B1A4, Malaysia and Islam – when K-pop causes political and cultural issues
B1A4 had a mini-concert and fan meeting in Malaysia. And just as all fan meetings within the K-pop sphere go, there was fan service and interaction. Fan service which included hugging a lucky fan and interacting with fans in various ways. The B1A4 members in the video and images spread across Malaysian media platforms had done merely what they were expected to do at fan meetings yet in the headlines, news media claimed that the K-pop artists molested the Malay fangirl. In other news sources, the title says something along the lines of: “Malay girl consents to being violated by K-pop man.” The members of B1A4 have left Malaysia to continue with their tour around the region but Islamic authorities within the country have sought to hold the organizers responsible for this event. According to them, there had been no approval from them and they were not informed of the event being held in Kuala Lumpur.
Malaysia is officially an Islamic state yet very much open to the world. Our prime minister boasts of the country’s pluralism in many international settings such as conferences, summit meetings, etc. In spite of the diversity, the country straddles between being entirely open and being conservative; as an example, being welcoming of different Western influences but strongly against the “cultures” brought in by them. Most Malaysians of my generation speak English fluently yet we have been taught since we were young to be aware of the negative culture brought in by Western influences. For the past few years, since Hallyu hit the shores of Malaysia, K-pop and the whole spectrum of Korean culture has been growing steadily in the land. The one thing we lack is K-pop concerts.
We had Big Bang but 2NE1 was cancelled. I missed out on Big Bang so I wanted to see 2NE1 really badly but when I was about to purchase the tickets online, I was told that the entire concert has been cancelled and 2NE1’s ‘All or Nothing’ tour would skip Malaysia altogether. In forums, some fans speculated that the cancellation had been decided by certain authorities – possibly influenced by the “revealing” costumes 2NE1 members wear during their concerts. This is the problem that always arises. While South Korea has its own strict regulation on censorship (such as when Hyuna is deemed too explicit), Malaysia’s censorship authorities go even further.
While all of this was going on, a religious authority claims that Korean culture and/or K-pop are dangerous to Muslims in a way that they are tools used “to spread Christianity and liberalism“. Apparently almost 80% of K-pop artists were Christians and, according to them, this is threatening “the pillars of the Islamic faith” as “Christianity and liberalism (are) seeping into the society”. The members’ act of hugging Muslim girls had brought on extreme disapproval and they immediately blamed the negative influences of culture imported from South Korea. As an Islamic state, one of the most important things for the authorities is to keep the Islamic faith going strong. And so if there are any threats against inculcating the Islamic faith in younger Muslims within the country, they will bring the issues to light through local media platforms. There isn’t anything wrong in fighting to keep a religious faith among younger generations but directing the blame randomly may not be the best way to go around it.
Western influences have been spread throughout the globe through the Internet, Hollywood and British films. At first, other conservative societies like South Korea also had problems accepting the openness of people in the West. Even today, the older generation of South Korea continues to adhere the more conservative Confucian values even as the nation marches towards a country more open to Western influences. Malaysia is very similar in some ways as the older generation disapproves of many of the cultural influences brought about by the currents of globalization. While it is indeed right for the Islamic authorities to hold the organizers responsible for not taking precautionary steps by advising the members of B1A4 and their representatives or managers about the cultural differences, proclaiming that K-pop is a tool for spreading Christianity may be a little far-fetched.
Muslim girls wear hijab in order to cover up; that is part of the religious beliefs and values held by Muslims. In order to align with this belief, young and old Muslim women are expected to act in a way that adheres to the values in which they have to protect their own dignity. Allowing a strange man to hug you in public can bring about serious consequences. The members of B1A4 did not have such cultural awareness to be aware of this, it was up to the organizers to inform them. Even if they were to allow fan service, they should have taken precaution in order to prevent such uproar amongst the Islamic authorities.
I think it is fair to say that just as younger generations of South Korea are becoming openly intimate in public (including posting on social networking sites), Malaysia is exactly the same too. More young people are no longer afraid of public display of affection. Hugs can be simply a way of greeting friends too, regardless of their gender. The young girls involved in this scandal have been receiving severe criticisms for their disgraceful act of “giving into her wants and lusts”.
While B1A4 should not have to take responsibility over this issue, they were, unfortunately, used to paint K-pop culture in a bad light even though K-pop concerts have been being held in Malaysia since when DBSK were still a group of 5. While concerts were few and far in between, we did have enough to satisfy the K-pop fandom within the land. But as this scandal continues to brew dissatisfaction among different groups of people in the country, the promise of having more K-pop concerts and events grow dimmer each day.