the State of Selangor, one of the most populous in Malaysia, screened videos of Malaysian citizens, who allegedly converted to Christianity, depicting them as gangsters involved in drugs. "Westernization and modernization bring hedonism, the desire to be entertained without limits. It weakens the character; this is why it is so easy to convert them," he said, adding that hedonism is proliferating among Muslims who "instead of sleeping, go out late at night with friends. That is why we see Muslims jumping to join Christians."
The popular Malaysian blog, Malaysia Today, recently published an alarming article that questioned where Malaysia was heading: "Since when has Christianity become the 'enemy of the state', so much so that a seminar is deemed necessary to brainwash young Muslims into hating everything to do with Christianity? With such chronic hatred against the Christian community in place, where does Malaysia today stand in relation to religious tolerance? Does the nation still have what it takes to own up to the fact that the […] goodwill between Malaysians of different races has, like an avalanche, crumbled, burying deep any hope of reconciliation between people of different faiths in this country?"
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