JOHOR BARU - Amid controversy over the Malaysian government's move to stop two beer parties, Johor's Menteri Besar Mohamed Khaled Nordin has said he is not blocking an Oktoberfest event at a hotel in Johor Baru as it has been organised for many years.
Malaysian police and municipal authorities have stepped in to ban beer drinking events in Kuala Lumpur and Klang town in Selangor, citing security threat though these were organised without any incidents in past years.
The controversy over private events involving non-Muslim Malaysians is seen as another step taken by the authorities to side with vocal Islamic conservatives while crimping the rights of non-Muslim Malaysians.
Others see the government supporting the ban to underline its support for the sensitivities of its vote bank, the Malay Muslim electorate.
But Datuk Seri Khaled, speaking to Sinar Harian newspaper, said the Oktoberfest event will be held inside a Johor Baru hotel and sees no reason to stop it.
"This thing has been around for a long time and it has not been announced or promoted. The programmes were only run in closed locations, unlike certain states that run it by openly inviting members of the public.
"So there is no need to play up the issue," he was quoted as saying by the Malay language daily.
The controversy is the latest that rubs non-Muslims the wrong way in a country that has seen a surge in Islamic conservatism, as the ruling Umno party and opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) fight for the Malay vote after being abandoned by non-Muslim Chinese voters.
Just last week, a laundrette in Muar, Johor, fanned a huge controversy after its Muslim owner insisted it would only cater to Muslim clients. He backed down after the Sultan of Johor said: "This is not a Taleban state and as the Head of Islam in Johor, I find this action to be totally unacceptable as this is extremist in nature."
The German beer drinking parties have been held for several years in Malaysia without attracting much comment.
Islamist party PAS has in recent years made loud noises against concerts by female Western artistes, Valentine's Day and Muslims joining in Christmas festivities.
PAS two weeks ago said the Oktoberfest event, being planned at a KL shopping centre, disrespects Muslims.
Said PAS central committee member Riduan Mohd Nor: "Although Muslims are not the target for participation, at the same time there is no limit or obstructions if Muslims were to join... What is the guarantee of safety that can be given to the public who are not involved, such as crime, free sex, rape and so on."
Police later said the event has been cancelled as there is a fear that it could induce attacks by militant groups.
An Oktoberfest being planned at a mall in Klang town was also cancelled.
Klang municipal council president Mohamad Yasin Bidin said the approval issued to the organisers of the Centro German F&B Party in Centro Mall was retracted after the police retracted their letter of support for the event. All large-scale private and public events have to be approved by the police for safety reasons, he was quoted as saying in Sin Chew Daily on Sunday (Oct 1).
"In other words, it is a must to obtain police approval, because this is what is required by the rules. This has nothing to do with whether alcoholic beverages will be served during the festival. The event is purely commercial and because the organisers were unable to obtain the police's approval, we are also unable to approve it."