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The Politics of McDonald’s in Malaysia

(FAM News) – There has been a lot of commotion lately about the Golden Arches.

McDonalds has always served as a convenient political straw man – a perennial punching bag in domestic politics, particularly because the prominent, glowing “M” that casts a warm, familiar glow in nearly every country in the world, has also come to represent an “antagonistic” space in the Malaysian psyche: the excesses of capitalism, and its patron saint, the decadent West and its leader, the United States.

This is not the first time that McDonalds has come under attack for simply trying to be the finest purveyor of factory reject meat in Malaysia.

In 2014, hordes of pro-Palestinian protestors swarmed McDonalds franchises in the country, announcing their intention to boycott McDonalds – presumably because McDonald’s is an American corporation with leaders who may be of members of the Jewish faith.

McDonalds responded that such boycotts would ultimately hurt its workers the most – many of whom were Muslim. 

The brutal terror attacks and violent pangs of radical Islamic fundamentalism have also reverberated throughout the Western world and has contributed to the rise of nationalist populism.

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Most recently however, McDonalds enraged members of the Malaysian public when news of its policy permitting only “halal” birthday cakes on their premises – struck a nerve with the non-Muslim community who felt that their rights had been infringed upon.

Some civil society leaders and outraged citizens called for a boycott of McDonalds:

Others felt strongly about McDonalds foisting religious rules upon its patrons regardless of whether they were Muslim or not and decried the creeping extremism in the country.

Some Muslims in the confectionary business “fumed” over the McDonald’s Malaysia policy barring “non-Halal” cakes from its premises.

“I am totally against this! How would you know this cake is halal or not anyway? If I, a Muslim baked the cake and it is bought by a non-Muslim customer, they will be penalised?” Roslinda Rusli of TortebyLinda told Malay Mail Online when contacted.

“What if it’s a Muslim who bought my cake and carries it into McDonald’s? I don’t know what’s happening in this country! So particular of everything.”

Nor Haslinda Rahman, a self-taught baker, concurred with Roslinda, calling the move “ridiculous”.

However, opinions ranged on the issue. Some felt a boycott would be a step too far:

Some others stopped short of calling for a boycott, reasoning that McDonalds was only abiding by the rules set forth by religious authorities in the country.

Regardless, it doesn’t appear that McDonalds will stop becoming a political football in Malaysia anytime soon.

McDonalds has became a symbol of the West and its alliance with Israel. It is an unofficial “embassy”, situated in commercial areas that are accesible by the public and easy targets for mobs wishing to express anti-semitic, anti-Israel, anti-American, or anti-cake rage. 

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