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Don’t Malign the MH370 Captain’s ‘Fanatical’ Politics

Captain

BY PATRICK WINN / GlobalPost

The tabloids are misinformed. You'd probably agree with the captain.

BANGKOK, Thailand — He’s “fanatical,” says one Western media outlet. He’s “obsessive,” says another. The captain of Malaysia Airlines’ missing jet was even photographed wearing a black T-shirt (above, right) that proclaims “Democracy is Dead,” which apparently “fuels talk that he hijacked the flight.

These headlines create a composite image: an oddball radical with an Islamic name, a man possessed by fringe politics — all in a Muslim-majority nation unfamiliar to most in the West.

But these tabloid notions are grossly misinformed.

All evidence available to the public suggests the opposite: Capt. Zaharie Shah’s politics appear to be generally in tune with Western sensibilities. And given Malaysia’s authoritarian leanings, his opposition views are entirely understandable.

Malaysia is a tropical, multi-ethnic home to roughly 30 million people. The nation endured centuries of European colonization only to shake off British rule in 1957 and become, by Asian standards, modern and affluent. Thanks to a cultural mix of Malays, Chinese and Indians, its cuisine is also mind blowing.

The nation’s government, however, leaves much to be desired.

“People need to see that Malaysia is a one-party state, run by princelings, despite regular elections. This regime has been protected from effective competition,” said Wong Chin-Huat, a political scientist with Malaysia’s Penang Institute think tank.

"Once you understand that,” Chin-Huat said, “you’ll also understand why there’s chaos in coordination over the missing flight.”

Malaysia’s dominant party, Barisan Nasional, has held power for nearly 60 years. To retain control, Malaysia’s leaders stifle protest and dissent. They have instituted laws and privileges favoring the dominant race, Malay, over all other citizens.

They also pursue dubious charges against political challengers, such as Anwar Ibrahim, a veteran politician whose opposition party promotes a less oppressive, more racially integrated vision of Malaysia. This vision has never condoned armed struggle, coups, terrorism or hijacking jets full of innocent passengers.

The MH370 captain happens to be a committed Anwar supporter. The two are also very loosely related through in-laws but have no personal relationship, according to Singapore’s Straits Times newspaper.

AnwarAnwar (pictured, right), the face of Malaysia’s opposition, was sentenced to a five-year prison term several days before the flight went missing. Zaharie attended the trial. The politician’s alleged crime: fully consensual male-on-male sex — a crime in conservative Malaysia. Human Rights Watch condemned the verdict as a “political case” worthy of “international ridicule.”

That prison sentence conveniently follows a groundbreaking election last summer in which the ruling party, badly threatened by Anwar’s opposition, earned less than half of the popular vote. Barisan Nasional retained power nonetheless.

“So if you think the captain is an extremist, then I’m afraid that 51 percent of Malaysians share that extremism. That’s how many people voted for the opposition party,” Chin-Huat said. “This situation generates anger, frustration and depression because it seems you can’t remove a government through elections. But the anger is understandable.”

“Him wearing a T-shirt that says ‘Democracy is Dead,’” Chin-Huat said, “is no different than Americans’ reaction in 2000 when Al Gore lost to George Bush.”

Tabloids’ screaming speculation that Zaharie hijacked the plane in “political protest” is hard to reconcile with the total lack — as far as we know — of a manifesto recovered by police on searches of his home and computer. Without a public declaration of intent, the killing of 239 people (plus himself and his co-pilot) would also be rendered completely pointless.

That hasn’t stopped Fox News from calling him an “obsessive follower” of anti-government politics, or its pundits claiming that “experts” believe his politics are a “cause of concern ... is it a political or ideological act of protest?”

Zaharie, a highly competent English speaker, has a light presence on social media. His YouTube channel, featuring his mundane and geeky tutorials on home repair, has become a haven for both consolation and cruel trolling.

Zaharie also appears to have clicked “like” on a number of atheism-themed YouTube clips, which suggests a degree of unorthodox broadmindedness in Malaysia’s puritanical society. The state holds Islam so sacrosanct that citizens declared “Muslim” at birth are forbidden from legally switching faiths.

MapMultinational investigations into the bizarre vanishing of flight MH370 have grown more agonizing by the day. Satellite data indicate the Boeing 777 could have ended up as far as the Kazakhstan hinterlands or the depths of the Indian Ocean.

Malaysia’s premier has declared the plane’s disappearance “deliberate” and police have sharpened their focus onto Zaharie and his co-pilot. So far, authorities have not identified any others aboard the plane who appear capable of the expert navigation skills displayed after the jet veered off its scheduled Kuala Lumpur to Beijing route.

Investigating both pilots’ beliefs, mental state, behavior and belongings is necessary as long as 239 passengers and a 770,000-pound jet are missing. But so far, no publicly available evidence suggests Zaharie’s political beliefs were deranged or unhealthy.

Quite the opposite. The captain’s opposition to Malaysia’s flawed government — with its legacy of race-baiting, draconian laws and censorship — should be relatable to many Americans.

And if it turns out Zaharie’s politics somehow played a role in the flight’s disappearance?

Given everything we currently know, blaming Malaysia’s popular opposition would still be misplaced. That’s like blaming actress Jodie Foster for the 1981 attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan — all because the mentally ill gunman wanted to impress her.

(map via bbc)


Malaysia 370 Investigation Turns to Crew, Passengers as 'Deliberate Act' Comes into Focus: VIDEO

370

The international investigation into Malaysia 370, the Boeing 777 disappearance that is captivating the world, continues to take new twists every few hours. Now, authorities are saying that the plane flew for as many as seven hours after being diverted.

Malaysia's Prime Minister announced that it has now become a criminal investigation as location data made that theory almost impossible to deny. The NYT:

According to Mr. Najib, a satellite orbiting 22,250 miles (35,800 kilometers) over the middle of the Indian Ocean received a transmission that, based on the angle of transmission from the plane, came from a location somewhere along one of two arcs. One arc runs from the southern border of Kazakhstan in Central Asia to northern Thailand. The other runs from near Jakarta, Indonesia, to the Indian Ocean, roughly 1,000 miles off the west coast of Australia.

“These movements are consistent with deliberate action by someone on the plane,” Mr. Najib said. He noted that one communications system had been disabled as the plane flew over the northeast coast of Malaysia. A second system, a transponder aboard the aircraft, abruptly stopped broadcasting its location, altitude, speed and other information a few minutes later, at 1:21 a.m., while the plane was one-third of the way across the Gulf of Thailand from Malaysia to Vietnam.

Watch CNN's report on the newest developments, AFTER THE JUMP...

Any number of places are now in the search area:

The arc passes close to northern Iran, through Afghanistan and northern Pakistan, and through northern India and the Himalayan mountains and Myanmar.

An aircraft flying on that arc would have to pass through air-defense networks in India and Pakistan, whose mutual border is heavily militarized, as well as through Afghanistan, where the United States and other NATO countries have operated air bases for more than a decade.

Air bases near that arc include Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, where the United States Air Force’s 455th Air Expeditionary Wing is based, and a large Indian air base, Hindon Air Force Station.

The Indian Ocean, the third-largest in the world, has an average depth of more than 12,000 feet, or more than two miles.

Continue reading "Malaysia 370 Investigation Turns to Crew, Passengers as 'Deliberate Act' Comes into Focus: VIDEO" »


Search for Malaysian Airliner Turns to Completely New Area

Maylsia350As the search for Malaysia Airlines' missing Boeing 777 airliner continues for a fourth day, authorities are turning their interest to a new, completely different area after military officials report radar data showed the plane may have turned around, and flown hundreds of miles off its flight path at an extremely low altitude, the WaPo reports:

If the plane dropped from a low altitude into the Malacca Strait, it might explain the lack of a major debris field. Malaysia Airlines said in a statement early Tuesday that the western coast of Malaysia was “now the focus” of the search. But a spokeswoman for the airline later said the wording was a mistake and that there was no particular emphasis on any location.

Malaysian civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said searches were continuing “on both sides” of the peninsula.

Authorities expressed surprise that the plane would have attempted to head back to the Malaysian capital without informing ground control.

Terrorism has not been ruled out though "two Iranians who boarded an ill-fated passenger jet with fake passports did not appear to have any terrorist links."


Oil Slicks Spotted in Massive Search for Missing Malaysian Airliner with 239 Aboard: VIDEO

Malaysia

A Boeing 777 belonging to Malysia Airlines is missing after disappearing from radar while at cruising altitude on a trip between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing. 239 people were on board.

The NYT reports:

A 12-mile-long oil slick spotted between Malaysia and Vietnam on Saturday afternoon is thought to be the first sign that a missing Malaysia Airlines flight with 239 people aboard went down in the waters between southernmost Vietnam and northern Malaysia, according to Vietnam’s director of civil aviation.

“An AN26 aircraft of the Vietnam Navy has discovered an oil slick about 20 kilometers in the search area, which is suspected of being a crashed Boeing aircraft,” Lai Xuan Thanh, the director of the Civil Aviation Administration of Vietnam said. “We have announced that information to Singapore and Malaysia and we continue the search.”

...Malaysia Airlines said that the plane had 227 passengers aboard, including two infants, and an all-Malaysian crew of 12. The passengers included 154 citizens from China or Taiwan, 38 Malaysians, seven Indonesians, six Australians, five Indians, four French and three Americans, as well as two citizens each from New Zealand, Ukraine and Canada and one each from Russia, Italy, the Netherlands and Austria.

Watch a Euronews report, AFTER THE JUMP...

Images of the oil slick here.

Continue reading "Oil Slicks Spotted in Massive Search for Missing Malaysian Airliner with 239 Aboard: VIDEO" »


Anti-Gay Islamic Party To Protest Elton John's Malaysia Concert

Eltonredpiano

The Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party certainly won't be honoring World AIDS Day December 1. Quite the opposite: they'll be dishonoring it by picketing against one of the world's most generous HIV/AIDS activists, Elton John.

According to the Malaysian party, John promotes "hedonism" and they must "continually remind all Muslims, particularly youths, not to get involved in matters that can drag them into vice."

In addition to calling on the government to stop the concert, the party is also planning a street protest. RT notes that John performed a sold out show in Malaysia last year.

Malaysian Government To Parents, Teachers: Know The Signs Of Gay

Weird news out of Malaysia, from Reuters:

The Malaysian government has begun holding seminars aiming to help teachers and parents spot signs of homosexuality in children, underscoring a rise in religious conservatism in the Muslim majority nation.

So far, the Teachers Foundation of Malaysia has organized 10 seminars across the nation. Attendance at the last event on Wednesday reached 1,500 people ...

TerengganuThe "signs" of homosexuality include, among boys, an affection for v-neck shirts, the wearing of sleeveless shirts, the wearing of tight clothes in general, the using of handbags, and being muscular. The Malaysian government is less clear on how to spot lesbians. Their advice to girls' parents: Make sure your daughter avoids sleepovers.

From the Agence France-Presse:

"Definitely we support the seminars because it's good for parents to be exposed to LGBT symptoms," Deputy Education Minister Mohamad Puad Zarkashi told AFP on Friday, while declining direct comment on the guidelines.

"At least preventive action can be taken," said Mohamad Puad, who officiated one of the seminars in northern Penang state earlier this week.

What "preventive action" might mean in this context is unclear. Reuters notes that a government-run camp now exists in the Malaysian state of Terengganu, where "effeminate" boys are taught to butch up.

In Malaysia, homosexual acts are officially punishable by up to 20 years in prison, though penalties are seldom enforced.


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