The White Flag Campaign in Malaysia, Explained


In Malaysia, some residents of low-income families have started waving white flags as part of the so-called “White Flag Campaign”, or the #benderaputi (white flag) movement. They are doing this to express their distress over the financial crisis they have had to face amid the lockdowns due to Covid-19. Malaysia imposed another lockdown on June 1 to control a new wave of Covid infections.

Malaysia recorded more than 7,000 cases on Tuesday, the highest the country has seen in more than a month. Kuala Lumpur, the capital, has recorded around 1,500 infections.

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So what is this movement?

As part of the movement launched last week, families facing hunger or in need of any other kind of assistance are encouraged to wave a white flag or place a piece of white cloth in front of their house to signal that they have Need help. The idea is that by spotting the white flag, neighbors and Good Samaritans can reach them.

On the Sambal SOS app, which was originally called the Bendera Putih app, people can see the map of Malaysia showing active food banks. It’s about making it easier for people to find food banks. Some fishermen in Penang are also helping the community by delivering fresh fish to families in need.

Along with the White Flag movement, there is also the Black Flag movement, to express its dissatisfaction with the Malaysian government. Concretely, this movement calls for the resignation of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin. The New Straits Times reported on July 4 that police were investigating the black flag campaign on social media “for allegedly containing seditious material.”

On July 3, a group called Sekretariat Solidariti Rakyat (SSR) urged the public to raise black flags in protest against the government’s handling of the pandemic. The group demanded that Yassin resign and that parliament meet to lift the state of emergency.

But the police also seem to be wary of white flags. The Borneo Post reported last week that eight families residing in a house in Taman Che Mei in Lido have withdrawn their white flags for fear of being penalized by the authorities. However, authorities maintained that none of these directives had been issued, according to the report.

According to an opinion piece published by the Malay Mail, there is yet another movement called the Red Flag Campaign or #benderamerah, which works the same as the White Flag movement, but the difference is that the former only targets Malaysian citizens. and was started by the Malaysian Animal Association, as many families abandoned animals they couldn’t afford to feed.

Why use white flags?

All over the world, white flags are used as a symbol of surrender or truce. The phrase “white flag” has also found a place in the Cambridge dictionary, which defines it as “a flag waved to show that you accept defeat or that you have no intention of attacking”.

In fact, the military manuals of different countries have rules that govern when and how a white flag can be used. For example, the Commanders’ Guide to Australia (1994) states: “It is important to note that a white flag represents the expression of a desire to negotiate; it is not necessarily an indication of the intention to surrender or to conclude a ceasefire. Canada’s LOAC Handbook (2001) states: “Staff wearing a white flag indicate a desire to negotiate or surrender. They should not be attacked but should be treated with caution. “

But Malaysians are not the only ones to signal their distress and food insecurity amid the pandemic through this symbol. Something similar happened halfway around the world in 2020.

Last year, the journal Social Text noted that in some Central American countries such as El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, “white flags have appeared all over the social field as indictments of a system. political and economic failures whose main effect for ordinary people has been to endure a life of dehumanization, precariousness and marginalization.

The article added: “These white flags then, draped over the windows, over the doors, suspended dangerously from the lampposts and torn steel sheets which optimistically protect families from the smoke and noise of traffic, are a prism for see the reality of life damaged in these humid climates.

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