MALAYSIA: With the ongoing conflict between Palestine and Israel, the Malaysian Ministry of Education (MOE) has recently declared that schools across the nation will observe Palestinian Solidarity Week from 29 October to 3 November.
The objective of the program is to showcase the government’s unwavering support for the defense of the rights and freedoms of the Palestinian people in the face of the escalating conflict
The media statement mentioned that the program’s objective is to educate students on human values, encompassing human rights and compassion.
“This includes fostering attitudes of empathy and concern for the suffering experienced by individuals regardless of their nationality, religion, or social status,” it stated.
However, the decision to implement this solidarity week in schools, particularly involving underage students, has been met with criticism from certain quarters who consider it inappropriate.
Controversy over solidarity program in school
This backlash follows the viral circulation of videos depicting school students carrying replica firearms while dressed in uniforms resembling jihadist fighters.
Siti Kasim, an activist and lawyer, expressed her discomfort with this situation and questioned the appropriateness of such programs within educational institutions on X.
She further raised questions regarding the stance of the Education Minister, Fadhlina Siddiq, and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, asking whether they condone the idea of “children and teachers carrying weapons.”
In one post, she stated, “This is one of the reasons we objected to this idea by this Madani government to hold a so-called Solidarity with Palestine in schools.”
“Are we training Jihadis now in our schools? What’s with the weapons and all?”
In similar instances, during the Education Ministry-sanctioned ‘Palestine Solidarity Week,’ a video went viral showing a teacher at an Islamic religious school in Padang Terap, Kedah, setting an Israeli flag on fire using a flaming arrow.
This act has ignited concerns about the boundaries that some schools are willing to cross in their expression of solidarity with Palestinians amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict.
In the video, the teacher could be seen launching a flaming arrow at the Israeli flag on the school ground, all the while being surrounded by schoolchildren, with chants of “Allahu Akbar” and “takbir” resonating in the background.
Eastern Malaysian states resist involvement of schools in Palestine-Israel conflict
Moreover, the eastern regions of Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak, are considering distancing themselves from the directive issued by the ministry.
Mr Chong Chieng Jen, the Member of Parliament representing the Stampin constituency in the eastern state of Sarawak, stated that schools in Sarawak would not be obligated to organise the solidarity week programme, adding that he had received confirmation from federal Deputy Education Minister Lim Hui Ying.
“The Ministry of Education should not involve school students in the international political conflict of Palestine and Israel, as the conflict is a very emotive and complicated issue.
“Anger and hatred are normally associated with such issue,” Mr Chong said.
“These are not what we want our young children to get involved in during their childhood in schools.”
Additionally, Sabah schools will also not be required to hold Palestine solidarity programmes, said the state’s Industrial Development Minister Phoong Jin Zhe.
He mentioned that he had received confirmation from Deputy Education Minister Lim Hui Ying regarding the issue, highlighting that the policy is not appropriate for application in the Borneo state.
“Although I support the prime minister and the government’s stance on this international issue, it should not become an issue in schools, leading to scenes of children holding toy guns, causing fear and concern among parents and society.
“As an elected representative, I am also strongly concerned about this issue. I believe that this activity should not only be discouraged in Sabah but also should not take place throughout Malaysia,” he said in a statement on his Facebook page on Oct 27.
He argued that the federal Education Ministry should instead promote the teaching of the importance of peace in schools, rather than involving children, who may lack the capacity for making judgments, in complex political conflicts.
Phoong emphasized the importance of students refraining from engaging in any form of political activities, particularly those related to supporting or participating in conflicts abroad, as such involvement could significantly impact their physical, mental, and spiritual development.
Prime Minister addresses concerns over Palestinian solidarity week program in schools
Nevertheless, the Prime Minister has issued a statement addressing public concerns.
He emphasized the necessity for the government to oversee the Palestinian Solidarity Week program in schools.
“We have to control this. We discussed this in the Cabinet meeting. We encourage schools to do this (show solidarity) but we do not force them.
“Secondly, we must regulate it to prevent it from becoming a problem,” he stated, as reported by Free Malaysia Today.
The Education Ministry is also conducting a comprehensive inquiry into the viral video that features fake weapons used in what is thought to be a program supporting Palestine at a school.
Minister Fadhlina Sidek stated that her ministry will take additional steps in response to the images and videos that have been circulating since Friday, Oct 27, after receiving a detailed report.
Furthermore, The Education Ministry confirmed that the event in the video took place outside the designated Palestine Solidarity Week period and did not adhere to the ministry’s guidelines, reported Bernama.
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