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Malaysia: What’s The Point Of Boycotting The Local Starbucks?

Filepic: ReutersFilepic: ReutersTHERE is no denying the fact Malaysians are very passionate. We will commit and dedicate ourselves to whatever social affair or issue we feel passionate about, such as the Palestinian-Israel issue, the ISIS issue, even the Rohingya refugee crisis.

But the commitment hardly ever lasts.

Remember two years ago in 2014 when emotions against the Zionist movement and oppression towards Palestinians by Israel was at an all-time high? There were protests and calls for the boycott of Jewish-linked businesses such as McDonald’s, Starbucks and the like.

How long did the boycott last? Obviously not very long. Everyone was so angry in the beginning. They took to the streets with their banners and scarves. And yes, they did boycott the franchises, for a week or two maybe. But then it was Big Macs and Latte Grandes all over again.

Today, there seems to be yet another call to boycott these franchises.

But this time, it isn’t an issue related to the Zionists. The Malay nationalist group Perkasa wants Malay Muslims here to boycott coffee chain Starbucks, purportedly because the company supports marriage equality and LGBT rights in the US.

Apparently, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz supports same-sex marriage.

Perkasa’s rhetoric echoes that of the Muhammadiyah leaders in Indonesia who have been calling for a similar boycott. The group is one of the biggest Islamic organisations in Indonesia.

I’m not too worried that Perkasa’s call for boycott in Malaysia would amount to much. It may spark something for a few days but trust me, it’s not going to go on for long. History has already proven this: Malaysians need their Western fixes.

But what I do want to bring to attention to is whether or not boycotts like these ever end up achieving their objectives.

It’s true these large global corporations may have their headquarters based in large Zionist-supporting countries and yes, maybe there are some who even support the movement.

But let’s also consider this: At the micro-level, like in Malaysia or even Indonesia, these large chains contribute plenty to the local economy by providing countless jobs and business opportunities for local communities. Their existence actually helps the country grow and prosper financially.

Today is officially my first day back to work after the Hari Raya Aidilfitri break. And of course, one of the first things I do to get my day started is to get some caffeine into my system.

There’s a Starbucks drive-thru close to where I live.

“Good morning! What would you like to order?” asks the voice in the box.

“I’d like a hot latte. Grande, please,” I say.

I drive up to the counter and I see a young headscarved-clad girl with a Starbucks apron on. She smiles and I pass her my credit card. After she processes the payment, she hands me my coffee and bids me farewell. I say thank you and wish her Selamat Hari Raya.

These franchises in operations in Malaysia are owned and run by Malaysians. They hire Malaysians to man the outlets. So if there was a boycott, the people who would directly suffer would be Malaysians themselves. The businesses would close down and jobs would be lost.

I’m aware that massive boycotts have been proven to work in the past. Such as what happened with apartheid South Africa when the entire world population decided to to boycott and hold sanctions against the apartheid-supporting government.

But that is a different story.

And of course, there is the current BDS movement (Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions) that started in 2005 with the intention of isolating Israel due to their stand on Palestine.

But again, a very different story (the movement isn’t doing too well either).

I don’t support the anti-Palestinian and anti-Islam policies that are being practiced by the Israeli government. But somehow, I don’t think a boycott movement is going to work to remedy the situation. It might take something different to overcome it.

But like I said, that’s also a different story.

The movement in countries like Malaysia against the LGBT community is founded on nothing other than ignorance and misunderstanding. So instead of calling for a boycott that might affect the livelihoods of fellow Malaysians, maybe call for discourse and engagement with the community instead.

Zan Azlee is a journalist, writer, filmmaker, multimedia producer and academic based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He reports for several news organisations, has done a few documentary films, written non-fiction books and produced a few digital multimedia stories. He also runs Fatbidin.Com.

- Asian Correspondent