"Extremism" In Palestine Solidarity Week: Leaders Debate Usage Of Toy Guns In School

From the usage of toy firearms to burning the Israeli flag in schools, Palestine Solidarity Week has been fraught with controversy.

Cover image via New Straits Times & FMT

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Following the display of solidarity for Palestine by students and teachers who brought toy guns to school, political leaders and the Malaysian public have engaged in discussions regarding the appropriateness and impact of such activism

Photos and videos of teachers and students brandishing toy firearms while wearing the Palestine keffiyeh (headscarves) and balaclavas have been circulating online, with many media outlets reporting on them.

These photos and videos are believed to originate from at least one Special Education Integrated Programme (PPKI) school located in Pahang.

It is uncertain when the footage was taken, but it began to gain massive traction on social media last Friday, 27 October.

One particular video depicts a man believed to be a teacher setting an Israeli flag on fire with a bow and burning arrow, raising concerns among the rakyat about the perceived "extremism" associated with the show of support for Palestinians.

A nationwide debate erupted after that, prompting reactions from the Prime Minister, Cabinet members, political leaders from various parties, academic experts, and the general public.

Palestine Solidarity Week is currently running from 29 October until 3 November, but the schools in question held activities associated with the programme outside the designated time period.

Bernama reported that MOE had condemned the schools for not following the guidelines for the programme issued by the ministry. According to the news portal, investigations are underway for schools that breached the guidelines.

Below is a video complication of the controversial footage:

To bring you up to date, here are six key points regarding the controversy surrounding Palestine Solidarity Week in schools:

1. MOE called for a "balanced" perspective during the Palestine Solidarity Week programme after observing that some schools had engaged in excessive displays

On Monday, 30 October, Education Minister Fadhlina Sidek made public the ministry's guidelines for the Palestine Solidarity Week programme, which aimed to underscore the necessity for a balanced perspective of the Palestinian-Israeli war.

At the time of writing, the published infographics, which encompass a total of 14 do's and don'ts, have garnered over 1.5 million views on Twitter. Below is the full guideline:

1. Focus on the humanitarian aspect: Emphasise the struggle for peace rather than controversial or violent elements
2. Promote understanding: Conduct educational activities, such as ceramah, photo exhibitions, or screening of documentaries, that provide an accurate view of the situation in Palestine
3. Invite authoritative speakers: Bring on experts who can provide a balanced perspective and in-depth knowledge
4. Encourage open dialogue: Organise question-and-answer sessions and discussion forums to explore the issue from multiple angles
5. Collaboration: Invite experienced humanitarian organisations and NGOs
6. Charity campaigns: Collect donations for humanitarian aid, including food, clothing, and education materials
7. Promote harmony: Highlight the importance of peace, justice, and harmony in all activities

1. Avoid using extreme rhetoric: Do not use provocative words, symbols, or remarks in support of violence, such as firearms, swords, or spears
2. Refrain from blaming individuals or religions: Avoid generalising or blaming an entire group or religion based on the actions of a few
3. Do not manipulate facts: Ensure that all shared information is accurate and not misleading
4. Steer clear of activities that may lead to confrontation: Avoid street demonstrations that can create conflict or tension
5. Avoid engaging in partisan politics: Do not take sides or provide platforms for any political faction
6. Don't present an imbalanced view of the situation: Although the purpose is to show solidarity with Palestine, avoid highlighting only one perspective
7. Do not use symbols or icons that can cause controversy: Flags, slogans, and photos that may offend others are not allowed

2. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim said Putrajaya would step in to prevent the programme from getting "out of control"

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

Image via Bernama via Malay Mail

In the wake of the viral videos and photos, Anwar said the government would closely monitor all activities during Palestine Solidarity Week in schools, reported Malay Mail.

"We will not force any schools to participate in it, but we must control what's happening.

"We in the Cabinet spoke about it. We encourage it, but it must be controlled so it doesn't get out of control," the Prime Minister said last Friday.

Anwar's statement can be viewed as a testament to Malaysia's unwavering commitment to denounce the Israeli government for the ongoing atrocities in the Gaza Strip, while expressing his wish that schools should refrain from using radical approaches when educating the younger generation about the Palestinian plight.

3. DAP and 12 PRK members urged the Ministry of Education (MOE) to review the decision to proceed with the programme

Prior to the start of the programme, on 28 October, three members of parliament (MPs) and nine assemblypersons (ADUNs) from PKR issued a statement, urging MOE to reconsider its decision to organise Palestine Solidarity Week.

"While understanding the ministry's intention to educate students about humanitarian values, human rights, and compassion towards the suffering (of the Palestinians), it is difficult for the ministry to monitor the Palestine Solidarity Week programme to ensure it reaches its goal without spreading vengeance and violence.

"At the same time, we urge the ministry to take stringent action against any parties who fail to adhere to the ministry's guidelines and evoke violence with the use of replica weapons in schools. We are of the opinion that bringing international conflict issues into schools is inappropriate and should be reconsidered.

"The government and the rakyat should remain rational while supporting Palestinians and should never promote hatred and violence within public institutions," read the joint statement.

The statement was collectively made by:
1. Gopeng MP Tan Kar Hing
2. Petaling Jaya MP Lee Chean Chung
3. Miri MP Chiew Choon Man
4. Kebun Bunga ADUN Lee Boon Heng
5. Rawang ADUN Chua Wei Kiat
6. Semanbu ADUN Chan Chun Kuang
7. Simpang Pulai ADUN Wong Chai Yi
8. Chuah ADUN Yew Boon Lye
9. Bukit Tambun ADUN Goh Choon Aik
10. Kajang ADUN David Cheong Kian Yong
11. Bukit Batu ADUN Arthur Chiong Sen Sern
12. Bakar Arang ADUN Adam Loh Wei Chai

DAP has also expressed concerns about the use of school grounds to promote extremism and violence, with Housing and Local Government of Malaysia Minister Nga Kor Ming and Transport Minister Anthony Loke making statements urging MOE to review Palestine Solidarity Week in schools.

The 12 PKR members and DAP said that even though they hoped MOE would reevaluate the programme, they emphasised their unwavering solidarity with the Palestinian cause.

4. PAS claimed the usage of toy guns helped educate students about the Palestinian plight

Pasir Mas MP Ahmad Fadhli Shaari.

Image via FMT

According to Malaysiakini, Pasir Mas MP Ahmad Fadhli Shaari defended the use of toy firearms during Palestine Solidarity Week, citing that it was a way for students to be educated on the Palestinian struggle against Israel.

"Apparently, when children brought toy guns, it was to teach them about violence, (but) it was just a method to educate them on the ongoing struggle of Palestinians.

"This is a very dangerous statement, because, to us, it has revealed the 'true face' of certain leaders in government today," he said, referring to Nga's earlier statement that associated the usage of toy firearms to "extremism".

Fadhli also called on MOE to not give in to demands for disciplinary actions against teachers or students who were part of these activities.

"We urge the teachers involved in Palestine Solidarity Week not be subjected to disciplinary action.

"If action is taken (against them), we (PN) will state our stand and ask all Malaysians to be in solidarity with the schools' administrators," he said.

Malaysiakini reported that other Perikatan Nasional (PN) members have also seconded Fadhli's arguments.

Contradictorily, PAS secretary-general Datuk Seri Takiyuddin Hassan stated that his party agreed there were instances of excessive displays during the programme in some schools.

However, he argued that these reasons should not be used as grounds for cancelling or reviewing the programme.

5. The Crown Prince of Johor (TMJ) slammed the usage of toy firearms in schools

Speaking during an episode of Keluar Sekejap, hosted by Khairy Jamaluddin and Shahril Sufian Hamdan, aired last Sunday, 28 October, TMJ Tunku Ismail Ibni Sultan Ibrahim questioned the message it would send to children when they carry toy guns in school.

"Yesterday, I called the education minister and Johor executive councillor who oversees education to monitor every single school in Johor because I got images and reports of certain schools where the teachers themselves encouraged young kids to carry weapons.

"Even though these are toys, not real weapons, but what message are you trying to pass here?" TMJ chastised the teachers involved in the videos.

6. Sarawak leaders also disapproved of the programme

Asajaya ADUN Datuk Sri Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah.

Image via The Borneo Post

During the parliament sitting last Thursday, 26 October, Puncak Borneo MP Datuk Willie Mongin said students should not be involved in Palestine Solidarity Week as they should focus on their education instead, reported The Star.

"What is the need for us to bring the matter to schools and involve children who should focus on their own future?

"We keep moving backwards. This is not the way," he said, adding that the MOE did not show show good governance.

Meanwhile, Sarawak Tourism, Creative Industry and Performing Arts Minister Datuk Sri Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah also voiced his disapproval of the programme, saying holding toy guns is not the appropriate method to teach children, reported The Borneo Post.

"I have seen videos of children holding toy guns. You don’t teach your children this way. MOE should address this matter and avoid involving young children," said the Asajaya ADUN.

Learn more about the Palestinian plight on SAYS:

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