Alive and kicking: Age no bar for Indonesia’s oldest Pencak Silat icon

Alive and kicking: Age no bar for Indonesia’s oldest Pencak Silat icon
Zakaria Abdurochim and his 26-year-old grandson Alfarisy pose with the certificate declaring him as Indonesia’s oldest Pencak Silat fighter at 91 years old. (Supplied)
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Updated 09 June 2021

Alive and kicking: Age no bar for Indonesia’s oldest Pencak Silat icon

Alive and kicking: Age no bar for Indonesia’s oldest Pencak Silat icon
  • At 92, Zakaria Abdurochim continues to reinvent himself to teach martial arts

JAKARTA: Indonesia’s oldest Pencak Silat fighter, Zakaria Abdurochim, says his advancing age is no reason to stop teaching the ancient martial art form which he learned as a teenager during the Japanese occupation in the 1940s.

“I learned Pencak Silat from my grandfather, Muhammad Zaelani. He taught the skills to his family members at that time as a form of self-defense during the Japanese occupation,” Abdurochim told Arab News during an interview at his residence in Kwitang, Jakarta.

The soon-to-be 92-year-old continued to teach the Mustika Kwitang Pencak Silat style to a group of students until the classes were halted abruptly during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic last year.

The social restrictions, however, did not deter him from teaching, as he turned to technology with the help of his 26-year-old grandson, Alfarisy, also known as Riry, to connect with his students.

“Riry would tape me demonstrating the moves and send the clips to students and they could use it as a reference to learn,” he said.

His lifetime passion and dedication to the martial art earned him recognition from Indonesia’s World Records Museum which declared him the country’s oldest Pencak Silat fighter in August last year.

The Mustika Kwitang is one of the most prominent Betawi styles of Pencak Silat.

Betawi refers to the ethnic group native to Jakarta. Abdurochim said it originated as a family tradition in the 19th century and was passed down from one generation to another.

His great-great-grandfather taught his family members the traditional self-defense skills, which he developed with some influence from Chinese martial arts which he learnt from a Chinese trader and a martial arts master who had settled in the area.

Various historical accounts referred to the Chinese trader as Kwee Tang Kiam, from whom many claim the name of the area, Kwitang, was taken. It was the area where many Chinese and Arab traders settled when they migrated to Batavia, Jakarta’s colonial-era name during the Dutch East Indies occupation.

Abdurochim’s first opportunity to showcase his skills was when Indonesia held its first multi-sports event, the National Sports Week (PON), in 1948, three years after it declared its independence.

But at that time, it was featured only as a demonstration sport to showcase the arts of the synchronized body movement.

He participated again as a member of the capital city’s contingent in the second PON in 1951 when Pencak Silat was listed as a competitive sport, winning a gold medal for Jakarta.

After his family’s Pencak Silat style began to gain prominence in the new republic, Abdurochim and his 13 siblings agreed to formalize it into a school and founded the Mustika Kwitang Pencak Silat school in 1952. Out of the 14 siblings, only he and his 77-year-old sister are still alive.

But the Mustika Kwitang Pencak Silat style’s continuity is in “safe hands,” he said, with Riry now leading the school.

“Just like grandpa who learnt Pencak Silat from his grandpa, I also learned this from him from when I was five years old. I became interested as he used to take me along with him in many of his coaching sessions,” Riry said.

Riry is one of Abdurochim’s 60 grandchildren from 14 children. Although his other grandchildren also learned the martial arts form, only Riry and one of his cousins are keeping the legacy alive, with future seeds growing in the family as some of his 34 great-grandchildren have started to learn the sport as well.

Riry now holds his own classes at the nearby Islamic Center, which was established by the late Ali bin Abdurrahman Al-Habsyi. The Muslim cleric founded the Majelis Taklim Kwitang, or Kwitang Muslim congregation, and he was a leading preacher who played an instrumental role in the proliferation of Islam in the city and across Indonesia.

The school now has disciples in many parts of the country as well as abroad, including France, the UK and the Netherlands, where Abdurochim traveled to teach.

“Recently, someone from Amsterdam contacted me, he found my contact from the IPSI (Indonesian Pencak Silat Association) and wanted to learn online. He said he would come to Indonesia to learn on the spot when the pandemic is over,” Abdurochim said.

He likened learning Pencak Silat to learning how to read, where a disciple has to learn the 12 basic moves just like learning the alphabet.

“When they master the moves, they will be able to compose them into a unity of movement accordingly, just like someone being able to compose a sentence after learning the alphabet,” he said.

Indonesia’s Pencak Silat, which has a distinctive style from various schools across the archipelago, was inscribed in UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in December 2019, a year after its debut in a global multisports event at the Asian Games 2018, which Indonesia hosted.

The UNESCO described Pencak Silat as having an all-encompassing aspect of sports — mental, spiritual, self defense and artistic.

It teaches its practitioners “to maintain their relationship with God, human beings, and nature … trained in various techniques to deal with attacks or other dangerous situations based on principles to protect themselves as well as others, avoid harming the offender and build comradeship.”

True to the description, Zakaria said Pencak Silat “teaches him about compassion, to do good, respect for the elderly and the teachers” — a philosophy that he has passed on by teaching it.

“We learn to be patient when enduring hardship. In addition to that, it is also good for our health from practicing the breathing techniques, and we learn to focus as we have to practice it in building our body strength,” he said.

Johansyah Lubis, a Pencak Silat athlete and coach for Indonesia’s national team in various international events, credited Abdurochim as one of the Pencak Silat masters who co-developed the nationally-recognized moves incorporated from various schools, and used as a reference point by the IPSI for competition.

“He has a strong commitment to preserving Pencak Silat as a Betawi native martial arts and culture,” Lubis told Arab News.

And with his lifetime of dedication to the traditional martial arts, and his gold medal for Jakarta in 1951, Abdurochim — who shares his birthday with the city on June 22 — is truly one of Jakarta’s icons.


America-Israel relations reach crossroads

America-Israel relations reach crossroads
President Joe Biden (L) and Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett. (AP)
Updated 17 min 30 sec ago

America-Israel relations reach crossroads

America-Israel relations reach crossroads
  • Bennett’s government says it wants to repair relations with the Democrats and restore bipartisan support in the US for Israel

WASHINGTON: Their countries at crossroads, the new leaders of the United States and Israel have inherited a relationship that is at once imperiled by increasingly partisan domestic political considerations and deeply bound in history and an engrained recognition that they need each other.
How President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett manage that relationship will shape the prospects for peace and stability in the Middle East. They are ushering in an era no longer defined by the powerful personality of long-serving Prime Minister Benjamin Netayahu, who repeatedly defied the Obama administration and then reaped the rewards of a warm relationship with President Donald Trump.
Bennett’s government says it wants to repair relations with the Democrats and restore bipartisan support in the US for Israel. Biden, meanwhile, is pursuing a more balanced approach on the Palestinian conflict and Iran. The relationship is critical to both countries. Israel has long regarded the United States as its closest ally and guarantor of its security and international standing while the US counts on Israel’s military and intelligence prowess in a turbulent Middle East.
But both Biden and Bennett are also restrained by domestic politics.
Bennett leads an uncertain coalition of eight parties from across Israel’s political spectrum whose main point of convergence was on removing Netanyahu from power after 12 years. Biden is struggling to bridge a divide in his party where near-uniform support for Israel has eroded and a progressive wing wants the US to do more to end Israel’s half-century occupation of lands the Palestinians want for a future state.
Shortly after taking office, the new Israeli Foreign Minister, Yair Lapid, recognized the challenges Israel faces in Washington.
“We find ourselves with a Democratic White House, Senate and House and they are angry,” Lapid said upon taking the helm at Israel’s Foreign Ministry a week ago. “We need to change the way we work with them.”
A key test will be on Iran. Biden has sought to return to the Iran nuclear deal that President Barack Obama saw as a signature foreign policy achievement. Trump withdrew from the pact to cheers from pro-Israel US lawmakers and Israel. Though Iran has not yet accepted Biden’s offer for direct negotiations, indirect discussions on the nuclear deal are now in a sixth round in Vienna.


Dhaka resumes vaccination drive with China’s Sinopharm

Dhaka resumes vaccination drive with China’s Sinopharm
Updated 20 June 2021

Dhaka resumes vaccination drive with China’s Sinopharm

Dhaka resumes vaccination drive with China’s Sinopharm
  • Bangladesh had stalled initiative for nearly two months after failing to procure 30 million doses of Covishield from New Delhi

DHAKA: Bangladesh resumed its nationwide inoculation drive against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) with China’s Sinopharm vaccine on Saturday, nearly two months after halting the initiative due to a failed supply of 30 million doses from India.

Starting from January, New Delhi had vowed to deliver the Covishield vaccine, produced by the Serum Institute of India, to Dhaka, in a phased manner.

Bangladesh’s health authorities launched the anti-virus drive in early February after India sent 7 million doses of the Covishield vaccine in two installments.

However, after a sudden spike in COVID-19 infections across the country, New Delhi held back its vaccine exports for domestic consumption, resulting in a stalled supply of the crucial jabs for Dhaka from April.

Bangladesh currently has 1.1 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine donated by China in recent weeks, which authorities began administering at 67 centers across the country from Saturday.

“We resumed vaccinations on a limited scale, targeting 5.5 million people. It will take two to three weeks to inoculate these people,” Dr. Shamsul Haque, line director at the Directorate General of Health Services, told Arab News.

He added that authorities had devised 10 categories of people to receive the vaccines on a priority basis.

These include frontline health workers; police officials; migrant workers registered with the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training; municipal staff; public school students; employees of the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority; and Chinese nationals, among others.

In addition to the 1.1 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine donated by China, Bangladesh has also signed a deal for an additional 15 million jabs of Sinopharm for an undisclosed amount.

“We are expecting to receive the first batch of the Sinopharm vaccine in July. All the procedures are complete at our end. Now, the Chinese authorities are doing some formalities,” Dr. A. S. M. Alamgir, principal scientific officer of the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research, told Arab News on Sunday.

Alamgir added that nearly 1.4 million people have already registered to receive the first dose of the vaccine.

“Our immediate task is to inoculate these people,” he said, adding that the mass vaccination drive will gain traction next month after more doses arrive.

In addition to China’s Sinopharm vaccines, talks are also under way to procure 1 million doses of the Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine from COVAX, a global vaccine-sharing facility for developing countries led by the World Health Organization (WHO), by the first week of August.

“We are also putting maximum effort to source Russia’s Sputnik vaccines. Discussion is at the final stage now. We can expect Sputnik in the country anytime now,” Alamgir said.

Out of 166 million, only 4.3 million Bangladeshis have received both doses of the vaccine, with experts urging the government to “purchase the COVID-19 vaccines from anywhere as soon as possible.”

“We have to complete this mass inoculation drive in 1.5 to 2 years. Otherwise, the immunity derived from the vaccine will start decreasing, and then we will need to administer another booster dose,” Professor Muzaherul Huq, former adviser at WHO Southeast Asia, told Arab News.

He added that the government should also focus on the domestic production of vaccines.  

“Our government can achieve capacity by producing vaccines in the country through technology transfer from other countries,” Huq said.

“It will take only three months to produce vaccine this way. Private sector pharmaceuticals also should be engaged in this regard,” he added.

One way to do this, he explained, is to increase health infrastructure and human resources at the sub-district level to ensure better health services to the public during the pandemic.  

In recent weeks, Bangladesh has witnessed a spike in COVID-19 infections, with a current infection rate of more than 18 percent.

As of Sunday, the country had registered nearly 850,000 cases and over 13,500 deaths since March last year.


UK’s Labour urged to tackle ‘vile Islamophobia’

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Labour Muslim Network (LMN) has urged Sir Keir Starmer to distance himself and the party from claims antisemitism is to blame for falling support in the Islamic community. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 20 June 2021

UK’s Labour urged to tackle ‘vile Islamophobia’

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  • Muslim groups slam claim that party is losing Muslim support due to its efforts to tackle antisemitism
  • Muslim Council of Britain: Any senior Labour official propagating this view ‘should be sacked’

LONDON: Muslim organizations in the UK have condemned a claim by a senior Labour Party strategist that antisemitism among Muslims is responsible for the main opposition party’s decline in popularity.

The anonymous party strategist told the Mail on Sunday newspaper that Labour is “haemorrhaging” support from Muslims due to “what (party leader) Keir (Starmer) has been doing on antisemitism.”

The source claimed that Muslim voters are frustrated by excessive efforts to tackle antisemitism.

The Labour Muslim Network (LMN) on Sunday wrote to Starmer urging him to “urgently and publicly” challenge this view, saying the anonymous claim is a “patently vile, Islamophobic briefing by a ‘senior Labour official’.”

It added: “This racism needs to be challenged urgently and publicly by the Labour leadership and the party as a whole. There can be no hiding behind the anonymity of the source and briefing.

“LMN and Muslim members expect thorough and immediate action. Islamophobia from ‘senior Labour strategists’ cannot be tolerated.”

The accusations have come ahead of the crucial Batley & Spen by-election in England’s northwest, where Labour is set to lose its seat amid declining Muslim support.

A poll has revealed that Labour is set to lose Batley and Spen, with 47 percent of the vote expected to go to the Conservative Party. 

Miqdaad Versi, a media spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Britain, said: “Those who have tried to understand, have identified many local issues as well as Labour positions on Palestine, Kashmir and Islamophobia — and being seen to take Muslim voters for granted. If advisors to the Labour leader don’t get this, they shouldn’t be talking about it.”

He added: “Any senior Labour official who tells the media that Muslims are not voting Labour because Muslims support antisemitism, should be sacked. No ifs, no buts.”


Alleged hitman in UK trial admits to killing Lebanese law student 

Law student Aya Hachem, 19, was hit by a bullet fired from a vehicle near her home in May 2020  in Blackburn, a town in northern England. (Supplied: Lancashire Police)
Law student Aya Hachem, 19, was hit by a bullet fired from a vehicle near her home in May 2020 in Blackburn, a town in northern England. (Supplied: Lancashire Police)
Updated 20 June 2021

Alleged hitman in UK trial admits to killing Lebanese law student 

Law student Aya Hachem, 19, was hit by a bullet fired from a vehicle near her home in May 2020  in Blackburn, a town in northern England. (Supplied: Lancashire Police)
  • Zamir Raja, 33, is one of eight people on trial accused of her murder
  • Hachem and her family moved as refugees to the UK from Lebanon when she was a young girl

LONDON: An alleged hitman accused of shooting dead a 19-year-old Lebanese woman in the UK has admitted killing her and has changed his plea in the middle of an ongoing trial.

Aya Hachem, 19, was hit by a bullet fired from a vehicle near her home in May 2020 in the northern English town of Blackburn, and according to a post-mortem examination, died as a result of the gunshot.

The law student was shopping for groceries at the time, and police confirmed that she was not the intended victim of the shooting, adding that she was “in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Zamir Raja, 33, is one of eight people on trial accused of her murder and has admitted manslaughter after initially denying any involvement.

Despite Raja’s change in plea on June 18, the prosecution said that it will continue to push for a murder conviction and alleges that the shooting was the culmination of a long-running dispute between two tire salesmen in the town, the Daily Mail newspaper reported.

The court heard from prosecution lawyers that Raja was allegedly hired by one of the tire salesmen to kill the other, but ended up shooting Hachem in the bungled attack.

“As your Lordship knows, that plea is not acceptable to The Crown and we propose to continue against Mr Raja,” Nicholas Johnson for the prosecution said to Judge Mr. Justice Mark Turner.

Turner, addressing the jury, said: “By way of brief explanation, the position of the prosecution is that they continue to assert that Mr. Raja is guilty of murder.

“As you have heard he has pleaded guilty to manslaughter, but because the prosecution wish to proceed on the murder charge — as they are entitled to elect — the trial will continue.”

Hachem and her family moved as refugees to the UK from Lebanon when she was a young girl.

“Our beautiful 19-year-old daughter Aya has been taken from us in the most horrific circumstances,” her family said in a statement shortly after her death last year.

“She was the most loyal, devoted daughter who enjoyed spending time with her family, especially her brothers and sisters Ibraham, Assil and Amir.”

Aya had excelled during her time at high school in Blackburn and was in her second year at Salford University where she was studying to become a solicitor, according to her family.

At the time of her death, she had just completed her second year exams and was also learning to drive, they added.


Doctor details attempts to save Princess Diana 

A doctor who was on duty when Princess Diana was rushed to hospital after her Paris car crash has spoken to the press for the first time. (AFP/File Photo)
A doctor who was on duty when Princess Diana was rushed to hospital after her Paris car crash has spoken to the press for the first time. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 20 June 2021

Doctor details attempts to save Princess Diana 

A doctor who was on duty when Princess Diana was rushed to hospital after her Paris car crash has spoken to the press for the first time. (AFP/File Photo)
  • MonSef Dahman: ‘We fought hard, we tried a lot, really an awful lot’
  • He said he is speaking out to combat enduring conspiracy theories about princess’s death

LONDON: A doctor who was on duty when Princess Diana was rushed to hospital after her Paris car crash has spoken to the press for the first time about how his team tried “everything possible” to save her life.

Dr. MonSef Dahman was 33 on the night of the infamous crash, serving as a young duty general surgeon at the Pitie-Salpetriere hospital.

He had been working a long shift from 8 a.m. the previous day, and was called to the A&E department to treat a “young woman” in the early hours of Aug. 31, 1997.

“I was resting in the duty room when I got a call from Bruno Riou, the senior duty anaesthetist, telling me to go to the emergency room,” Dahman, 56, told Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper.

“I wasn’t told it was Lady Diana, but (only) that there’d been a serious accident involving a young woman.

“The organisation of the Pitie-Salpetriere hospital was very hierarchical. So when you got a call from (such) a high-level colleague, that meant the case was particularly serious.”

Dahman said he realized the gravity of what was unfolding when he arrived at A&E moments later. His duty room was just 50 meters away from the emergency section.

Riou was in the room and personally taking care of the woman on the stretcher, which was a “sign of the special importance,” Dahman said.

It was then that he was told that the patient was Diana, Princess of Wales. “It only took that moment for all this unusual activity to become clear to me,” he added.

“For any doctor, any surgeon, it is of very great importance to be faced with such a young woman who is in this condition. But of course even more so if she is a princess.”

He kept a lid on the full details of Diana’s treatment, but said an X-ray showed she had “very serious internal bleeding” and underwent a procedure to help remove excess fluid from her chest cavity and blood transfusions.

Diana, 36, suffered a cardiac arrest at about 2:15 a.m., prompting the medics to give her an external heart massage and emergency surgery while she was lying on the stretcher in A&E.

“I did this (procedure) to enable her to breathe,” Dahman said. “Her heart couldn’t function properly because it was lacking in blood.

Alain Pavie, one of France’s leading heart surgeons, was woken at home to help save Diana, and she was moved to an operating theater.

He suspected that the team had not found the full details of her internal bleeding, so he conducted further exploratory surgery.

His investigation discovered that she had suffered a tear in her upper left pulmonary vein at the point of contact with the heart.

Pavie sutured the cut, but her heart rate had flattened before the surgical exploration and would not restart.

“We tried electric shocks, several times and, as I had done in the emergency room, cardiac massage,” said Dahman. “Prof. Riou had administered adrenaline. But we could not get her heart beating again.”

The team spent an hour attempting to resuscitate the princess. “We fought hard, we tried a lot, really an awful lot. Frankly, when you are working in those conditions, you don’t notice the passage of time,” Dahman said. “The only thing that is important is that we do everything possible for this young woman.”

The doctor said one of the reasons for breaking his silence on the night of the crash was to demonstrate how the Parisian medical staff had given every effort to save her, in contrast to relentless conspiracy theories about Diana’s death.

A medical review some years after the event reaffirmed Dahman’s statements. “No other strategy would have affected the outcome,” the report concluded.