AROUND THE TIME OF THE SEPTEMBER 11 ATTACKS ON THE UNITED STATES (WELL, ACTUALLY FOR A FEW MONTHS BEFORE AND AFTER THAT MOMENTOUS DATE) A BATTLE OF A DIFFERENT KIND WAS TAKING PLACE ON A WEB FORUM RUN BY POPULAR BLOGGER AND WRITER PHILIP GREENSPUN. Apart from being a computer industry boffin and engineer, Greenspun runs the excellent and exhaustive Photo.net website, where I myself have photos published. It was on that website he wrote a story about a trip he had recently made to Thailand. He was impressed by what he saw, and declared that Thailand was the best place in south-east Asia for visiting tourists. In throwaway terms, he then proceeded to denounce most of the countries of the region, and most of his venom was reserved for Malaysia. In the article he wrote:
Suppose that you're anxious to explore Southeast Asia. Yet you don't want to get caught in the middle of a military junta suppressing the populace (Burma/Myanmar). You don't want to run afoul of the law if you happen to play a song by a Jewish composer (Malaysia). You don't want to be killed by unexploded ordnance (Vietnam). You don't want to be psychologically scarred by meeting people whose entire families were killed by the Khmer Rouge (Cambodia). You don't want to be out of reach of Western comforts (Laos).
The story went on to offend the peoples of a whole range of Asian countries, and his basic gist was, Thailand is the best place to go in Asia if you want to have a good vacation. Now I like Thailand as much as the next man, but some of the comments made in the above blurb did strike me as ridiculous. Is it breaking the law to play a song played by a Jewish composer in Malaysia? -- the idea that the airport customs crew at Kuala Lumpur Airport would go through every tourist's luggage, scouring the CD covers for signs of Jewish names, strikes me as absurd. And how would they judge whether someone's name was Jewish was not -- would they train customs officials to look for any name with a "~stein" in it? It is too absurd for words, and Greenspun should have known better, when he wrote his throwaway piece. After all, many of the users of his Photo.net site are Malaysians, so why would he be so cavalier about offending them? It began to dawn on me -- is there some kind of aminosity between Jews and Malaysia? Is Malaysia really anti-Semitic, as Greenspun had inferred? Why do Jews dislike Malaysia -- because it supports the Palestinian, because it is Islamic, or because Malaysia has stood up to global financial institutions such as the IMF? I want to explore these issue in the essay that follows. My conclusion is that Malaysia is in fact an open, racially harmonious nation. I challenge Greenspun to go there and realize that for himself.
To be fair, Malaysia has got some bad press for its official statements about the World Jewry, and perhaps Greenspun was picking up on this vibe when he wrote his article. It is not as bad as Jewish composers being banned in Malaysia, but there is a certain kind of scepticism there. But does this mean that Jews are unwelcome in Malaysia? Is it safe for Jewish tourists to go to Malaysia? Here are some facts, for Jewish tourists interested in visiting Malaysia, but concerned about how they will be welcomed there.
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FACT: Citizens of Israel and Yugoslavia are required to apply for Special Approval from the Ministry of Home Affairs before entering Malaysia. However, Israeli passports are not recognised by the Indonesian Government and Israeli nationals must obtain a travel affidavit issued by an Indonesian representation abroad before visiting that vast and intoxicating realm.
FACT: Non-Israeli Jews are free to visit Malaysia. As far as I know there are no laws stating that Jews are forbidden to enter Malaysia. That is a fact.
FACT: At a 2003 Muslim leaders' summit in Malaysia, Malaysian PM Mahathir Mahathir said "the Europeans killed 6 million Jews out of 12 million, but today the Jews rule the world by proxy; they get others to fight and die for them."
FACT: Mahathir has always been a leading critic of Israel (then again, he also criticized the United States and Australia.) Malaysia was a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause, and established diplomatic relations with the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
FACT: In 1986, a major diplomatic row erupted with neighbouring Singapore when Chaim Herzog, the President of Israel, paid a state visit there.
FACT: "No Israeli's Allowed" signs are posted on the doors of many restaurants and hotels in Thailand, Nepal and other countries on the backpacker trail. This is not because of any pro-Palestinian sentiment. It is simply because many Israeli backpackers have a habit of not paying their bills, or driving the hotel and restaurant staff mad with their relentless and uncompromising bargaining. Jewish and Israeli tourists visiting south-east Asia should be aware that since they are already developing a reputation for tight-fisted and arrogant behavior, they should do everything possible to prevent that reputation from developing further!
FACT: There is an interesting history of Jewish settlement in Malaysia. The Jewish cemetery in Penang is believed to be the oldest single Jewish cemetery in the country, if not in the entire region (south-east Asia). The only cemetery established solely for the once small and thriving Jewish community in Peninsular Malaysia, there may be a few Jewish graves in other non-Jewish cemeteries. The oldest legible gravestone in the Jewish Cemetery is dated 1805 with the latest in 1976. The cemetery in Penang also has one of the largest number of Jewish graves interred in one specific area, numbering around approximately 70 graves (The Northam Road Cemetery holds 95 graves), including that of a Jewish British officer killed during the Second World War. Five other "military" graves reputedly contain the remains of six Jewish servicemen killed in action on the Malay Peninsula during W.W.II.
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A LITTLE ABOUT THE HISTORY OF MALAYSIA AND HOW THIS COMPARES WITH THE DEVELOPMENT OF ISRAEL, THE MODERN JEWISH STATE. This long quote is taken from the website of Yitzhak Israel, a leading critic of the Jewish state: "The ruling block of moderate nationalist Malays and its Chinese and Indian counterparts have managed the country since the 1960s, and Dr M, actually a medical doctor by profession, has served as the Prime Minister for over twenty years. Next year he will retire at the ripe age of 78. He came to power as a young radical and Malay nationalist, expressing the natives' disappointment over the too-slow progress in levelling economic misbalance between the communities. His victory scared the immigrant communities and made them more amenable to Malay demands. But Dr M carried out reforms gradually and gently. Under his rule, Malaysia became a prosperous industrial nation, a leader in computers as well as in traditional pursuits. Even more important, it is a rather happy land of contented people.
Malaysia rejected the idea of the 'melting pot' as well. Communities are not asked to integrate and assimilate; they are encouraged to keep their identity and may attend schools in their native tongues while keeping the same curriculum. They do not fall for the trap of multiculturalism, either. The uncomfortable part of multiculturalism as preached by New York is the removal of the backbone of the nation: the rejection of the original religion and culture of the majority. As I watched CNN on pre-Christmas days, I noticed their fear of actually referring to the Christian holiday without balancing it by an example of Hanukkah or Kwanza. Not so in Malaysia: there is a state religion and a state language, and tolerance of minorities.
Most importantly, Malaysia rejected the faith of Neo-Liberalism. Together with Castro and the Pope, Dr M is an outspoken critic of the Chicago School. He does not want to sell assets to the highest bidder, nor thereby to impoverish people and create a new class of super-rich. Food and housing are inexpensive and often subsidised. Dr M is not a socialist. He prefers a strong middle class, but he was taught enough Mencius (Mengzi), the Second Sage of Confucianism, to know of the obligation of rulers to provide for the common people.
The Neo-Liberalists tried to devour Malaysia. The Scourge of Nations, the Imperial Wizard George Soros, a mysterious man with unlimited resources and strong ties to the Israeli intelligence service Mossad, who broke the Bank of England, ruined Taiwan, South Korea and Thailand, attacked Malaysia, too. His financial offensive wiped out ten years of Malaysian development and ten years of 20 million men's labour: a cool $30 billion of damage. The country would have been devastated but for Dr M, who slammed currency controls into place."
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A NEW CONTROVERSY: DR M INFURIATES THE ANGLOSPHERE WITH HIS COMMENTS ABOUT ISRAEL: "Israel is provided with weapons, helicopter gunships, bullets coated with depleted uranium to wage war against people whose only way to retaliate is by committing suicide bombing.
"The Israeli soldiers were well-protected with body armour, operated from armoured tanks and armoured bulldozers, to rocket and bomb the Palestinian and demolish their houses while the occupants were still inside.
"Israel has nuclear weapons but it was provided with bombers to bomb so-called nuclear research facilities in other countries.
"And as with American and British actions, the Israeli bombs and rockets tore up the living Palestinians, Iraqis and soon Syrians and Iranians, without the slightest consideration that the people they killed have rights, have human rights to their lives, to security and peace.
"Then there are other friends of these terrorist nations who abuse the rights of their own people, deny them even the simplest democratic rights, jailing and executing their people without fair trial but are not criticised or condemned..."