KUALA LUMPUR • Having a big beer festival has never been part of Malaysian culture and should not be, said Tourism and Culture Minister Nazri Aziz.
Datuk Seri Nazri cited the National Culture Policy, drafted in 1971, which said among other things that the national culture must be based on the indigenous culture of this region, with Islam as an important component in the formulation of it.
"Please understand, don't think that we banned all this because we are an Islamic country, but it is not our culture, whether we are Malays, Chinese, Indian, Kadazan or Iban, to have a big festival for beer," he said at the Institute of Diplomacy and Foreign Relations Cultural Diplomacy Lecture Series yesterday.
Mr Nazri said the situation in Malaysia is different from Germany, a beer-drinking country that is home to beer producers.
"They can have Oktoberfest because they want to promote their beers, they are beer-drinking countries and producers - it is understandable. But here, we don't produce beer," the minister said.
Islamic conservatism has been on the rise in Malaysia in recent years.
The Kuala Lumpur authorities, citing security threats, recently cancelled the Better Beer Festival event after the opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia said it was disrespectful to Muslims.
However, the country's monarchs weighed in this week to condemn "divisive" acts in the name of Islam, which they said should be "respectful, moderate and inclusive".
Similarly, former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, writing in his blog on Tuesday, said Muslims should be worried about young people taking drugs or committing murder, rather than about non-Muslims drinking beer.
The Malaysian government has been criticised for siding with vocal Islamic conservatives in order not to jeopardise its crucial Malay-Muslim vote bank.
Yesterday, Mr Nazri explained that the beerfest ban did not mean that drinking beer was totally disallowed in the country.
"They can drink in the pub, where you can control the crowd in case someone gets excited and drunk. But to have a festival where you cannot control the crowd, there might be fights, some people get drunk and they don't know what they are saying," he said.
"Just like four to five years ago we had this rave party... Malaysians don't know how to appreciate the public deejay, they went for drugs and 11 people died, so that's why we stopped this beer festival," he added.