Inclusivity in Palestinian Solidarity

26 Oct 2023 04:50pm
Flags and banner reflecting the Malaysian-Palestinian support being sold in the grounds of Axiata Arena Bukit Jalil during the Malaysia Stands with Palestine gathering on Oct 24. (PHOTO BY BERNAMA)
Flags and banner reflecting the Malaysian-Palestinian support being sold in the grounds of Axiata Arena Bukit Jalil during the Malaysia Stands with Palestine gathering on Oct 24. (PHOTO BY BERNAMA)

Support amongst Malaysians for the Palestinian cause has always been high. With the latest outbreak of aggression, we now see again a massive outpouring of support and sympathy for the Palestinians.

Needless to say, we continue to fervently hope and pray for the end to all the bloodshed, and for the liberation of the Palestinian people from their decades of unjust oppression.

I am no expert on this issue; my focus and observation has always been on Malaysia instead. In making those observations over time, it has been interesting to see how expressions of Malaysian support for Palestine has evolved over the years.

In summary, it has been heartening to see that there has been significantly increased efforts to demonstrate a pan-Malaysian face to Malaysian solidarity with Palestinians.

We see this in how many organisers of pro-Palestinian events have been taking more steps to invite non-Muslim speakers, and to shape and colour their events in such a way as to communicate very clearly that this is not a racial or religious struggle of say Muslims against Jews, but more a human rights based struggle against rampant injustice.

I have seen how in Whatsapp groups people call for more diversity, more inclusion, and more steps to focus on this more principles-based framing, as opposed to anything with racial or religious sentiments. One such step which became rather controversial was the perceived ‘banning’ of the takbir at one major pro-Palestinian rally.

My personal view as a non-Muslim is that the takbir has never bothered me. I find hearing it invigorating. I do understand how it may make some feel a little uncomfortable, but I feel this is somewhat symptomatic of how the level of understanding between different religions in Malaysia is not at its optimum level, to say the least.

In any case, I do believe the controversy about the takbir is overblown. There’s no reason to overshadow the bigger picture it represents - that more and more Malaysians are caring about inclusivity, and about Muslims and non-Muslims, Malays and non-Malays joining hands together.

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The same spirit of inclusivity seemed to pervade the next big pro-Palestinian rally, which the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim himself attended. Here again, there were speakers from all faiths and races - even including one of the most venerated Buddhist leaders in the country.

While we still see in our various Whatsapp groups some people taking sides merely on the basis of religion or previously held prejudices, I think I have noticed a slight shift amongst non-Muslims towards more support and sympathy for Palestinians.

Perhaps this signals the start of a new era in Malaysia, one more concerned with uniting Malaysians regardless of race or religion around common causes, and to build on common ground. As we continue to call for justice, hopefully we will do so with the wisdom that while anger is often justified and necessary, hate - especially blind hate - seldom brings about productive, sustainable solutions. And being solutions oriented should be the core of all our activism.

While perhaps overly optimistic, it is also my great hope that Malaysians uniting around the Palestinian cause on the grounds of justice and humanitarianism will sensitise Malaysians to causes closer to home.

It is the difficult but stark truth that our actions here may not have the biggest impact on events and people in the Middle East.

Our actions here however, have vast, vast potential to improve the lives of people who are suffering. Maybe the suffering of the Palestinians will help sensitise more Malaysians to the suffering endured by people closer to home.

The forceful eviction of Palestinians from their homes for instance, may remind some of the recent evictions faced by the farmers in Kanthan, Perak.

A total of some 200 farmers work the land in this area, which is in the parliamentary constituency of our Prime Minister. The authorities attempted to forcefully evict six of these farmers, all who had been working the land for a long time, because the land belongs to the Perak State Development Corporation.

There was negotiations regarding compensation of alternative land, but results did not seem to be forthcoming. In the meantime, the destruction of these farms appear to be underway.

Activists from Parti Sosialis Malaysia went to the ground to try and negotiate and help the evicted farmers, and one was reportedly pushed to the ground by an official, leading to bloody injuries to her mouth and nose. Another four activists were arrested by the police.

Hopefully we can give these farmers the dignity and respect we hope will be shown to the Palestinians.

Some Western media like to call the attack on Oct 7 to be an ‘unprovoked’ assault. While many rightfully disagree with the killing of civilians on either side, use of the word ‘unprovoked’ seems quite out of place, given the historical context.

Given the way Palestinians have been oppressed and mistreated over decades, it seems that this boiling over and explosion of resistance against such tyranny was basically inevitable.

The whole situation reminded me of the riots and breakout of Rohingya detainees from an immigration detention centre in Relau, Kedah in 2022. This tragic event resulted in 10 deaths.

People who are held in oppressive, desperate conditions will often risk all in order to break free. We should come to expect this, whenever anyone is being treated inhumanely over a long period of time, anywhere in the world.

The Rohingya in particular are also a people fleeing persecution on the basis of their race and religion.

We are too far away to easily provide refuge to Palestinian refugees, but there are already many Rohingya in Malaysia seeking similar refuge.

Many Malaysians have been very hostile towards the Rohingya, but these refugees are fleeing persecution in their place of origin that is in many ways as bad as the persecution faced by the Palestinians.

I don’t believe in trying to ask anyone to be less enraged about the situation in Palestine, or in trying to lecture anyone about moral equivalency. Everyone has every right to be angry about Palestine, and to show their anger in whatever peaceful way they want.

As we channel all this anger however, hopefully some of us also will be inspired to help some of the many others in our own backyards who are just as deserving of empathy, support, and help.

NATHANIEL TAN is strategic communications consultant. He can be reached at [email protected]. The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of Sinar Daily.

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