This week we shine the spotlight on Malaysia:
CURRENCY AND CARS
While other emerging-market currencies in Asia are halting their slide, the Malaysian ringgit is continuing its precipitous fall, Malaysian financial newspaper the Edge reports.
The Malaysian currency has experienced a steady depreciation for months against the U.S. dollar. Despite a minor rally recently, it's now trading at 4.18 ringgit for $1, up from 3.5 in February of this year.
The Edge writes that this fall is particularly damaging for the country's automobile industry, as domestic car producers must compete with foreign brands. Several other currencies in emerging markets have fallen in value this year, including those of Indonesia, Brazil, Russia and Vietnam, but have mostly recovered.
FIGHTING THE HAZE
As thick haze continues to blanket Malaysia, Singapore and parts of Indonesia, the governments in Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur have struck a deal to combat the environmental disaster, Singaporean daily The Straits Times reports.
Illegal land and forest fires in the Indonesian island of Sumatra result in clouds of haze polluting the region every year, forcing disruption and closures in Malaysia and Singapore.
But under the agreement, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia will implement new standards for environmentally sustainable palm oil production and increase cooperation to curb fires in the region. Many of the fires occur in palm oil plantations, and a joint aircraft operation by the three countries is currently underway to tackle the haze. The agreement was recently signed at a meeting between Indonesian President Joko Widodo and his Malaysian counterpart Prime Minister Najib Razak, at the Indonesian presidential palace in Bogor.
MIRACLE IN MALAYSIA
Malaysian free daily tabloid The Sun reports that hundreds of believers are flocking to the scene of an alleged miracle at a church in Subang Jaya, a city just southwest of the capital, Kuala Lumpur. A statue of the Virgin Mary at the St. Thomas More Catholic Church is said to have grown 7.2 centimeters taller since it was blessed Oct. 7, causing parishioners to believe it was divine intervention.
The statue â€" which some said also smiled and shed tears â€" was acquired in Vietnam. Though the statue has already drawn hundreds of pilgrims from across the region, local priests are awaiting confirmation from the Vatican. The Catholic Church must officially confirm that a miracle has happened before it can be recognized, a complex process that can take years.
Two endangered Malayan tapirs will soon be flying to Japan as part of a conservation project, writes Kuala Lumpur-based daily New Straits Times. Im and Bertam, a 2-year-old male and 3-year-old female respectively, will be sent to Nagasaki Bio Park for a decade-long conservation and research program.
The two tapirs are part of a wider agreement between Malaysia and Japan, with the latter committing to research, breeding efforts and eco tourism to protect Malaysian wildlife. Japan is engaged in other conservation projects abroad, and one effort is to protect endangered sea turtles in Indonesia, The Jakarta Post reports.
There are only about 1,100 to 1,500 Malayan tapirs left on the Malaysian peninsula, with deforestation and the illegal animal trade the main contributors to their population decline.
PRESSURE BUILDS ON PM
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak is feeling the heat to resign amid a widening corruption scandal. Leaders within the ruling party are growing increasingly impatient with Najib, who is accused of siphoning millions linked to a state-owned development fund.
The Financial Times reports that senior figures within the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), Malaysia's long-time ruling party, are withdrawing their backing of the embattled leader. The government has prosecuted political opponents both within and outside the party, but Najib is facing calls to resign from former party members and even former Prime Minister and UMNO leader Mahathir Mohamad.
Former Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin told UMNO members to be "more expressive" and to "do what is best for the nation." Najib denies any wrongdoing.
A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.
BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.
Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.
The incident at the cemetery
They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."
There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.
It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.
The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.
The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender
Crimes against Jews are rising
Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.
Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.
Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.
And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?
Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously
This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.
Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.
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