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In Malaysia, Creative Ways to Duck Government Censorship

Planting "flowers" in Kuala Lumpur
Planting "flowers" in Kuala Lumpur
Faidzal Mohtar

Zulkiflee Anwar Haque, better known as Zunar, is a cartoonist who has been drawing editorial and political cartoons for over 20 years. His cartoons cover a range of issues, but are known for being critical of the government.

“Most of the mainstream media neglect or black out the important issues, just focusing on petty or sensational issues. They want to distract people’s minds from focusing on the fundamental issues. Through my cartoons I want to highlight the important issues in Malaysia, like corruption; there are so many cases of corruption that have been blacked out by mainstream media.”

As rules get stricter on what can or cannot be said in Malaysia, people are having to get increasingly creative about putting out alternative news — like planting flags which they call "flowers."

A group of designers and architects set up the "Malaysia Spring" group after the disputed general election results came out. Architect Ng Sek, who heads the group, says they wanted to give people a sense of hope.

“Because the political process is so alienating, a lot of people in Malaysia feel helpless. The fact that they can do something as simple as planting "flowers' in a public space as an act of defiance is very important.”

The group encouraged people to plant the symbolic flowers in the shape of colorful flags in empty spaces around Malaysia, such as roundabouts and public parks. People of all ages took part in the campaign and thousands of flags were planted.

“We want to show that maybe Malaysia could have a spring, and we wanted to do this mass planting of flowers to make our neighborhoods a lot more colorful, and at the same time making people think that things can be beautiful, things can be sunny, things can be warm if everyone puts some effort into it.”

But the government didn’t see it as something beautiful.

Local government officers, the DBKL, came and tried to take the color flags out. But Ng says in some of the areas the residents fought back. “Residents came out of their homes to protest and more and more people came out with them. It got to a stage where the DBKL decided that they couldn’t proceed anymore because an incident might happen so they backed off.”

The government has also actively tried to stop political cartoonist Zunar from getting his work seen. “In 2009 an official from the home ministry began to harass the vendors and bookstores who sell my cartoons. They gave a warning to them not to sell my cartoon in the future, also seizing hundreds of my books at that time. They raided the bookstore and seized them. Later on they banned my cartoon under the printing and publishing act. After the raid I released another book and so they banned that too.”

He says the internet has been harder for the government to control. “Now we have internet, we are lucky.” Messages are continuously being spread in alternative ways in Malaysia that have yet to face any regulation.

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Life On "Mars": With The Teams Simulating Space Missions Under A Dome

A niche research community plays out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another planet.

Photo of a person in a space suit walking toward the ​Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

At the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

Sarah Scoles

In November 2022, Tara Sweeney’s plane landed on Thwaites Glacier, a 74,000-square-mile mass of frozen water in West Antarctica. She arrived with an international research team to study the glacier’s geology and ice fabric, and how its ice melt might contribute to sea level rise. But while near Earth’s southernmost point, Sweeney kept thinking about the moon.

“It felt every bit of what I think it will feel like being a space explorer,” said Sweeney, a former Air Force officer who’s now working on a doctorate in lunar geology at the University of Texas at El Paso. “You have all of these resources, and you get to be the one to go out and do the exploring and do the science. And that was really spectacular.”

That similarity is why space scientists study the physiology and psychology of people living in Antarctic and other remote outposts: For around 25 years, people have played out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another world. Polar explorers are, in a way, analogous to astronauts who land on alien planets. And while Sweeney wasn’t technically on an “analog astronaut” mission — her primary objective being the geological exploration of Earth — her days played out much the same as a space explorer’s might.

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